OGDEN, Utah — Anyone who’s taken a summer vacation to Yellowstone knows that traveling between Logan and Jackson, Wyoming, is an exhausting proposition — even in the family sedan.
But doing it from a bike saddle? That’s just this side of crazy.
The 34th annual LoToJa Classic, one of the premier amateur bike races in the country, is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 10. The race begins in Logan, cuts across southeastern Idaho, and finishes in Jackson, Wyoming, — a total of 206 miles, all in one day. It’s the longest one-day event sanctioned by USA Cycling, reported the Standard-Examiner (http://bit.ly/2c8ckIT).
It’s a physical and mental challenge for cyclists in the prime of their lives. But for a team of more “mature” cyclists? It’s particularly grueling.
Lee Walser is a 77-year-old retired professor of foreign languages from Weber State University. He’s put together a team of like-minded — and like-bodied — cyclists to participate in this year’s LoToJa.
Walser got the idea to enter LoToJa from his wife, a social worker on the stroke-rehab unit at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. She had a patient who was just 68 miles from the finish line of his 10th LoToJa — there’s a special award for that — when he had a stroke and fell off his bike.
As he was rehabilitating at the University of Utah hospital, he mentioned that he would love to finish his 10th time at LoToJa. Walser’s wife and the man’s doctor told him, “You get ready, and we’ll get ready, and we’ll finish those last 68 miles.”
Walser was invited to participate, too.
“So, on the day of the race we started where he had his stroke, and we finished with him,” Walser said.
It was an amazing experience, according to Walser, and it got him to thinking.
“I thought, ‘I haven’t seen any old folks’ teams in this,'” Walser said. “And I have some friends who are just trying to stay alive with our advancing age. So I told myself I was going to put together a team of riders over 70 years old.”
Getting into LoToJa isn’t easy. Applicants enter a lottery for the chance to participate.
“It’s probably the most famous long, one-day race in the country,” Walser said. “We applied to get in, and I guess they saw our age as an anomaly. They let us in.”
Also on the team is Jock Glidden, 81; Eric Jacobson, 72; Ross Langhorne, 78; and Don Keipp, 66. OK, so technically Keipp isn’t over 70, but Walser says their average age is somewhere around 74, so he figures that’s good enough.
“We’re the Ogden Geezers — that’s what I call it,” quips Glidden, a retired professor of philosophy at WSU.
But Walser says it’s not just the age that’s impressive about this team of cyclists. It’s also the mileage.
“We have one person, Jock, still fighting off Parkinson’s disease,” Walser said. “And Eric has a pig valve in his heart. We’re kind of the walking wounded, this group.”
Walser says the octogenarian Glidden is the inspiration for the team.
“It’s kind of a celebration of Jock Glidden and his surviving,” Walser said. “He’s been an inspiration for all of us.”
Indeed, Walser credits Glidden, among others, with saving his life 50 years ago. At the time, Walser was 28, and in poor physical shape. His doctor told him, “You either need to make drastic changes to your lifestyle, or take medication for the rest of your very short life.”
It was Glidden who helped motivate Walser to get up and get moving.
Now, Walser is returning the favor. Glidden said he “had to think about it for five minutes” when Walser invited him to join the team.
“I said, ‘Sure!’ ” Glidden recalls. “I have Parkinson’s disease, and they say the more you can exercise the better. I’m finding every excuse I can to stay active.”
Glidden says there are divisions for both serious racers and more casual riders in LoToJa. The Walser team isn’t looking to beat anybody, they’re just looking to finish.
“The racers get real serious,” he said. “But we’re riders. We just want to finish before dark.”
Saturday’s starting time for the Ogden team is 7:30 a.m. For safety reasons, organizers close the finish line at dark and pull riders off the course. Walser figures that gives them until about 8:30 p.m. to finish the race. It’s a total of 13 hours, and when the members of the team timed the sections they’ll be racing, they came in at 12 hours, 45 minutes. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error.
“That’s our dream — it’s not a plan, it’s a dream — that we can finish,” Walser said. “We’re about 15 minutes within the time limit we’re going to have. So if none of us has a flat tire, or we have a north wind, we’ll make it.
For Keipp, a retired professor of music at Weber State, this will be his second time participating in LoToJa. This time, he’ll be taking the second leg of the race. It’s considered the most difficult section, a 46-mile, mostly uphill slog across Idaho, from Preston to Montpelier. According to race information, this leg of the race is 60 percent uphill.
Still, Keipp figures he’ll be able to make up some ground after the slower 81-year-old Glidden starts things off.
“The nice thing is, if I’m second, I’ll be able to pass a lot of people,” Keipp said. “That’ll help with the ego.”
Keipp said his teammates, particularly Glidden and Walser, are his role models.
“I really look up to these guys,” he said. “I want to hang with them because I want to live a long time.”
Langhorne is the only one of the racers who doesn’t hail from Ogden — he lives in Story, a tiny town in northern Wyoming. Walser met him a couple of years ago at the World Senior Games, in St. George.
“When I was invited, I was flattered and honored,” Langhorne said by phone from Story. “My first thought was, ‘Can I do it?’ If you commit to something like this, you’ve got to be able to uphold your end of the bargain.”
Langhorne said he wasn’t familiar with the LoToJa Classic, but he figures given some reasonable weather and no serious problems on the road, he’s happy to pitch in.
Asked if he was ready for LoToJa, team member Jacobson said, “Well, we’re going to do it, whether we’re ready or not.” He also admitted that “it sounded like a good idea” when Walser invited him to participate back in April.
Jacobson, who is the former director of academic computing at WSU, downplays the significance of this group of older men riding in LoToJa, calling it “small potatoes.”
“Some people do the whole thing by themselves,” he said. “Some are good, dedicated bikers. I feel a bit like an impostor.”
And it isn’t the distance that bothers Jacobson — he’s often biked much farther. But having to do it within the time limit? There’s the rub.
“We don’t care if we don’t beat anybody,” he said. “We just have to beat the sun.”
As for this group of older cyclists testing their limits with a 206-mile bike ride, rest assured that Team Geezer is locked and loaded.
“We intend to make it happen,” Langhorne said.
And Walser encourages others to challenge themselves the way this group of older cyclists will at the LoToJa Classic.
“Live life,” he recommends. “If you’re alive, live. That’s kind of our motto.”
Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net