Monday, February 23, 2015
After 22 years of racing/training, I was feeling like I needed a break from my usual rituals. The move to Arizona has offered a nice change in pace. My focus on home renovations has been a welcomed change to the racing priorities that I have followed in the past. Riding never stops, it is more about attitude than anything else. I am trying to keep connected with my real riding roots and that is more about mountain biking itself than racing or training. I assume I will race again come May. I just do not want to think about it now.
Art is not necessarily in the same place. He met some people on a group ride and exchanged phone numbers for future rides. One of the riders asked Art to be on a team for 24 Hours of Old Pueblo. Art quickly declined because of home renovations and he was not sure if he wanted to take an entire weekend, day and night, to play in the dessert. This new friend was persistent by text, and in texting back to him, Art’s finger slipped and he hit the thumbs up emoticon. He went to erase and hit send by mistake. Before he could send off a corrected message, an excited reply came back assuming that Art was in for the race. At that point Art decided that it was fate and he would race on team ‘No Fork ‘n’ Brake”.
While I had no intensions of racing myself, the day before the race, one of Art’s team members became ill and backed out. Art was sick as well but still planned to race. I decided I would fill in as 5th person. I planned to camp at the race with Art anyway and we had no kitchen at home at that point, so camping actually sounded good.
We arrived Friday and the place was jammed already. If you have not heard about 24HOP, it is a big deal in Tucson. It brings out close to 4000 people from all over the country to this desert campsite nick named “24 Hour Town”. Locals train all year in preparation for this event, and in the weeks prior, trails were real busy, as if everyone was out training. When driving on the highway the week before, I could see the town developing with campers in the distance.
It felt good to be going to a race and not really feel like I was racing, but just hanging out and supporting some fellow mountain bikers by filling a spot on a team. Art and I were the first from our team to arrive, and after Art bent his truck bumper in a ditch, we decided we went far enough, so that would be our campsite. We would face getting out on Sunday. We had a nice view, and it was close to a section of the course. One by one, we met our team as they arrived. Although the truck was comfy sleeping that night, 24 hour town was a party scene that night.
Marie was first in the start order and led us off with ¼ mile run lemans start. Imagine 500+ bikes lining a road and running ¼ mile and having to find your bike? It was crazy! Art took the next lap and I was able to figure out the logistics of how it all worked. Once unleashed on to the course myself, I could not believe how good I felt. I started passing people right away. Although I did not plan to race, I was racing. We all talked about the “The 3 Bitches” and some sketchy water bars. Apparently the “Bitches” were faster but not as fun as the bypass. I decided I would take the “Bitches” in daylight to check the water bars, and decide later what I would do at night.
On the first “Bitch” climb, I was given a “rider down” message from a marshal. On the third “Bitch” racers were stopped for 14 minutes while an injured rider was extracted by helicopter. I texted Art to let the team know that I would be 15 minutes behind schedule. As I was standing around at the top of the hill waiting, I noticed that the small group of 3 that I was riding with, had grown to nearly 50. When the race resumed, I was approaching the sketchy water bars in a pack of racers. I knew that wasn’t real safe, but luckily we all seemed to get through safely. I had a great lap that was much better than I expected. I rode the drop into the finish area and could hear Art cheering. I delivered my baton to my team leader, and went back to have dinner and wait for my night lap.
It was close to 10:30 when my night lap started. I don’t ride at night much. Actually, I don’t think I used my lights at all in the last 8 years. Yes, they worked, but were not as strong as what people use today, and I would be lucky if they lasted 2 hours. My 25 pound bike probably weighed 28 lbs with all the old school batteries. The first 15 minutes were pretty cool and then I took the “Bitches” and dragged my bike up each hill. I felt terrible, and quickly started to convince myself that I should not do any more night laps and maybe even quit racing altogether. Racing seemed tedious but I got around the 17 mile lap in just under 1:40.
I have a very short memory and by 5:00 am I was out for another lap. This time I decided not to push myself and take the bypass. It was wonderful! There were very few riders out on course and it was quite beautiful. The dead rat count was off the charts. It is amazing how many rats get run over on this one night a year. It makes you realize that the desert is indeed alive at night. As I started up the final climb, I noticed that it was getting light outside. I always dreamed of a daybreak lap and now I was here to experience it in the dessert. As I climbed, I heard the familiar “weet, weet” morning song of several curved bill thrashers. The desert seemed to glow. At that moment I understood what so many mountain bikers like about night riding and 24 hour racing. You just need step back for a moment and open your eyes. Racing can take you wonderful places if you let it. I rolled in to the tent for my last time to exchange the baton. It was good weekend of racing.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
SSAZ is a crazy cult-like gathering, something like “Burning Man”, or that was how it was explained to me. Single-speeders gather for a few days and what happens is a creation all unto itself. Art was on the unofficial roster, and while I had been invited, I declined due to a healing hamstring.
We rolled into the touristy town of Cave Creek and made ourselves at home at the Tumbleweed Hotel under the "Jesus Saves" sign. Eventually we strolled down to the bike shop for Art to pick up his packet and meet some of the family. I bought a beer and before my beer was finished, a few suckers were already out for the count … on the ground, literally. I’m sure it was a crazy night, but we decided to go to bed early and save our efforts for the next day.
Up early, we headed back down to the bike shop and the large family loaded their bikes into a Uhaul and climbed aboard buses, all to be delivered to the start. Those that did not fit into a bus, climbed into our van, sitting on top of viga beams that we purchased the day before. Eventually, 80 or so bikers with only their favorite gear were released into the desert. They were instructed to follow the blue and pink tape, some of which were tied to bottles of liquid refreshments and told to “have fun and don't be a dick!".
I took the van back to the finish and got on my bike at about the time the latter half of the riders were passing through the aid station. I jumped on course at that point and rode some fun trails, but lost my markers and tried to turn back. This happened quite a few times and eventually I did not really remember where I came from. I only had one beer the night before and now I was feeling a little concern for my partying family members that would be trying to find their way.
Luckily I spotted some riders and tried to follow them. They eventually dropped me, but at least I was back on course. If I followed the course, I would find my way back, or so I thought. So I latched on to another group and got dropped again, but they eventually got lost and I caught up. We did some figuring and managed to get back on course with only adding 5 miles and a giant climb. I was impressed with how the single-speeders did the climb, but I was very glad to have my gears at that point. We split up again and 21 miles later, I rolled in to the finish site to find out that Art had won as the first finisher. ....crazy awesome!
It was quite an epic adventure and I got to ride some new trails, many which were really fun. There were some great views, numerous water crossings and new friends along the way. It was a great day!