ON YOUR LEFT: PASSING THOUGHTS


The New Sheriff

The well-dressed cowboy, ’80s style.

There’s a scene in “48 Hours,” the Eddie Murphy/Nick Nolte buddy movie from 1982, where Murphy – playing a convict temporarily released to help Nolte’s police detective solve a crime – finds himself in a cowboy bar surrounded by some less-than-socially-enlightened rednecks. Trying to establish some tough-guy cred, he first rousts a few of them, then appropriates a cowboy hat, pulls it down on his head and drawls out: “I want you boys to know something: There’s a new sheriff in town.”

Great scene. But not exactly my style.

You see, here’s the situation: I’m coming in as BRNW’s Executive Director following Sanna Phinney’s retirement. And two things to know right off. First, those are some big shoes to fill; Sanna is a force of nature, and she’s done a remarkable job. Second, and related to the first, is… it ain’t broke.

Oh, I’ll take really good care of it…

My experience as an ED is starting up brand-new events – Cycle Greater Yellowstone and Cycle Adirondacks. I’ve never come in to lead an event that’s already, well, even in existence, and going strong. I built each of those tours from merely an idea into a full-fledged event. But now the BRNW board has handed me the keys to a polished, tuned and gas-tank-full vehicle, effectively saying like a good parent, “You better take good care of it.”

So this is new territory for me. And in this context, there are two distinct directions a person can go: new sheriff, or caretaker. Change a bunch of things to let everyone know who’s in charge now, or just do what’s always been done. Announce your presence with authority, or quietly become a “game manager.” Make it about you, or try not to be noticed.

I’m aiming for something in between – but a lot closer to “caretaker.”

Some people who know that I started in the bike-tour world working for Cycle Oregon have expressed concern that I’ll want to make our rides just like their big one. Let me be unequivocal: Not going to happen. I admire what they do; they’re one of the very best tours in the country. But people choose BRNW rides in order to have a particular experience. Sure, we have a lot of the same infrastructure and amenities as CO and other larger tours. But there’s something distinctly different about 300 people versus 2,000 – and that’s what we offer, take pride in, and will continue doing. I hope both organizations thrive.

So, back to that “it ain’t broke” part. There are so many elements of BRNW’s event planning and execution that have been refined to smoothness that it would be plain stupid to change them. The organization has had 31 years to figure things out, and some of the systems and methods that have been developed are downright genius, in my observation.

But does that mean there’s nothing to change or improve upon? Of course not.

I’m a big fan of rider surveys, and I dug into every single rating and comment we received for our 2017 rides. There are lots of good and even great ideas that can be gleaned – our riders are awfully damn smart – and we’ve already started implementing some of them. That’s how BRNW has gotten to this point of success: looking for ways every year to do a few things better. So you’ll always see a few things change, be added, or even be subtracted.

Just to be clear: Not me.

And it’s not like I don’t have any ideas. There are some changes I’ll implement, and I sincerely hope they’re improvements (wait ‘til you see our new website!). But nothing radical or fundamental.

I feel like I’ve married into the BRNW Family – and I’m certainly not going to get drunk at the wedding and do something stupid.

Mental Postcards

This summer I got to experience a full BRNW event for the first time – and, bonus: I got two. It was a great immersion in the world of the BRNW Family; I really got a feel for what makes our events special, and somehow different from other tours that do basically the same thing.

There are so many moments, people and facts burned into my memory… but I have some particular memories that really resonate with the overall vibe I really enjoy about the bike-tour world. Here you go…

Photo by Phil Bard

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When we arrived in Salmon on IBR, I met with the local youth mountain-biking club that was going to provide baggage-sherpa service. I explained to them that they needed to approach riders, politely ask if they could carry their bags, help them find the bags, and huck ‘em over to the camping site. I stayed to watch the first kid go through the process. He eventually came back from the camping area and walked up to me. “Excuse me?” he said. “I did just what you said, and took that lady’s bags for her. And she gave me money!” He held out a $5 bill, intending to give it to me. I quickly explained that his work was a fundraiser for his club – that was the whole point. He brightened right up, and later I saw him and his cohorts under a shade tree, counting the fat roll of bills riders had given them. (Takeaway: The generosity our riders showed – making it possible to donate the carved eagle mascot in Blue River on OBR, and sending three FFA kids from Challis to the national convention on IBR, for example – is deeply gratifying.)

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We were doing the final cleanup in Cottage Grove on OBR – camp was pretty much disassembled – when a woman and her daughter walked up to me. Their husband/dad worked for the city of Cottage Grove, and had helped us set up in Bohemia Park. “It’s unbelievable,” the mom said. “You set up this whole city in our park yesterday, and now… it’s gone. I’ve never seen anything like it.” (Takeaway: Getting to the next camp early enough to watch the crews and contractors set everything up again always filled me with a bit of awe, too.)

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Photo by Thia Konig

Two weather stories… In Salmon we had a presenter from the local Sacajawea Center come to speak after dinner. She told tales from the Lewis & Clark Expedition, plus more about Sacajawea’s life (Sacajawea was born in the Lemhi Valley, where Salmon now sits). The wind had really picked up – it was whipping our canvas dining canopies back and forth, the pop-up she was standing under looked like it was about to take off like a jump jet, and I was watching our speaker stands carefully as they swayed enough to make me nervous about them toppling on her. But virtually every single person who had been at dinner stayed through the end; normally people drift away from the canopies gradually during presentations or performances, but this time people were transfixed and stayed right through the windstorm. (Takeaway: I love how much our riders are interested in learning about the places we ride to and through.)

Then, on our last night on IBR we were up in the hilltop park above Stanley. We had hired a local photographer to shoot informal portraits against the stunning Sawtooth Mountain Range backdrop. Well, the smoke from regional wildfires had largely obscured the serrated horizon, and then a serious summer squall blew in. At one point I was walking from one dry place to another, looking for Thia, the photographer, to see what we should do. I glanced down toward where the “shoot” had been taking place – and there she was, laughing in the midst of the storm, still shooting riders who were hardy enough to stand there and enjoy the moment with her. (Takeaway: These photos, available as free downloads to the riders, really captured the spirit of adventure, fun and go-with-whatever-happens that our riders and crew bring to the events – which is one reason everyone has so much fun.)

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On OBR I brought along my 12-year-old son, Dylan, for his first on-tour experience; he spent some time working with both Rest Stops and Camp Central. On Layover Day in Diamond Lake, I finished up some task or another, and suddenly wondered where he might be, because I knew he hadn’t gone out with a crew that day. Bad Parent moment when you don’t know where your kid is! Not to worry – turns out Daniel from the United Sites Services team (our portable toilet vendor) had taken him fishing on the lake. (Takeaway: That’s kind of the embodiment of the BRNW Family environment, right there. They didn’t catch anything, but the excitement of eventually being chased off the water by lightning more than made up for that.)

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Photo by Phil Bard

Lastly, I have to mention Dan the Harmonica Man. On the first night of OBR he happened to be sitting at dinner with me and my friends Phil and Alice (Alice was Director of Fun on OBR). The conversation eventually turned to music, and Dan said he played a pretty good blues harp – and, hey, would one of our musical acts for the week be interested in having him sit in with them? Well, that could have gone either way – who knew if he was really going to be any good? But Kinzel & Hyde, our blues band in Diamond Lake, graciously allowed him to play a song with them. Of course, if you were there you know how smokin’ good Dan actually is. It was a blast, and he also played a bit with Tramp Central and the Baggage Boys (aka crew leads Wes and Tosch) later in the week.

Well, between events he called up Sanna and said he had such a good time on OBR that he wanted to come on IBR, too. Fortuitously, we had dropped below our limit of 300 riders with a cancellation that same day (and had exhausted our Wait List), so he got in. He said he wouldn’t even need to bring his harmonicas – but she replied, “Oh, please do!” I called ahead to the organizer of Challis’s “Music in the Park” series, to ask if Dan could sit in with the Travis Hardy Band (Travis is the organizer’s son) on Thursday night. I heard the hesitation in his voice as he said he’d ask Travis about it. Concert night came, and after a few songs Travis invited Dan up to play one song, clearly still a little dubious. Well, Dan ripped into the first tune, and was promptly invited to not only finish the set, but also to join the band for a 10 p.m. gig down at the local bar – which he did. (Takeaway: You can’t predict where the magic will happen – you just plan every aspect of the event as well as you can, and see where it goes. But the magic always happens somehow.)

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Those are just the highlights for me – if you were on one or both the rides, you have your own set of indelible memories. If not, better come with us next summer and make some for yourself.

A view of the Sawtooths and the river

Rising Above the Fog: Day 7 of the Idaho Bicycle Ride 2017

Ride Basics

From/To: Stanley to Hailey
Number of miles: 75
Elevation: 2,877
Weather: A little bit of everything

Everything was wet in the morning. Everything. Inside our tents. Outside our tents. Jackets. Bikes. Tables. Chairs. Butts. The damp, cold fog permeated our spirits and obscured views of anything farther away than a few yards.

It was a decision point for a number of riders. Some chose to wait until the fog burned off to set out, concerned by visibility on the road (since lights can only do so much). Others considered whether their cycling attire was enough to withstand the damp cold of a morning leg, one which registered as low as 31 degrees on the road. Some set forth, others waited, and some grabbed a ride from the SAG team to the first rest stop.

Luckily, the traffic was light that morning and the shoulder relatively generous. The first bump of a hill brought us above the dewy fog, and we were treated once again to gorgeous views.

A view of the Sawtooths and the river

After the first rest stop, the climb of the day began. It was one of those climbs for which there is little option but to find a gear and fall in love with it. Three-quarters of the way up the inclination held an oasis of a scenic overlook and water stop.

The summit held the greatest reward that many riders could ask for—about 45 miles of downhill. That’s forty-five miles of “Weee!”

The second rest stop was situated along the lovely Wood River. Even with a promised gradual downhill into Hailey, it was no easy feat to wrest oneself from the abundant snack choices and company.

Bike in front of Wood River

We spent the last leg of our journey along the multi-use path through a number of smaller municipalities and past a series of parks, including one hosting an arts fair (watch out for people walking!). Rolling back into Hailey was one hand a triumphant end to the week, and on the other a sigh of regret that the week was over…until next year.