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The Vermilion River Challenge

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the gnarliest course in the Northwest

I awoke to the pounding of rain on my tent. It was dark; inky, black dark. There’d be no need to crawl out of my sleeping bag for several more hours so I struggled to find elusive moments of sleep.

I had crawled into my sleeping bag earlier that night to the pounding of rain on my tent. And when morning finally did come – a gray, dismal-looking, tepid sort of a morning – the rain continued to fall. My mood, as tepid as the reluctant sunrise, forced me to snuggle deeper into the bag.

At last, however, the pitter-patter of raindrops ceased and I ventured to peer out. Black clouds hung low over Vermilion Bay but the rain indeed had stopped. I stepped forth into the damp air and wondered if anyone would show for the fourth annual Vermilion River Challenge Mountain Bike Race last Saturday.

Well, they did. A fine group of eager riders anxious to tackle the 50-mile loop over Vermilion Pass, the 42-mile loop over Seven Point Mountain via narrow, treacherous, single-track trails and the family fun loops in the shadow of Twenty Odd Mountain gathered by the big Safeway tent (with half a roof). The clouds parted and blue sky began expanding across the horizon. A fabulous day was in the making.

Twenty-two riders set out along the Blue Slide Road toward Graves Creek and the brutal 3800-foot climb to Vermilion Pass. Ten of them would veer from the road at the pass and strike out on what came to be described by several riders as “the gnarliest course in the northwest.” Nearly seven miles of trail slithers through the forest, over logs and across talus rock to Seven Point Mountain – another 640 vertical feet of elevation gain – before seven and a half more miles drop precipitously down Cataract Creek back to the Vermilion River and knee-deep wading with a bike on your back.

Half a dozen other riders followed gently undulating county roads through scenic countryside on the easier family routes. Nick Nizzoli, at seven years of age, became the youngest to ever register at the VRC. Ronald Rhodes, 55, of Spokane became the most senior rider to participate in this event to date.

In the more competitive mountain road and single-track trail events Sean Buck, who pedaled his way around the 50-mile route two years ago at age 11, returned this year to do it again and shaved almost three hours off his previous time. His dad, Jay Buck, endured three flat tires on the road course yet still managed a third place finish.

Twenty-year old Mike Filipowski, who is one of only three riders to enter the VRC all four years (Ken Barrett and Brandon Kaastad are the other two), garnered his best time yet on the road course at 3:33:09 and gained a second place finish. This year’s Men’s Road Course Champion was newcomer Steve Coon of Libby, 39. He bested Mike by less than two minutes at 3:31:13. Just one woman entered the race this year. Jennifer Forsyth completed the course in a respectable 6:08:13.

The alternate route over Seven Point Mountain this year included 28 miles of mountain roads and 14 miles of single-track trail. The course was better marked than last year so no one got too confused about where to go, which meant times became official. Establishing the course record was Ethan Harrison of Hayden, Idaho. He crossed the finish line in 4:15:46. Jeff Welp followed him at 4:47:23 and Ben Suttlemyre claimed third at 5:09:45. Ken Barrett, 37, was the old man on the trail and came in at 5:11:01. Another newcomer to the VRC, 15-year old Matyas Kreidler, tackled the single track on his first try and finished in 6:38:20.

The after-the-race party featured homemade chili by Gail Cameron of Eye Care For You in Sandpoint with the help of Jacquie Albright of Travel World. The title sponsors for the 2002 Vermilion River Challenge included The River Journal, Alpine Designs, Mountain Communications and Creative Support Services. This event could not have happened without their support.

Plans are already in the works for 2003 and a new organizational sponsor for what will be known as the Vermilion River Mountain Bike Festival, scheduled as a two-day event next Sept 6 and 7, was introduced. Behind the scenes of next year’s race will be the Vermilion River Mountain Bike and Hiking Club. For information about the club and the event visit www.vermilionriverchallenge.com in the coming weeks.

Finally, special thanks to all the volunteers and participating sponsors for their assistance. Because of such excellent help the 2002 Vermilion River Challenge was a wonderful success. Be sure to mark your calendar and make plans to join us next year.

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Author info

Dennis Nicholls Dennis Nicholls was the founder, publisher, janitor and paperboy of the River Journal from 1993 to 2001. He passed away in 2009.

Tagged as:

mountain biking, Trout Creek, Vermilion River Challenge

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