By Cameron Rasmusson
When Mel Dick feels the workload of helping organize CHAFE 150 bear down on him, he recalls a story that puts everything in perspective.
It was an encounter between Dr. Joy Jansen, director of special education at Lake Pend Oreille High School, and one of the students in Second Step, a program supported by CHAFE 150 that improves social and communication skills. When Jansen asked the student if he enjoyed the program, he said he did for one very simple reason: “It makes me a better person.”
For Dick, it’s an inspirational story of success, and it’s of a piece with the motivational force that drives CHAFE volunteers and participants, from the organizational committee to the individual riders. It’s a labor of love fueled by the desire to make students’ lives a little easier.
“That’s why we’re doing this,” said Dick. “It’s so you can say you made someone’s life better.”
A timed bike ride designed for hardcore enthusiasts and casual participants alike, CHAFE 150 celebrates its 10th anniversary at its June 17 ride this year. Over that time, the event has enjoyed remarkable growth, expanding from 70 riders in its first year to the more than 350 expected for this year. It’s also quickly finding its place as a centerpiece summertime community event, with 86 local businesses and organizations lining up as sponsors and an after-the-ride party entertaining both riders and non-riders.
“I think we’re starting to reach critical mass, where the ride is just becoming bigger and bigger,” said Elana Westphal, who handles public relations for the CHAFE organizational committee.
From the beginning, CHAFE 150 has been about providing support for education, primarily programs and services that help students with communication and socialization skills. That’s especially important for children on the autism spectrum. According to Westphal, the money that CHAFE raises for schools is good news for every student—the money that funds those programs frees up school resources for other services.
“That’s what’s kept me volunteering my time [to CHAFE]—the fact that all of the money is staying local, and it’s all going to help children in the school district on the autism spectrum,” Westphal said.
CHAFE 150 raises that money through several means. The primary method is fundraising done by the riders themselves. Participants set up fundraising pages, and those who are able to reach the top tiers of financial support are eligible for prizes ranging from jerseys to high-quality racing bikes. There’s also the after-ride event at City Beach near Trinity from around 2-8 p.m., where riders and non-riders alike can enjoy a beer and wine garden and other attractions that benefit the cause. According to Dick, a goal for the next several years is turning the after-ride event into a major community event.
“That’s the next step of this ride: to engage the entire broader community,” Dick said. “How do we get 500 non-riders and non-sponsors to come down and celebrate the cause?”
For now, the focus remains on the ride itself. Divided into a 27-mile route, and 80-mile route and a 150-mile route, CHAFE is designed to be accessible for inexperienced riders while still challenging the most hardcore racers. Those who wish it can tackle the 150-mile route and compete for the best times, while those seeking a slower pace can opt for the 27-mile route and enjoy the beauty of the North Idaho setting. For those reasons, CHAFE has acquired fans both local and far-flung. Visitors come in not only from neighboring states but also locations as distant as Vancouver or Italy—some of whom prove to be the event’s most successful fundraisers.
“Almost anyone can do that 30-mile ride,” said Westphal. “Our youngest-ever rider was 6 years old, and oldest ever was 84.”
There’s still plenty of time to sign up and experience the hype firsthand. Simply go to www.chafe150.org and register online.