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Galena Grinder (Race Report)

by: Erin Sweetser

After Breck 100 was cancelled (I was planning to race the 64 mile race), I had a hole to fill in my race schedule this July. My husband/travel partner and I floated some ideas but weren’t too thrilled on getting too far from Park City, (especially with another big race the following weekend) and we also wanted to find a race where we had a free place to crash.

I searched race schedules and remembered the Galena Grinder in Ketchum, ID, which both of us had done back in 2013. I DNFed due to a broken chain, but I had heard there were some new trails there and so we signed up. I was a little bit tentative about this because the race happened to also fall on my 5 year wedding anniversary, in which I had envisioned myself basking in luxury at the Stein Eriksen Lodge, or the like. Ultimately, we decided the timing was right despite this, so I signed up.

Ketchum is about a 4.5 hour drive from Park City, and one of my favorite places to Nordic ski in the winter. I go up there every year to do the Boulder Mountain Tour, a 32k Nordic race that starts at Galena. However, I hadn’t made it up there to mountain bike since 2013.

Thanks to the hospitality of good friends, we were situated about 25 minutes from the start. I pulled into the parking lot that morning to a pretty quiet crowd, but packet pickup (read: number plate pickup) was a breeze. I really appreciate a race promoter who gives you what you need and doesn’t fill a bag full of swag (crap) that just goes to the landfill.

There was a substantial rain storm the night before the race, and it was about 40 degrees that morning. After a hot July in Utah, this was a shock to the system. I couldn’t decide if I wanted to start the day with my @Hyperthreads arm warmers, but once I searched my bag, I realized I only remembered one arm warmer, so the decision was made for me.

The start was small, only about 25 people entered into the 40 mile race, but pretty special because I was able to line up with my husband, who is a pro racer, and that’s just not usually the case.

The format of the race was unique. There was a 10 mile “prologue” loop which was only done once, and then we did two laps of loop two, which were 15 miles each. There was very minimal information on the race, so check out my Strava map and elevation profile to see what the 2019 iteration of the race looked like.

I was dropped by the lead group pretty quickly, which was fine, because I had my own race to ride. After a short road climb, the fun began, and didn’t end for the next 4 hours. The rumors were true and the flowy single-track up at Galena was some of the most fun riding I have EVER done. It was reminiscent of sweet PNW hero dirt and was truly a brown pow kind of day.

Because of the small field, I found myself alone for the first two laps, and started to pass racers on my third lap that had done the XC 24-mile race. The trails were incredible, although it’s worth knowing there is a nasty hike-a-bike (for me) climb at miles 18 and 32. I suffered on this part, but seemed to suffer better than others, because I was able to gain or pass people in this section.

The climbs were relatively easy, power-type climbs that suit my riding style, and the descents literally put a smile on my face. I found myself saying (out loud) multiple times, “I’m having so much fun!” This is a race that will make anyone fall in love with bike racing again and again. It made me so fired up for the rest of the season. I also felt strong and was able to push hard the entire time, which was my goal. It was a bit hard to push completely to the outer limits, however, as I was pretty much alone.

I ended up 2nd for women on the day, and received some cash as well as a beautiful necklace made by a local jeweler. The best part of the race is that afterwards, you get to hang out at Galena and have a delicious, catered lunch and beer. It was fun to chat with old friends and fellow racers after. I capped off the day with an ice bath in the river, and my friends grilled up venison burgers from a deer our host shot with a bow last fall. How Idaho is that?

I can’t recommend this event highly enough. Incredible trails, tasty after-party, and that grassroots feel that is hard to find with mountain bike racing being so popular these days. This will now be a permanent fixture on the Sweetser race schedule.

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