Tired of the same old bike ride around the block? How about a weekend long pedaling tour through the farmlands of the Palouse and into the pine-scented Idaho panhandle? How about lake views around every corner? What about passing through tiny, one-stoplight burgs -- Rockford, Plummer, Harrison -- then spending your evening in the resort town of Coeur d'Alene?
It's all part of TOUR DES LACS, taking place Sept. 23-24. About 1,000 riders typically join the mass recreational cycling tour, now in its 10th year. It's a popular event, not just for the inspiring -- and challenging -- terrain along the route, but also for the encouragement and camaraderie among riders.
"It's a fun ride with a great route," says Alex Renner, who rode the first Tour des Lacs on his mountain bike -- and has ridden every year since.
"You get a heck of a workout, and you're with your friends. You meet a lot of people, and you have this feeling that you're in a big family out there."
As usual, Renner and his buddies from the Badlands Cycling Club will be riding the hard-core route, a punishing 122-mile pedal on Saturday with 7,000 feet of ups and downs, followed by an 85-miler on Sunday. Circumnavigating the east shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene, the route also weaves its way past Avondale, Hauser and Newman lakes on the return trip to Spokane.
Not everyone has to take the long route, however. Tour des Lacs offers plenty of ways to get there -- and get back home.
"There's a great variety of mileage and riding options," says Wendy Zupan, co-owner of Round and Round Productions, which coordinates the event. "If you don't want to do 100-plus miles in a day, you can do 40."
Then there's the other perks: boat cruises across Lake Coeur d'Alene, live music in the evening and the food.
"There's just food everywhere," Zupan says. "People actually gain weight on this trip."
If you're counting, there are 12 food stops in all, with everything from fresh, hand-tossed David's Pizza to a chili feed at the Bayou Brewing Co. to a huge nacho bar at Casey's in Post Falls. Each day begins with a pancake breakfast. The long day of riding ends at Tubs Restaurant in Coeur d'Alene for a pasta feed and live music.
One of the advantages of the mass ride is the support and safety in numbers provided by a group of riders. Cyclists are also accompanied by volunteers from the Goldwing Riders and Community Radio Watch groups from Spokane. With motorcycles, motor homes and cars, they provide support and assist with traffic control.
"They're behind and in front of the entire train of riders," Zupan says. "It's very well supported."
For Renner, who rides the course competitively at the front of the pack, the toughest part of the route is the long climb out of St. Maries, followed by the tantalizing views of Coeur d'Alene just across the lake, but still miles away.
"Even if you're in great shape, that's tough," he says. "You can see the other side, but you've got more miles to go. It's the anticipation -- you think you're almost there, and then the road just keeps going."
Maybe one of these years, he says, he'll relax and take it easy, enjoy the scenery a little more. Someday.
"Right now, while I have my health and can do it, I figure I'll just ride it as hard as I can."
As he's fully aware, the more calories you burn, the more pasta you can pile on your plate at day's end.
Tour des Lacs is Sept. 23-24. Registration offered up to the day of the event. Entry fee: $60 without boat cruise, or $80 including cruise. Riders also score an official long-sleeved tee. Benefits go to Holy Family Hospital. Call (509) 455-7657 or www.roundandround.com
At Schweitzer Mountain Resort, it's your last chance to grab some high altitude fun. The summer season ends with a bang on Sept. 2-3 with lift-served mountain biking, horseback riding, a climbing wall and music at the BLUES & amp; BREWS MICROBREW FESTIVAL. Labor Day is the last day -- until the snow flies, anyway -- to ride the chairlifts to the top of Schweitzer Mountain.
Schweitzer's end-of-season bash is
Sept. 2-3, 11am-7pm each day. Admission: $12, includes microbrew mug and samples, music, chairlift ride and climbing wall.
Call (800) 831-8810 or www.schweitzer.com
Lost and Found
If you happen to be near Fishtrap Lake on Sept. 16-17, you might see a bunch of people running around in the rocks and scrub brush. Don't worry, they're not lost, and they haven't lost their minds. They're on a treasure hunt, of sorts, an Easter Egg hunt for grown-ups.
The EASTERN WASHINGTON ORIENTEERING CLUB hosts a unique combination of map-reading, hiking and problem solving. The event is open to the public.
"I like the combination of getting in the outdoors and getting some exercise, combined with some real mental challenges," says John Beck, club member.
The participants use their wayfinding skills to locate stations, which are marked on a map. They must find each station in sequence, where they punch a card to prove they were there. The sport started in Scandinavia, and has a big following in Europe, but has never really caught on big in the United States.
The outing offers opportunities for neophytes as well as orienteering diehards.
"There's a lot of choices," says Beck, who's been pursuing the sport for 20 years. "We'll have four different kinds of courses, all set up and ready to go, and people can show up and participate anytime."
People with more advanced skills follow a map based on topography and contour lines, while beginners can follow easier landmarks such as trails and fences. The terrain in this event consists of open land, rock formations and scattered brush.
"Reading the map is important, but a big element is route choices: Knowing the best way to get there," Beck says.
The Eastern Washington Orienteering Club meets Sept. 16-17 at Fishtrap Lake. On Saturday, registration at 12:30 pm and "score meet" starts at 1 pm. Sign up for other courses between 1-2 pm. Sunday's "score meet" begins with registration at 9:30 am, with the start at 10 am. Sign up for other courses from 10-11am. Fees: beginners $4, advanced $5 for members; $6 non-members.
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It's hard to imagine a sweeter end to the mountain biking season than the METHOW VALLEY MOUNTAIN BIKE FESTIVAL, held in Winthrop this weekend, Oct. 6-8. Now in its 14th year, the scenic festival is a great way to get one last fat-tire fix,