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By Karen Kefauver
April 19, 2012
Link to Sentinel Article

Santa Cruz Cyclist in IdahoKETCHUM, Idaho

I’ve been curious about the bicycling community in Ketchum, Idaho, for a while now. After a Santa Cruz friend moved here a few years ago and told me about the great mountain biking in the area, I resolved to visit.

Finally, the time was right this month to spend two weeks in Idaho. The first week, I attended the USA Cycling Mountain Bike Cross Country National Championships in Sun Valley [adjacent to Ketchum]. I also took advantage of the Ride Sun Valley Mountain Bike Festival, which featured free daily guided rides and other bicycle-related events designed to coincide with the races. During the second week, I will tackle the trails outside the city by joining a guided, five-night mountain bike trip with the outfitter Western Spirit. I chose the “Backcountry Hot Springs Tour,” which includes a daily visit to different hot springs — another famed feature of Idaho.

With the attractions of stellar cycling and hot springs, among others, Idaho has lured more Santa Cruzans than just my friend to relocate here. I asked some current and former Santa Cruz residents what they think of the Ketchum bicycling community.

My top priority was to talk to Aptos residents Ron Riley and his wife, Harriet Riley, who drove up for the first time for the cross country national championships. Ron, a rider for Bike Station Aptos, earned a spot in the race by placing high in qualifying races. The couple attended last year’s championships, too, which were held in Granville, Colo.

“Sun Valley is a beautiful place to ride,” he said. “Like in Santa Cruz, there’s a really big cycling community here. There are lots of bike shops here, people are very kind to cyclists and the bike paths are great. This town has really figured out its biking.”

Riley specifically was impressed by the extensive network of paved bike paths, including some converted from rail lines.

“There are a lot of breweries, too!” he added with a chuckle.

However, Riley, 76, was most focused on his race. He placed fifth in the 70-plus age category in 1 hour, 9 minutes. That landed him a place on the podium, near his friend and rival Fred Schmid, 78, of Waco, Texas, who placed third.

Asked about his greatest accomplishment on the tough 7.5-mile course carved into Bald Mountain, Riley said, smiling, “I crossed the finish line.” He added, “It was tough getting up the singletrack to the top of the mountain. It was narrow, loose and steep with lots of roots. The good thing is the sun wasn’t in my eyes. The whole thing was in the shade. The pros got the sun later.”

Pat Schott, a Santa Cruz native, also raced Saturday, in the singlespeed division. He was cheered by his friends from Hailey, Idaho, where he currently lives.

“It was a tough race,” said Schott, 47.

At least Schott was accustomed to the altitude. He has survived four long winters in Idaho, he says proudly, and plans to stay. A painter by trade, he’s hooked on the skiing and loves the cycling. He rides recreationally and also competes in cyclocross.

“I first saw photos of Idaho in Dirt Rag [magazine],” Schott said. “The pictures stuck with me.” He was warmly welcomed to Hailey by another Santa Cruz native, Jennifer Biondi, who moved there a few years before he did. Biondi, like Schott, values the quality of life and lower cost of living in Idaho.

“I’m living my dream here,” said Biondi, 46. “I moved to Hailey in 2005. Idaho was embedded in my head thanks to pictures I had seen and later going to a friend’s Idaho wedding. Plus, I could afford to buy a house here.”

A Santa Cruz High graduate who won a basketball scholarship to San Jose State, Biondi discovered her love for mountain biking later in life thanks to her friends at Bell Sports, where she was a product manager.

“After eight knee surgeries due to basketball, I picked up mountain biking and friends at Bell really encouraged my riding,” she said.

She now rides regularly and works with the Idaho Bike Ranch, a mountain bike training park at Idaho Smoky Mountain Lodge.

After talking to Idaho transplants Schott and Biondi, I could see myself living in Ketchum — for the summer. And my first week has me feeling super-stoked for my upcoming week of riding in backcountry Idaho.

Like the Riley’s, however, my home is in Santa Cruz and I treasure my mountain bike community there.

Karen Kefauver, www.karenkefauver.com, is a freelance sports and travel journalist based in Santa Cruz and an avid cyclist. She blogs about cycling for the Sentinel at www.santacruzlive.com/blogs/outside.

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