LOGAN — Looking back, it’s hard to believe that a race that started as just a crazy idea in the minds of Dave Bern and Jeff Keller in 1983 would later become one of the most popular bike races in the country. With just over 1,500 cyclists and 600 volunteers expected at this year’s edition, enthusiasm for the LoToJa classic is still going strong.

The idea for LoToJa started when Bern and Keller sought to organize a race that resembled the difficulty of a one-day European classic, like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. LoToJa’s first year featured all of seven cyclists racing 192 miles from Logan to a finish line in the town square in Jackson Hole. 

“The morning after the first LoToJa, we were all having breakfast together in Jackson Hole, and I asked my friends if they would be willing to do this race again next year,” Bern said. “Without hesitation, everyone said, ‘yes.’”

“Jeff and I just wanted to try and do something that had never been done before, and it turns out, there is an entire community of cyclists who like to think big and do something they never thought they could do,” Bern said. “That’s the draw for LoToJa.”

LoToJa, pronounced “Low-Ta-Juh” is well-known in cycling circles as one of the longest continually running cycling races in the country, covering over 200 miles from Logan to Jackson Hole. Since the first race in 1983, LoToJa has seen 21,000 cyclists who have ridden over 6.7 million miles during the event. It has also raised nearly $3 million in donations for cancer research at the Huntsman Cancer Foundation.

But LoToJa almost didn’t happen due to the pandemic in 2020 and 2021. Thanks to the dedicated efforts of race director Brent Chambers and many volunteers, the race went on. “Brent created and followed a comprehensive set of COVID-19 protocols that worked,” Bern said.

39th annual LoToJa race honoring those who sacrificed on 9/11

“That is something Brent worked very hard to do,” Bern said. “Keeping LoToJa going during the pandemic did create new challenges. Our first concern was for the cyclists’ and volunteers’ health and safety. I’m proud to say we were able to keep the race going with a lot of help from so many amazing people.”

When the race began in 1983 the course was a bit different from the route the cyclists will ride this week.

“Back then the traditional racecourse started in the same place it does now, at Sunrise Cyclery in Logan,” Bern said. “It then went through Preston, Idaho, over Treasureton Summit to the town of Grace, and on to Soda Springs. Then came a difficult climb over Tincup Pass, which then reconnected to the current route, north on Highway 89, and onto the final stretch to Jackson Hole.”

Bern said the race’s distance was extended to 200 miles when the finish line was moved to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort in 1986.

Winners crowned in 39th-annual LoToJa Classic

A quick check of LoToJa history shows the first winner was Bob VanSlyke of Logan, with a time just over nine hours. According to Bern, VanSlyke was one of the strongest riders he has ever ridden with. “Bob was in the best shape of us all,” Bern said. 

“At that first race, I remember I was on the first big climb up Treasureton Summit on Highway 34. I was riding with James Munson, and as we started up the hill, Bob picked up the pace and dropped us both and just disappeared up the mountain. He rode the rest of the race alone to the finish. There was no question that he was going to win it. He is the original Hammer Man of LoToJa.”

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VanSlyke still rides his mountain bike near his home outside of Colorado Springs, but not at the distances he once did at that first LoToJa.

“I have fond memories of that first LoToJa,” VanSlyke said. “We had a bunch of guys that just wanted to go out and do something that had never been done before and we were young enough and crazy enough to try. Who would have thought it would have turned into something as amazing as it has for everyone to enjoy.” 

Now that the 40th annual LoToJa Classic is here, it will start Saturday in the same spot the first race did, in front of Sunrise Cyclery. The notion of riding 203 miles doesn’t sound so farout now as it did back in 1983. But then again, that’s what makes endurance races like LoToJa so enticing. Pushing cyclists to accomplish what others thought was unattainable in the past, will soon become reality for many on the race course Saturday.

 Glenn Seninger lives in Salt Lake City and is a 13-time LoToJa finisher.

Nathan Spratt (Team Ascent) solos to the finish line at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to win the Men Pro 123’s in last year’s LoToJa Classic. | Snake River Photos
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