Lions Pride: Bicycle Poker Ride Report

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Race Report submitted by Chad Dexter.

The Missoula Lions Club hosted its 2nd annual Bicycle Poker Ride (BPR) on Sunday, June 3rd. Basing out of Bearmouth (20 miles east of Missoula & 85 miles west of Helena), participants are offered a 50-mile & 100-mile option through some of the best road riding available in the area. I opted for the 100-mile route… Rolling out from the Bearmouth Chalet at 7:30 am, the core group of riders that joined me on the journey were Bill Schultz, Bill Simmel & Mark Reinsel. At times throughout the day our peloton of 4 swelled to as many as 12 riders along the way. Taking the newly paved I-90 Frontage Road, riders get a smooth ride all the way to Drummond with some rolling hills mixed in there along the way to get the heart rate up in preparation for what lays ahead. Great views of the Clark Fork River are available throughout this initial stretch.

The first rest stop is in the town of Drummond, with an opportunity provided by the great Lions Club volunteer staff to fuel up on lots of snacks & drinks. This is also where you draw your first poker card (5 of spades). Best 5-card hand at the end wins the ride.

The crown jewel of the BPR awaits just a few miles outside of Drummond as you swing left and begin the infamous “Route 271 Climb”. Whether you’re a recreational roadie familiar with the local cycling scene, or a hard core racer who’s suffered through the Bearmouth Road Race held in the early spring annually, you know about this big ascent. 4.1 miles in length. An average gradient of 4.3%, with a quad-peelin’ 11% inflicted at one point. Headwinds are almost always a factor on the way up as well. In a road race scenario, it’s the part of the course where pelotons disintegrate & climbers sprout wings on their ascent to victory. If you’re using a heart-rate monitor while riding this beast, take a quick peek at it just as you reach the top. There’s a good chance you’ve just pegged your training’s most accurate MAX beats-per-minute…

With the biggest climb of the day completed, riders work their way into Helmville for more refreshments and a second poker card (ace of diamonds). Riding through town, you’re reminded that it’s Sunday morning as the local church’s parking lot is full while, right next door, the Copper Queen Saloon is empty.

After Helmville, a right turn onto Hwy 241 offers a few more rollers before riders reach the north end of the Nevada Lake Reservoir where lunch is served. After a lunch break, the designated route reverses back to Drummond. Make a note, however…for any of you sticklers out there that just must define a “century ride” as being 100 miles completed, you’ll need to ride a bit further (past the south end of the reservoir) before turning around. The post-lunch train of riders back to Helmville got up to 12 of us as we ripped through this section in no time. It might just be me, but I think one of the coolest sounds you can ever experience as a cyclist is the steady state buzz that comes off a tightly packed group of riders on the open road. It’s hard to explain, but listen for it the next time you’re in a big peloton & you’ll know exactly what I’m referring to. Another card (5 of clubs) is drawn.

The backside climb up Route 271 is longer, but not as steep. Much easier on this side. Once at the top, riders scream down the other side…40…45…50(!?!) mph in a winding, twisting thrill descent. Bill Simmel displayed the best down-hill talent of the crew today. I tried to stay on his wheel, but the nerve just isn’t there!

Back at Drummond, another quick stop & another card drawn (8 of diamonds). From Drummond, back on the I-90 Frontage Road and a fast track into Bearmouth where a BBQ feast awaits. I closed out the worst 5-card hand in the history of poker by drawing a 10 of clubs.

Just a few years back, reaching the top of the “Route 271 Climb” meant you turned around & rolled back to Drummond as the pavement on the other side quickly turned to dirt road. With the paving of the “Helmville Road” all the way to Hwy 241 now, the area has opened up to a road cycling paradise. Kudos to the Missoula Lions Club for putting this gorgeous stretch on full display with their annual Bicycle Poker Ride. Deal yourself in next June and, regardless of the hand you’re dealt at the BPR, I promise you won’t be disappointed.