R'IDAHO: THE FIRST WOMEN TO CONQUER GRIT #3
By Kalyn Benaroya
We stopped at the edge of the paved road headed into Challis, Idaho late in the afternoon of August 11th. 5 days, 651 miles, 41.5 hours of riding time, 4 women, 100’s of unforgettable moments and unimaginable amounts of laughter were had. It was hard to continue on our final stretch after pushing through the past five days. Some experiences we hope never come to an end and we want to exist right there in that moment forever.
A year prior my husband Pat and I studied Grit #3 while on a trip to the area. The R’Idaho Grit is an online challenge with four different routes depending on what part of Idaho you choose to experience. Grit #3 crosses through the Sawtooth Mountain Range reaching the towns of Challis, Stanley, Lowman, Idaho City, Pine, Smiley Creek and Clayton. After several weeks of riding, clearing trails, navigating and experiencing the terrain, we agreed that Grit #3 needed to be attempted by the first ever all women’s team.
One way to obtain ‘True Grit Status’ is by completing the Challenge in 5 days, unsupported.
This means no planned outside help or stashing fuel, food, tools or spare parts along the way. We carried everything we needed or may need aside from meals and camping gear on our bikes. Staying in hotels is allowed by adding a certain number of bonus miles, which are typically more challenging single track trails.
On October 19th I sent a text to Kate, Dayne and Courtney asking if they were interested in teaming up to become the first all women’s team to attempt any of the Grit challenges. Immediately they all said yes, although they truly had no idea what the Grit was or what it would entail. Apparently they trusted my judgment! In January we talked about the trip, then again in May and again in June, finally settling on the dates of August 7-11. Courtney promptly started booking rooms along the route, which was a key move as most accommodations were already full for that week. Jamey was invited to join the team in June with the hopes to have strength in numbers. While large groups aren’t always beneficial, my thinking was with a solid group, we would be able to get through and achieve anything we would come across! In early June, Dayne and I pre-rode sections of our route, testing our bikes’ fuel capacity as well as our bodies. Our partners and friends joined us, clearing trails and pre-riding a few special tests along the way.
Reality hit both Dayne and me: this was going to be one of the most challenging things on two wheels we had ever done, both mentally and physically! Meanwhile, Courtney was plotting on how she could get out of it and Kate was recovering from a recently broken foot. You would think I would have been questioning if we were actually going to give the Grit a try, but I didn’t. I knew we were going to attempt the Grit and I knew we were going to finish. The planning, purchasing of gear, and testing bike set-ups for most of the group didn’t start until two weeks before! Our bikes were not set up perfectly and had not been tested while fully loaded.
Knowing we were all on 2020-2022 fuel injected 300 Husqvarna and KTM two strokes was helpful for planning our tools and spare parts needs. Between all of us we had a fairly extensive tool kit, including extra bearings, fuses, spare hand levers, brake levers and shifters. The levers and shifters were zip tied into air-boxes to save space and take weight out of our packs.
My personal setup was a 2021 Husqvarna TE300i with a 3.3 gallon tank. A Trailbound Saw Mount carrying 2 Mosko Moto 4L dry bags with an additional small front fender bag. I also bolted an Oxbow Light to my front fender and wired it to my headlight switch. Two 2-liter Platypus collapsible containers (for extra fuel), and a Mosko Hydration Pack. I used every millimeter of space!
Courtney was on her 2022 KTM 300XC-W TPI with a 3.1 gallon tank. A Trailbound Saw Rack carrying a dry bag and front fender bag, a rear fender bag, one 3 liter Platypus bag for fuel and a USWE backpack. She also used an Oxbow light mounted to the front fender. Dayne was on her 2020 Husqvarna TE300i with a 3.3 gallon fuel tank. She mounted two 1.5 liter fuel cans and a Silky Saw to her Trailbound Saw Rack. She attached a rear fender bag and wore a Klim Arsenal vest to carry everything she needed for the trip. Jamey was on her 2021 Husqvarna TE300i with a 3.3 gallon fuel tank. She carried an extra 2 liters of fuel using her Trailbound Saw Rack, attached rear saddle bags, a rear fender pack and carried a small USWE hydration pack. Kate was the only one who went with a stock tank on her 2022 KTM 300XC-W TPI, which surprisingly was getting 80 miles to the tank! Kate wore a Klim Arsenal Vest and attached a fender bag stacked with a 1 gallon Giant Loop Fuel bag to get the job done.
Just days before our planned departure date, heavy storms rolled through Idaho causing landslides, washes, downed trees and incredible amounts of damage! Other groups of Grit riders were reporting severe damage along their routes making for high amounts of anxiety for our team. Our original plan to not carry a chainsaw was quickly becoming an issue. At the same time, we had no prior experience riding with a saw, and the Grit did not seem like a good time to test it out. We packed a Silky handsaw and prayed that we would luck out. Routes were agreed upon and made a week or two before. Kate and Dayne added the routes to their GPS’s, some of which were added late the night before our departure. We had originally planned a route that would surely be impassable after the storm, so in our late night planning, we also decided to take the route we could most likely complete and in True Grit Style, the highest level of completion.
We set out at 6:45am August 7th from Challis, Idaho on an adventure of a lifetime! Within a few miles of double track leading us into the mountains, the sunrise made the perfect backdrop for some quick packing adjustments. We weaved up and over the hills heading west through recently rained on trails, holding a safe and steady pace towards our first special test of the day, Cinnabar Trail. With single track quickly transitioning into the side-hill style trails that Idaho is known for, Jamey took the first off trail detour after she lost her front end on a skinny section of trail. She and her bike flipped down the hill, thankfully landing upright, mostly unscathed. As she tried to move her bike we realized her front brakes were locked up. Courtney, Jamey and I successfully worked together to get the bike back on the move. From that point, it seemed everyone started to ride with a little more caution, knowing that it just takes one wrong move to end the challenge. We reached Stanley by late afternoon day one. Our first day gave us a good sense of how we rode together and how well we packed our bags! The 5 of us were a great fit, finding our collective rhythm. After riding 103 miles of breathtaking views and challenging yet fun single track, we were ready to enjoy a nice meal and prep for day two!
Knowing that we had a 108 mile day ahead of us, we hit the road early on day two! Within the first few miles of single track Dayne took a tumble down a 30 ft embankment. All five of us worked together, pushing and pulling, using a tow-strap to get her bike back to the trail. It only took a matter of minutes to recover her bike and regroup, but that fall had a lasting impact on the rest of Dayne’s ride. It only takes one small mistake to get into your head when you’re riding endless Idaho side hill!
After completing our morning “warm up” and refueling in Stanley, we headed out for the rest of day 2 but by the time we reached a road, Jamey’s arm had flared up with unbearable pain. At that point it was time for her to make the call if she could continue on or go home. Unfortunately, the pain was extreme enough that she turned east to head back to Stanley on the highway, while the rest of us turned to the west on our route to Lowman. That was not easy for any of us. Knowing how much each of us wanted to complete the Grit and seeing that it could all go away in an instant was heartbreaking.
Each of the 100+ miles days of the Grit 3 loop put each rider to the test mentally and physically. As a team they not only worked together to get through the challenge but they depended on each other for support along the way! It’s named the Grit Challenge for a reason!
THE TEAM CONSISTED OF 5 OF THE NW’S MOST NOTABLE RIDERS:
KALYN BENAROYA, 38 of Hood River, Oregon and founder of Dirtastic
Instagram: @dirt.astic @kalynbenaroya
KATE SCHADE, 50 of Victor, Idaho and founder of Kate’s Real Food
Instagram: @kates_real_food @schadeykate
DAYNE TONEY, 31 of Driggs, Idaho, and co-founder of Enduro Method
Instagram: @enduromethod @daynetoney
COURTNEY FELDT, 47 of Whitefish, Montana and co-owner of Feldt Excavation
JAMEY PARKS, 38 of Couer D’Alene, Idaho and owner of Empire of Dirt
That same day, the clouds moved in, eventually giving us a little treat! The rain cooled us off, eliminated the dust and made for an excellent afternoon of riding! We pulled into Lowman ten and a half hours after our initial departure from Stanley. Lemonade, beer and bar food never tasted so great! We celebrated the day with a dip in the Kirkham Hot Springs, where Courtney nearly ended her trip slipping in the rocks, splitting her elbow open. Once again, we rallied, got her patched up and ready to ride!
Day 3 was an early, unexpectedly cold morning spent chasing each other through the trails and watching the sun rise. The long windy road into Idaho City made for a brisk ride! Once we reached town to refuel we were all ready to sit in the sun with a hot beverage to warm up. This was our longest day, so in reality we did not have time to waste. The mid morning warm up cost us valuable time that we didn’t yet know we were going to need.
The trails out of Idaho City are fast and whooped out. The combination caused everyone to have packing issues with their rear fender bags, except me! Being free of fender bag worries, the whooped out trails provided a fast, fun, motocross like day in the woods! An hour out of town, I felt a pop in my left hand and could not feel my pinky. That is never a good sign. My heart sank. I pulled off the trail, slid my glove off fearing what I would find. It was painless and everything moved well until I spotted the tip of my pinky wasn’t able to bend. It didn’t hurt, so I slid my glove back on, knowing I had a job to finish.
165 miles and 13 hours later, after another epic day, we pulled into Pine. What happens when four women roll into a small town on dirt bikes? We get noticed! The long stop in Idaho City and fender bag fails meant that we didn’t make it into town during business hours. The gas station, restaurant and bar were all closed for the night and we were hungry. Very hungry! Thankfully being noticed meant that the bartender who happened to still be inside, opened the door to let us in! She prepared several pizzas and pitchers of beer, completing this unforgettable day! “Nom, Nom, Nom” as Kate said.
Due to our late arrival to Pine, we were unable to refuel before 8am. This allowed us to sleep in and enjoy the slow morning before we would hit the trails for day 4 to Smiley Creek. By day four you would think that our bodies would be sore, our hands would be blistered and we would be feeling out of sorts, but we either didn’t notice due to the adrenaline running through our veins or we all hid it well! Along the route for our 116 mile journey to Smiley Creek we made an obligatory stop at the Smoky Bar Store for a coke and fuel. The Paradise trail took us east back through the Sawtooth range. With only a couple detours along the way, we made great time landing in Smiley Creek just 10 hours later and right in time for an early dinner (or shall I say carb loading) for the final day!
Day 5 was the route Dayne and I had tested earlier in the summer. We knew what to expect which I believe helped us get through the 130 mile day. The morning started out with a fast 90 mile section ending in Clayton where we were able to refuel our bikes and bodies. The owner of the Sawmill Station and friend Ross greeted us with excitement, knowing we were on the home stretch. He suggested a last minute route change, knowing that it was clear of debris from the storm a week prior. Per his recommendation, we took off on a slightly longer road section than originally planned, followed by a shorter, yet more technical route to the top of Custer Lookout. At 10,000 ft and after several hundred miles of riding, we made it to the highest elevation point in the Grit #3 route. We took a few minutes to celebrate by making our first recorded interview. Our interview may or may not ever be seen by the public, but it was a moment in time that each of us will never forget! From that point, we just needed to make it down the hill and back into Challis. My senses became heightened. The shadows were more dramatic, the sun was brighter, our pace faster yet it felt like time was slowing down.
We stopped just shy of the paved road headed into the small Idaho town of Challis in the late afternoon of August 11th. 5 days, 651 miles, 41.5 hours of riding time and 4 women... We did it! We completed the R’Idaho Grit #3 as the first ever women and all women team in True Grit Style, the most challenging option.
I realize the challenge was more than a point to point ride; it was an experience that will never be replicated. It was an experience that no matter how many words I put down on paper, I will never fully be able to capture the essence of. It was thousands of shared moments with other women who believed in each other and themselves. I crave our connection, our bond, our friendships, our strength, our determination, our fearlessness, our pureness, our love, our passion, our unforgettable laughter and our grit. I will hold these sacred moments in my heart forever.
Through our journey we hope to inspire other people to say yes to opportunities that come their way and believing in themselves to do the unimaginable!