A great idea can hit you anywhere. For Ken Barrett, it was in a 1967 Datsun Roadster, while he was "bombing around" the tangle of dirt roads on the back side of Schweitzer Mountain. His idea was to find a route where people could ride a mountain-bike from the top of Schweitzer, over the Selkirk Crest and then down to the Priest River valley. And it would be even better if, when you got to the bottom, there would be good place to swim with a soft green lawn, nice people to greet you and cold beer on tap. Barrett (who is a licensed mountain-bike guide) turned his idea into a reality, and for the last three years has been leading guided trips of the scenic, 24-mile route. It's called the Green Owl Rendezvous and the last trip of the season is this Saturday.
"This ain't no Hiawatha," explains Barrett in reference to the kinder, gentler bike tour on the Idaho-Montana border. "This is something where you'll be using your brakes, working your bike and maintaining your speed and control the whole way." Riders take the quad chair lift to the top of Schweitzer (elevation 6,389 feet) and descend off the back of the mountain on logging roads within the Priest Lake State Forest and finish along Priest River for a total vertical drop of 5,350 feet.
The first 13 miles of downhill are a "real forearm burner," says Barrett. Halfway down, there's a grub stop before finishing the last 11 miles of "undulating ups and downs" on county roads. Barrett says there's nothing too technical, but it will provide an adventure for riders of all levels. "The Green Owl works because it has that formula that works for everyone. It's got a great view, and it's not too harrowing. People love it." Riders can go at their own speed, and the guides don't lead the pack, but "sweep" the route to assure that everyone is making it down safely.
Barrett says some people take their time to enjoy the views while others like to push it. "People with experience can pull off this ride in about an hour and a half. That's bombing at the top and cranking it on the cross country at the bottom."
Awaiting riders at the bottom is the namesake of the ride, the Green Owl Tavern. Located along the banks of Priest River, it's a friendly little biker/logger bar where Harleys and mountain-bikes share the parking lot. It's a place who's motto could be, "...where Lycra and leather come together." Barrett says it's a perfect setting after seeing some of North Idaho's most spectacular scenery. "When you get to the Owl, people just sort of dig the ambience."
So far, some 300 people have ridden "The Owl" since he started it. But it's not the only trip his three-year-old company, All About Adventures, offers. He just returned from a one-week trip that crosses the state of Washington, 475 mile from Whidbey Island to Newport along State Route 20. He also offers biker trips from Sandpoint to Glacier National Park. His tours have received some good press in Sunset and Ski magazine.
Barrett knows a little something about bikes. As a 13-year-old kid, he raced road bikes competitively in Europe. He's spent time biking all over the West, including the famed slick rock at Moab, Utah. He says the Northwest, and specifically North Idaho, offers as much as any place he's ridden. He came to the area eight years ago from New Hampshire to ski and hasn't left yet.
"I was called to Sandpoint eight years ago by a friend. He said, 'Get on a plane, come out here and check it out.' So I came out, and my response was, 'Oh my God. Count me in.' Up here, everybody just remarks that there's nobody on the trails, and the trails are in such great shape."
Barrett wants to expand his services into the winter to include backcountry snowmobile trips and skiing trips. His mission is to inject adventure into people's lives and there's no better place to do it than in our own back yards. "It's just such a great place to ride."
Speaking of Lycra...
It's time again for the annual autumn foodfest-on-wheels, also known as Tour des Lacs. This is the 12th year for this popular event, billed as the Inland Northwest's largest two-day road cycling tour. It gives riders a choice of six routes, six lakes, one river, 10 towns and 12 food stops. Beautiful scenery is not a choice; all riders will automatically experience that.
"This tour offers more variety than most cycling tours," says promoter Wendy Zupan. "Tour des Lacs is designed with every type of cyclist in mind, with routes from 40 miles to 122 miles long that offer a variety of terrain ranging from easy to difficult."
Day one starts at the West Coast River Inn in Spokane, with the two long routes leaving at 6:30 am and the short route departing at 7:30. The long route travels 84 miles through Rockford, Plummer, St. Maries and ends in Harrison. Riders then board a boat for a two-hour cruise into Coeur d' Alene. The boat leaves at 3 pm. The short route travels 40 miles along the Centennial Trail to Coeur d' Alene. If you feel the need for a longer ride, you can hop on the boat for a two-hour cruise to Harrison and navigate your bike back along a hilly, 38-mile lakeside path back to CDA. The super-long route is pretty much a 122-mile combination of the two without a boat ride.
Riders will then dine and socialize at North Idaho College before retiring to their hotel rooms (or campground for some) where their transported luggage will be awaiting them to stay Saturday night. Day two offers an easy 40-mile or a 73-mile return ride to Spokane for yet more food and fun. Between 700 and 900 riders are expected to participate. Will one of them be you?
The Tour des Lacs starts on Saturday, Sept 21. Riders can register up to the day of the event. For more info, call Round and Round Productions at (509) 455-7657.
Swim, Bike, Run
Age group triathletes from around the country will be in Coeur d'Alene this weekend for the 2002 USA Triathlon National Age-Group Championships. This is the second year Coeur d'Alene has hosted the event, which will crown the national champions in each age group and is also a qualifier for the World Triathlon Championships later this year in New Zealand. Between 1,000 and 1,200 athletes will compete in the Saturday event, which includes a 1.5K swim, a 40K bike ride and a 10K run.
If you want to compete, residents of Idaho, Washington, Montana and Oregon automatically qualify no matter how slow you are. You can register until Friday, August 30. If you want to watch, Coeur d'Alene City Park should offer the most action with a front-row seat of the transition area from swim to bike and from bike to run. This will be the last year Coeur d'Alene will host the event because organizers like to move the event around the country every two years.
In related news, Ironman North America officials are expected to make an announcement on Thursday, Sept. 29, regarding their decision on whether to move one of its Ironman Triathlons from Provo, Utah, to Coeur d'Alene starting next year. If so, it would be a major coup for the Lake City whose reputation as a world class triathlon location continues to rise. n
The 2002 Age Group Championships begin at 7 am on Saturday, Aug. 31, at Coeur d'Alene City Beach. For more information contact Round And Round Productions (509) 455-7657 or www.roundandround.com