The Last Best Ride returned to northwestern Montana for its second edition last weekend. The gravel event, painstakingly created by former pro Jess Cerra and her partner, L39ION of Los Angeles’ Sam Boardman, brought hundreds of cyclists to Whitefish in a celebration of riding, wild places, and scholarship.
A handful of photographers were on site to capture the festivities; enjoy their visual narrative.
Sam Boardman and Jess Cerra.
It’s nearly impossible to summarize Cerra in a few words. As the founder of The Last Best Ride, Cerra means a lot to the many riders who’ve attended her event.
However, she is also a chef, small business owner, community leader, athlete and ambassador, advocate, and role model. Incredibly, she has infused each of those aspects of her identity into the TLBR, making it a welcoming — and inspiring — space.
Cerra’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana, is host to TLBR. The small city of 8,000 is considered the gateway to Glacier National Park and in addition to innumerable outdoor activities, boasts a vibrant downtown scene.
The TLBR expo in Whitefish.
However, the heartbeat of Cerra’s event is the Barbara Mansfield Champion Scholar program. Cerra started the scholarship fund for last year’s inaugural event as a way to give back to the community that gave so much to her growing up.
20 percent of the race proceeds and additional donations are dedicated to funding scholar awards for six financially qualified women pursuing post-secondary education who are from the town of Whitefish or its surrounding communities. A set number of awards are designated for a women who identify as Black, Indigenous or as a woman of color.
This year, over $30,000 was raised for the program.
Heart and lighthearteded — tandem tenants of TLBR.
Bradyn Lange shows off his wheelie skillz to fellow Scuderia Pinarello rider Brennan Wertz.
Riders hit gravel just a short distance from town.
You can almost smell the pine-scented air.
TLBR offers two courses: the Mountain Goat (48 miles, 4,200 feet) and the Bighorn Sheep (91 miles, 8,200 feet). Gravel, hardtail MTB, or ‘cross bikes recommended.
Riders on the Bighorn Sheep course have three ominous climbs to look forward to: Werner Peak, a chunky and technical ascent of roughly five miles that sees gradients up to 12 percent, the Caribou Climb, a set of short but super steep stair-step ascents, and then — the Big Horn Sheep Scramble.
The last step of the Caribou Climb, the Scramble is a wall of a climb that no one has yet ridden up.
However, they are rewarded for their efforts with a picturesque view from the Big Mountain Summit House of Glacier National Park and the whole of the Flathead Valley.
Perhaps even better than the views are the heckling/support from spectators — and walruses.
It’s not hard to make Scuderia athlete Anthony Carter smile, even when he’s suffering.
Even Michelin-star chefs need help from a course walrus every once in a while.
Note the grade by the angle of pushing.
Even pros like Scott Tietzel have time for a high five.
Brennan Wertz about to get lei’ed.
All of the views at the top.
TLBR aid stations are a vibe.
Shots — as well as Cerra’s own Jojé bars and Ted Kind’s UnTapped Maple — on offer.
Straight into post-race libations.
Laura King, Cerra, and Ted King.
Rather than defending his TLBR title this year, King hatched a plan to raise money for the Champion Scholar fund. He started 30 minutes after the group set off on the Bighorn Sheep course and passed 412 riders — which meant that he donated $412 dollars to the fund.
“I then collected another $300 while pedaling from riders I passed. I opened it up to Venmo and an additional $2,500+ came in, thanks to lots of matching donors.”
Caroline Dezendorf rode from the back like King, bringing in another $300, and Whitefish’s local bike shop Great Northern Cycle & Ski said they’d double King’s donation if he didn’t catch its owner Stella. He didn’t catch her, so now the donation is up to around $5,000.
“Not too shabby for a fun day of bike riding,” King said. “Thanks to everyone who cheered or donated.”
Kai Luan and Meg Fisher, TLBR para podium champions.
Until next year Montana!