Off-road handcyclists and their able-bodied peers hit the trails of the Rocky mountains
By Jessica Wambach Brown
Some 8,300 feet above sea level in the alpine terrain where southeast Idaho meets northwest Wyoming, 33-year-old Joe Stone turns onto Otter Slide, his favorite mountain bike trail at Grand Targhee Resort.
The flow of the rollers and berms beneath his Lasher Sport All Terrain Handcycle kindles the familiar joy of mountain biking he had before a 2010 paraglider crash rendered him an incomplete C7 quadriplegic.
It’s late August and as he leans into each corner, Stone can see the craggy peaks of the Teton Mountains rising above the golden fields around him. At the end of the 0.7-mile run, he cruises into the base camp for the Wydaho Rendezvous Teton Bike Festival, so named for its border location and its continuation of a tradition started by mountain men in the 1820s.
At the height of the Northwest fur trade, trappers who lived in the Rocky Mountains would gather for a few weeks each summer with buyers from the East Coast to exchange their catch for cash and treasures scarce on the frontier, such as whiskey, blankets and tools. In 1832, the notoriously rowdy annual gathering was held in the Teton Valley, just south of present-day Driggs, Idaho.
Then, 178 years later, Teton Valley Trails and Pathways, a nonprofit organization dedicated to opening access to the outdoors in this stunning region, held the inaugural Wydaho Rendezvous in nearly the same spot. Riders of all skill levels converged with the sport’s top brands over Labor Day weekend to test new bikes and explore the growing network of quality trails in the Teton Valley area.
“Both events were great big gatherings of people who enjoyed the same thing — ultimately, a blowout party,” says festival Manager Devin Dwyer.
A High-Altitude Happy Place
The festival became an annual staple in the valley and in 2012 moved uphill to Grand Targhee Resort, where participants have access to tent and RV camp sites, hotels, restaurants and, most importantly, miles of cross-country and lift-accessed downhill mountain bike trails, all in a central location.
In 2013, it attracted its first adaptive rider, Stone. Within a year of his accident, he had handcycled the 50-mile Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park and soon added wheelchair rugby, whitewater rafting, Ironman Triathlon training and off-road cycling to his roster of physical endeavors. These experiences led him to start the Joe Stone Foundation, which aims to erase barriers between people with disabilities and able-bodied communities through common activities.
“That was what I noticed right away after my injury,” says Stone, who lives in Missoula, Mont. “All of a sudden, I was disconnected from the community I used to be a part of all because I had one accident. That didn’t really make sense to me.”
Wydaho proved to be an ideal environment for integrated play, with wide trails, accessible camping facilities and volunteers who were game for challenges like getting a handcycle on a chairlift.
Working with Teton Valley Trails and Pathways and local partner Teton Adaptive Sports, the following year Stone’s foundation helped recruit nine other adaptive athletes. By 2017, 29 of the festival’s 650 participants were adaptive riders, making Wydaho one of the biggest adaptive off-road cycling events in the country.