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Cycling in God's country: Libby-area event has grown into popular annual activity

by Canda Harbaugh & Western News
| May 12, 2009 12:00 AM

Motels are booked, cookies and pies are baked and riders are conditioned – it must be time for the annual Scenic Tour of the Kootenai River bike ride.

“I’ll ride it till I can’t turn the pedals anymore,” said 53-year-old Floyd Beck, a Libby resident who has ridden every STOKR since it began in 1995.

The STOKR ride attracted 605 riders from throughout the country this year, although 170 had to be turned away through a lottery system.  

The weekend ride, which benefits Habitat for Humanity Kootenai Valley Partners, is popular among those in the cycling community for its scenic views and good food stops, according to Beck.

On Saturday, cyclists will choose between a 45-mile loop from Libby to Troy and a 98-mile route through the Yaak and back to Libby. Sunday’s ride is 37 miles along Kootenai River to the Libby Dam Visitor Center and back to Libby.

Beck’s enthusiasm for the event mirrors other riders, which is why the lottery system was implemented last year. Even with the system in place this year, at least one of the out-of-town riders – of which there are 390 – has reported troubles finding a motel, according to organizer Susie Rice.

Beck has never backed out of the STOKR and is thankful that he made the lottery this year. Some years back, he recalls working a 12-hour night shift at the plywood plant, hopping on his bicycle for the 98-mile Saturday ride and then working another night shift without sleeping. The only time he chose the short Saturday loop was two years ago, about two weeks after he broke his ribs.

“I think I would have withdrawals if I wasn’t able to ride it,” he said.

Beck enjoys the route, but says that his No. 1 reason for participating is that it’s for a good cause.

Rice estimates that this year’s ride raised about $30,000 through registration fees, sponsors and matching funds. Habitat for Humanity is able to build one house every two years from the proceeds.

It’s a true community event, Rice said, that takes more than 300 volunteers to put together. Volunteers prepare and serve food at refreshment stops along the route and follow riders by car in case of a flat tire or tired rider.

Students at the Adventist School recently sorted silverware for rider meals.

“When they sort silverware,” Rice said, “they know it’s for the food for the rider that buys the lumber that builds a house.”

Just as riding STOKR has become a tradition for Beck, some volunteers have been involved from the beginning.

Duane and Peggy Williams have operated the rider food stop in the Yaak since 1996, with exception to a one-year break for their son’s graduation.

Peggy was on the fundraiser committee for Habitat for Humanity during its second annual STOKR, and there was no one to coordinate the Yaak food stop.

“It was just sort of an act of desperation the first time,” she said. “We didn’t really know how to field that stop. We said, ‘OK, if we can figure out a way to heat the soup, we can do this.’”

Using a tabletop camping stove, they warmed up soup to serve their riders, and provided Subway sandwiches, fruit, homemade cookies and juice. Afterward, they purchased a larger, freestanding stove for the next year.

“Since we made the investment in the stove, we got stuck with the stop,” Peggy joked. “We’ve been doing it ever since.”