“I got my LoToJa start time, did you?” my husband casually asked one day when I arrived home from work. Hmmm, no I hadn’t seen an email.
Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen any emails from the LoToJa headquarters since I registered for the event back in April. I made a mental note to look into it the following day, but didn’t think much about it. After all, I had been a LoToJa finisher for the last eight years so I’m sure everything was on track for another year.
LoToJa, short for Logan To Jackson, is a one-day, 206-mile bicycle race that winds through three states and over 8,000 vertical feet of mountain passes. It is the longest one-day USA Cycling-sanctioned bicycle race in the US.
It is a long and brutal day requiring cyclists to battle headwinds, dehydration, and a combination of mental and physical fatigue, made tolerable only by the surrounding scenery, the company of other suffering cyclists, and the periodic meeting of one’s support crew along the route.
The race is limited to a small number of participants and the demand far exceeds the supply of available race entries. Registration is through a tiered lottery system, entries are non-transferable without exception, and racing wearing someone else’s number is not only near impossible, it will result in the racer being banned from future races if caught.
A quick search of my inbox for “LoToJa” yielded no results, which I found odd. I continued to search the Spam and Trash folders and when I found nothing I started to panic. Though I should have found a monthly cadence of emails from LoToJa headquarters, including my registration confirmation and my start time notification, the only email I found was the one titled “2015 LoToJa Classic — Registration Opens April 7.” It was dated April 6. Within seconds, I drafted and sent a note to the race director asking about the status of my registration.
It took less than three minutes for the race director to respond: “Thank you for your inquiry. Your name is not in this year’s database. We did not receive a 2015 LoToJa application from you.”
A wave of nausea washed over me. How could this be? I had filled out the online registration form and sent a message to my cycling friends to let them know that I was in for another year, goading them to register as well and join me in our favorite suffer-fest.
The race had become an annual pilgrimage, and I was just one year shy of the coveted LoToJa 2000 status — an award recognizing 10 years of LoToJa finishes.
This year, I recruited my mom as my support crew, and made plans to stay in Jackson Hole with friends for a few days. Reservations were booked. Everything was set. It seemed impossible that I was not actually registered for LoToJa!
Knowing how notoriously strict the race directors are about registration, I was not optimistic about my odds of convincing anyone at LoToJa headquarters that there had been a mistake. I picked up the phone, and when the race director answered I pled my case in a long, breathless monologue.
When I finally paused, there was a deafening silence on the other end of the phone. “You realize it is only 10 days before the race. There is really not much I can do at this point.” Another pause. “But you warmed my heart by the fact that you have done this race so many times before. Let me look into a few things. Don’t panic just yet.”
Three days later, I received an email containing a link to a special registration page. I was in!
Living 1,000 miles from the starting line in Logan, Utah, has made travel logistics more challenging than in years past when I lived just an hours drive from the start line. It is not easy (nor inexpensive) to travel via airline with a bicycle, and it is not feasible (nor enjoyable) to drive halfway across the country for a one-day bike race. The solution since moving away from Salt Lake City has always been general aviation.
The morning before the race, I awoke with giddy excitement. Trying to wrap up work and life to a point where I can disappear for four days is embarrassingly difficult, and aligning a disappearance with good weather and an event like LoToJa is near impossible, but somehow the stars aligned and I was heading West with my mom, my husband and my bike. As I closed up my bag full of bike gear and adventure clothes, I did quick check of the weather, filed a flight plan, and checked on the status of the airplane.
The flying club airplane I scheduled for the trip months ago had been in the shop for a regular oil change and had not been released back into service. “Any idea when it might be ready? I was hoping to leave this morning before 9, but I could wait until about 11.” They found a leak, the mechanic said, and the chances of the plane being ready before the end of the day were slim to none.
I frantically searched for a plan B. Could we fly commercial from Duluth? What if we drove to Minneapolis and flew commercial from there? Could we drive to Logan? It was 23 hours to race start, 12 hours to the close of race check-in, and the only way to get three people and two bikes from Duluth, Minn., to Logan, Utah, in time was to fly myself.
There was nothing I could do but hope the leak was not as serious as the preliminary diagnosis indicated. If we were not wheels up by 1 p.m., we would miss race check-in. I received a call from the shop at 12:35 to let me know that the plane was ready — the race to the race was on.
It was still dark as we rolled our bikes through the crowd surrounding the start corral. As the announcer counted down to the start, I clipped into my pedals and glanced at the other cyclists surrounding me, each of whom had their own story about their journey to the start line.
Roughly 12 hours later, my friends and I crossed the finish line at Teton Village together for the ninth time.
They say it’s more about the journey than the destination. This year the challenge of the journey not only made arriving at the destination sweeter, but also expanded the destination to include both start and finish.