Riding to support child literacy
By Abigail Thorpe
“Cycle Hard for Education” is what CHAFE stands for, and that’s exactly what around 500 cyclists do every year around the mountains and valleys of beautiful Sandpoint. This year marks the 13th annual event, presented by Gary and Julie French, and organized by the Rotary Club of Sandpoint.
The gran fondo was originally started by the Panhandle Alliance for Education to support a program called Ready! for Kindergarten, which equipped parents to serve as the first teachers in helping prepare their children for school. Rotary Club of Sandpoint took over the ride eight years ago, continuing its mission to support education and youth in the local community. This year, funds will go to support the Lake Pend Oreille School District After School Reading and Literacy Program, and other youth and education programs.
“Last year was a breakout year for us, with over 500 riders and over 100 sponsors,” says Melvin Dick, a member of Sandpoint Rotary who helps coordinate and sponsor the CHAFE 150 every year. “We sponsor the ride because we believe in good education,” he says.
The ride has raised more than $320,000 for the cause since Rotary took over; more than $500,000 since its beginning. “Last year we donated $60,000 to the schools,” says Dick. “We also put another $15,000 into scholarships and youth leadership training and books for elementary students.”
The fundraiser has made a big difference in many kids’ and families’ lives, with many of the riders having firsthand experience of the benefits. “All three of my kids are products of the local school district and now I have grandkids. Early literacy is, in my opinion, the key to success,” says Kim Woodruff, the director of Parks and Rec for the City of Sandpoint, and a participant in the CHAFE 150 since its inception.
“If children cannot read proficiently by the end of third grade, they face daunting hurdles to success in school and beyond,” adds Andra Murray, the director of Teaching and Learning at the Lake Pend Oreille School District. “CHAFE makes a huge difference by providing up-to-date reading materials for our students as well as additional training for LPOSD staff.”
Riders from all over the country come out to participate in the CHAFE 150, with 60 percent coming from outside Sandpoint. Several years ago, the ride was named a top 10 scenic ride in the country, and Bicycling Magazine names it the number three charity ride in the country.
The ride offers 150-, 100-, 80-, 40- and 25-mile scenic routes through the Selle Valley and around the Cabinet Mountains, plus a family fun ride, and provides six fully stocked rest stops along the way, all manned by community organizations who compete to win the traveling trophy for the best rest stop, as picked by the riders.
“The scenic course, top-notch organization and awesome volunteers are what make the event,” says Woodruff. “I always start thinking about the cold beer waiting at the finish about halfway down the Bull River road—always. Seems like the hills east of Clark Fork get steeper every year. I’m a lone wolf and don’t hook up with other riders so that I can crank hair-band rock and only pay attention to the white line.”
Each year the ride brings in about $200,000 to the local economy of Sandpoint from people visiting, staying and eating at local businesses. The CHAFE has been a driving force in bringing the community together every June over a great cause and survives on the back of its incredible volunteer team and sponsors. From the race organization to the rest stops and day-of work, volunteers handle it all.
This will be Steve Sanchez’s 11th year volunteering for the event. He provides motorcycle support on the route and is trained in Wilderness and Remote First Aid, CPR and bicycle repair. “I love helping bicyclists on the CHAFE have a wonderful and safe riding experience on some of the most beautiful roads in the area,” says Sanchez. “I love being there for them to give some motivation if they are struggling up a steep hill, provide an extra bottle of water on a hot day, or change a flat tire so a rider can rest a few minutes.”
Woodruff remembers one year when he was given official clearance to ride the 150-mile route a day early so he wouldn’t miss hearing his daughter speak at her graduation, which was the day of the gran fondo. The founder of the ride, Brad Williams, also known as the “father” of CHAFE, was out marking the course and delivered Woodruff an ice cream along the way.
No matter the weather, riders come out and volunteers join to cheer them on. “At the pre-ride breakfast at Trinity, we have seen everything from wind and driving rain to beautiful sunny skies,” recalls Sanchez. “Regardless of the weather forecast, I love seeing the excitement on the faces of the riders fueling up for, what may be, the longest bicycle ride of their life!”
All of the routes—including the family fun ride—culminate in an after party at City Beach, including a dinner and beer and wine garden. “The after-ride party is open to the whole community,” says Dick. “We would like to have everyone come down and welcome the riders, their families, their kids, and have a great time.”
Registration for the June 20 CHAFE 150 is still open, it is $75 for the 150-, 100- and 80-mile routes, $50 for the 40- and 25-mile routes. For youth (16 and younger), registration fees are $50 for the 150-, 100- and 80-mile routes, $20 for the 40- and 25-mile routes. In addition to the registration, all adult riders are required to raise a minimum of $50 for the ride cause ($25 for youth). For those who raise more, there are a series of prizes, ranging from free registration to a free bike if you raise $4,000 or more. The family fun ride is free to kids 5 and younger and any accompanying adults, and $5 for kids 6 and over.
Without its sponsors, the CHAFE 150 and its fundraising for the local community would not be possible. This year’s presenting sponsor is Gary and Julie French, with platinum sponsors including Like Media, Litehouse Foods, RE/Max, Timberline Helicopters and Ting. Gold level sponsors include 219 Lounge, Pend Oreille Mechanical, KPND, WSS CPAs and Consultants, Trinity at City Beach, Bonner General Health, Greasy Fingers, Bonner County Daily Bee, Elana Westphal, Kochava, 7BTV, Washington Trust, Sandpoint Living Local, Jason Duchow Photography, Clearwater Gear, Parker Subaru, and Angela and Tim Cochran. Opportunities to sponsor the event are still available, and every contribution goes to making the CHAFE 150 the incredible ride and community event that it is.
“Volunteering at a CHAFE rest stop was one of the highlights of my year,” says Murray. “Riders from near and far participate in support of such an important cause—literacy. Thank you to the riders, sponsors, Rotary and all of our community members who make this event possible!”
To register, sponsor or volunteer, visit CHAFE150.org.
The organizers of the CHAFE 150 are monitoring the COVID-19 situation. They are hopeful that the ride will continue as planned.