so sorry bike, so sorry
“Why would anyone want to race their bike for 24 hours” Came the drunken slur from a rolled down jeep window, passing us in the we early hours of the morning some 15 hours into the 24 Hours In the Sage. At the time I was put off by the question, to me we were pushing ourselves, trying to find the limits of our endurance, of our mind’s. After doing several 24 solos over a 4 year period I eventually bottomed out and asked myself the same question, why? Maybe those kids had it right, screw the heartbreak of failing, the incredible cost to mind-body-bike and bank account. The time spent training, traveling. Just party and hang it out, sounds good for about a minute. Instead of taking on the slacker lifestyle completely, I switched to the self-supported multi-day bike racing thing. It suited my strengths and I learned loads about everything from nutrition, to bike riding to mind control ending up knowing much better what I was personally capable of. Now I was racing for days on end not just 24 hours….
After a 8 year hiatus from solo lap racing I jumped into doing the 12 Hours Of Mesa Verde. I was racing for Team Griggs Orthopedic this season and wanted to show my stuff and do some races close to home. Well the race was super fun, I did pretty well and ended up a bit excited. Now I had just got the internet at home and one day home for lunch I signed myself up for the 24 Hour National Championships at the 24 Hours Of Enchanted Forest. Excitable boy + internet + lunch break = what the hell have I done?
Done got myself in over my head, but what the hell. Plus I did some homework and if you look at results from most 24’s, including nationals only the top 4-6 guys are consistent. Well what better place to test whether you got the moxie to race for a whole day than with the big boys and girls, so after a few more weeks of training it was off to Gallup, NM for some fun in the sun!
The fact is I went into the race worried about all sorts of stuff. The heat, food, hydration, my bike and last but not least the whole mystery of your own body holding up to so much pedaling. All this kept my eyes twitching, my dreams full of panic, my thoughts a twirling. But there is only so much you can do and at some point you got to just chill the fuck out and see what happens.
The race venue turns out to be sweet, tall pines, warm dry air, super fast trails. The vibe is chill and supportive, camping with fellow GO riders is simply great. It is easy to relax, sit and talk, slowly moving chairs and coolers in order to stay in the shade. All of us going about getting their respective ducks in a row. After some decent sleep among the pine needles it is time to wake up and eat and begin the prep, seems like a hundred sandwiches, even more water bottles and chews. Last minute fussing with the bike, number plate, trying to poop. Sooner than later the morning is gone and it is time to see how the cookie crumples…
The first two laps are hot, dusty and a bit crowded. Yet my fellow racers are cool and polite. The course is so fast, just so fast. It is looking like 24 hours could bring in some serious mileage. Each lap I hit the pit, grab fresh bottles, a sandwich, some sport legs. I am flying out there, it feels good, but by lap 6 I am also starting to feel it. My lower back is sore and there is so much sitting and pedaling that I am wearing out my butt. Lots of Ouch. Can I truly hold this pace for the duration? Although it hurts I still want to see what I can do?
Despite all the anticipation, wondering and fuzzy math no one knew what was in the cards. At 10:20 the sky opens up, pounding us with thunder, lightening and wind driven rain. The trail goes from dusty and fast to a flowing stream in minutes. One section of the course known as the Burma Trail, which was so fast and fun the very lap before, is all clay. I know it when I drop in, soaked to the bone with teeth chattering, that the Burma Trail is doomed. It is a complete mess, folks falling down, dragging bikes, desperately picking mud out of their forks and stays. The trail is gone, now just ruts and footprints. I am clinging to my determination to finish the lap, to still race, although this means picking up my front tire and dragging the back. Trying not to stop, to not hear the screaming in my back and shoulders.
After an agonizing 2+ hours I complete the lap and am told the race is paused, more info coming forth. I roll back to the camp, it is very quiet, my brakes are grinding, my bike is a disaster. I am dazed, worked, a bit dumfounded. I eat and take nap. Not sure what happened, what is going on, if I will or even should race my bike some more. I am awoken to a megaphone telling us the race will be restarted at 4:AM, which then becomes 6:AM and ends up being 6:30 AM. Everyone seems a bit confused, I know I am.
I get up, I don’t want to eat. I try to get some of the mud off my bike, out of my brakes, off my poor drivetrain. After a couple gallons and some very dirty hands I get my bike sort of ready to ride. Still the brakes are grinding, the drivetrain sounds like a WWII tank. Not good. My head is off as well. Just not as stoked on the race, on putting in more laps. But I didn’t come here to sleep in the back of someone’s van. So Suck it up Buttercup and get out there and race damn it!
Well the morning laps go along fine despite my back being on fire and my legs feeling a little dead. Still I manged to crank out three more laps before the 11:AM cutoff. The course is tacky and smooth, although the now infamous Burma Trail has been taken out of the course. I roll into camp, I am done. I feel disconnected. The last two races I did left me feeling amazing, so stoked and excited. Today I just feel tired, not so sure what actually happened, where I placed, what laps were counted.
Still days later I am a bit fuzzy about how I feel about this race, this experience. I have had plenty of races were I blow up, do something stupid, get sick. But to have it come down to something uncontrollable like the weather just leaves you guessing, wondering, for me unsatisfied. I mean we only did one night lap and that ended up thrown out due to the chaos of the mud and some folks taking a road instead of the muddy trail. Yet no one imagined that it would rain that hard, on that night. I rode a pretty good and smart race, I did fairly well, but I just don’t feel like it was a success. So now I have to wonder, do I really want to race for 24 hours again? Well, I think I might…