Summer is the perfect time to exert yourself -- or, perhaps better yet, to watch others as they exert themselves. The weather is perfect, the sun stays out late and you can find cold beverages for sale just about everywhere.
There are some obvious sporting choices that roll around every summer, and then there are the lesser-known ways to play. You won't be winning any Happy Camper Sports merit badges with the same old stuff, but that doesn't mean they're not worthy ways to pass the time. On the participation end of the spectrum, there's a wide world of golf choices here, and a trip on the North Idaho-Montana bike trail known as the Route of the Hiawatha is a must-do. Spectators can hit one of the many rodeos rolling through this summer, and then there's the perfection of taking in a Spokane Indians game on a warm summer's night. Hoopfest, of course, works either way; if you still can't decide whether you're going to play or watch, you can volunteer (sign up by June 13).
So you want that Sports merit badge, dontcha? Here's what you've got to do: Pick one of the events below to either attend or participate in, and you've got it covered.
If you really want to take your canoeing to the next level, you should enter the Soap Lake Canoe Race, which will be held on July 9 in that humble burg just north of Moses Lake. It burns there in the summer, so bring sunscreen, but the real burn will be in your muscles -- arms and legs. This 18-mile race spans five lakes, and you portage your canoe across rattlesnake-infested desert to get between the waters. In case your French is rusty, portage means that you and your partner carry your boat overland. Call (509) 246-1821.
Individual sports are fun, too, and even though you can't ski (without a mid-summer trip to Chile), you can go downhill -- on your mountain bike. That's right, both Silver Mountain and Schweitzer crank up their chairlifts every summer to haul mountain bikers up for some crazy descents. Silver, which plans to open 10 more miles of trail over the summer, opens on June 11, while Schweitzer opens on July 2.
"It's definitely not for beginners," says Schweitzer's Lisa Gerber. "It's pretty crazy riding the chairlift without skis on your feet, but it's fun passing above all the wildflowers and beargrass like that."
Gerber says more intermediate riders can choose to stay on Schweitzer's 30 miles of trails (used in winter for cross-country skiers). Picnic Point overlooks the lake and the town below, and it's less than two miles from Schweitzer Village. As for the village, most of the amenities will be open during the summer -- you can even rent bikes there. Later in the summer, Gerber says to bring a backpack on your ride and haul out some huckleberries.
On July 14-17, the NORBA Nationals mountain bike racing series returns to Schweitzer. And every Thursday night, starting in July, there's a cross-country mountain bike race, with a different course every week and micros on tap for your post-ride wind-down. On July 30, you can enjoy the high-altitude twang of the Bluegrass Festival, with the Two High String Band and Prairie Flyer.
If portaging your canoe or doing double black diamonds on two wheels aren't nutty enough for you, how about a little jog -- to the top of Mount Spokane? That's right, every summer the Climb a Mountain Solo and Relay answers that what-will-they-think-of-next question. Fortunately, it's broken into teams, so you and your teammates do legs of the journey on July 9 from Riverfront Park to the top of Mount Spokane and back. But if you think that's a little wimpy, go ahead and do the whole thing solo. Call 226-1234.
You can see a real, live Major League Soccer team this summer, taking on the local boys of the Spokane Shadow. Real Salt Lake, one of the new teams in the MLS, is coming to Joe Albi Stadium on June 29 at 7 pm to give the Shadow the chance to play David to Salt Lake's Goliath. It'll also give local soccer fans a chance to watch Nikolas Besagno in action. The top pick in the most recent draft, Besagno hails from Maple Valley, Wash., and was named Parade magazine's National High School Player of the Year. He's just 16 years old.
But if you'd like to watch a sport with a crowd, say, 10 times as big as what you could fit into Albi's bleachers, you'll want to make the trip to the Tri Cities on July 29-31 for the annual Columbia Cup Hydroplane Races. This year, they'll be celebrating their 40th year. (Trivia: Back in the day, the winner took home the Atomic Cup.) As an added bonus, you might just discover the remains of a 10,000-year-old man, as one hydro-reveler did back in 1996.
Finally, have you seen the commercial? Gatorade is known for its cool TV ads, and this one doesn't disappoint. It features the voice-over of WSU alum Keith Jackson talking about the brutality of running an Ironman triathlon. Oh, the agony of defeat, he intones, as Aussie Chris Legh is thwarted by his rebellious legs. But the ad concludes with the joy of victory, as Legh (pronounced "Lee") crosses the finish line, looking like he just went out to pick up the mail. The kicker? He won in Coeur d'Alene last summer, and our little lakeside paradise has garnered national attention as a result of Jackson's trademark baritone and some peppy editing.
"Oh, the ad is awesome," says Donna Wemple, Ironman Coeur d'Alene's Volunteer Director. "We just feel lucky and fortunate that Chris won."
Legh will be back again, along with some 1,800 or so triathletes on June 26. Wemple says there are plenty of locals participating, but hotel rooms will be filling up with competitors from Belgium and England, too. Coeur d'Alene is getting noticed.
While a relative few will participate in this event, most will watch or volunteer. (Wemple says more volunteers are needed; go to www.ironmancda.com to sign up.) And watching it is an incredible experience, she says, especially the swimming portion that starts the race. Right at City Beach west of the resort, a sea of thrashing humanity completes two laps, adding up to 2.4 miles in the water. Then they change, get on their bikes and start out on their bike ride -- for 112 miles. Then comes another transition, this time to running shoes and a 26.2-mile run. Spectators can watch all along the course, but the transition areas are considered the best.
"It's a phenomenal event," says Wemple. "We've had great feedback for the athletes -- they love the area and they love the course."
One Last Chance
If late August rolls around, and you still haven't earned your Sports merit badge, here's your final shot at avoiding sporting spazdom: On some lazy summer evening, get one of those bouncy red balls, roust the neighbors out of their Extreme Makeover: Home Edition reruns, gather up the kids and organize a kickball game -- just like you used to play back in grade school. That, my friends, qualifies as the sporting life.