It is, once again, that time of year for a small city of mountain bikers to pop up in the desert outside of Tucson. It is February and Epic Rides’ 24 HOP is upon us!
Being a local race, I look forward to this every year because everyone can get together at the same venue and there is such a huge camaraderie that takes place. There is every kind of mountain biker here. The racers and rec-riders. The ‘foodies who have a bike problem’. The costume-wearers. A few celebrities to the mtb community. And lots of spectators just there to have a good time and hang out. And literally, 24 hour Town appears out of no where. It’s a pretty awesome scene.
For the past 6 years, I have participated in a 5-person co-ed team (yes, being the token female). It has been a blast! We have succeeded in getting on the podium most of those years between 3rd and 4th place, it was an excellant team to be on and we learned what each of us was capable of. Also, during most of these years, my husband has attempted to talk me into doing a Duo with him. I have firmly stood my ground with an adamant No….until now. After last year’s race, I knew that I wanted to do something different; but wasn’t quite sure what or if I was willing to commit to this Duo thing. Kevin has done it, more than once, along with a Solo under his belt. As far as I’ve heard, the Duo category is the toughest one to be in…there is no rest and you are not just out there for yourself, there is still another teammate counting on you. So when the time came to absolutely make the decision to secure our place at the race, I said “Sure. Why not.” So this year would be a whole new story, a whole new challenge, no more of the creature comforts like sleep, and the year that I may find out what I am really made of…. And our competition this year, of course the one and only King and Queen of Pain..Rebecca Rusch and Nat Ross are returning for a second year. How cool would it be to stand on a podium with them! We have also been warned about the Thelen’s, who have landed into second place the last several years. We are the newbies, but we won’t just lie down in the dust, we’re here to compete!
We have to start this with the week before the race. All the prep work that goes into a self-supported 24 hour race is unbelievable. Altho we would be camping with the other OVB Team members who could offer some assistance and support, they were all racing as well; which left us to mostly fend for ourselves when it came to food (both on and off the bike) and rest. Several weeks befor,e I trialed some different homemade bars that could be easily digested, eaten quickly and still hold all that a racer needs to refuel. This required them to be small, have the right protein and carb combo while still adding calories and having a light enough pleasant taste as not to be tasting it while riding. Thanks to some recipes I found on the internet, I was able to work in (or out) ingredients that suited us. So this pre-race week, I was re-making which ones worked and along with lots of fruit and various other assundries like pre-made almond/honey sandwiches (toasted! No sogginess!) for hands-off nutrition, I thought we had the right medley of fast fare for the 24 Hr racer. On the bike nutrition was a bit easier to hash out. We are GU people. It just works. I know how many calories we need on the bike and easily measured it out with the brews and GU packets. To make the chore of mixing something we didn’t have to think about during the race, I pre-made every bottle we would need and left them in gallon jugs. A pretty impressive sight.
So Saturday morning is upon us. We both have decided that a good night’s sleep at home this year trumps hanging out at the campsite and waited to head up to the venue early this morning. With plenty of time to set up the tent-trailer and get all our prepared goodies under control, there is still some moments left to chat with our friends and wander around the ‘town’ checking out various venders. Kevin is doing the 1st crazy and chaotic lap, so he readys himself and I pick up the coveted team baton. The start is in LeMan’s style with about a 1/4 mile run to your bike. Altho I am the runner and Kevin thinks I’m faster, he is way more aggressive in passing and that is what is needed on this start lap. There is something like an 1800 rider limit allowed making for a very crowded start line! They’re off! Kevin is about mid-pack on the run, gets his bike and is gone. I have 2 laps to rest up the legs before I go out. Our strategy is to do double laps as long as we can, at least thru the night, so there is more rest time between. Laps are not much over an hour ride time, so I’m hoping this works out for us. I put my feet up, take in some calories and water and wait.
In the exchange tent and wait. Waaiting is the harrdest part (Tom Petty? No?..) I am anxious. Excited. Nervous. Everything! Kevin rolls in, I greet him with a grunt, grab the baton and am off running to my bike. Reminders at hand…don’t go out too hot, this is not a sprint like the other years. Relax. Ha, yea right! I guess I don’t know what that means. There is wind. Lots of wind and not necessarily going the direction to be most helpful. The first challenge is the 7 Bitches…giant hills on a rutted jeep road that just make you want to say “You SOB hill!”. There is carnage. I mean there are riders down, ambulances on site. This happens every year here, but the massive tailwind down these suckers today has you finding yourself going 35+mph in a spot some are just not that comfortable with. I safely get thru and on to the corral sections. This is usually a fast, winding singletrack and a favorite segment of mine; but the wind is pushing hard against me and the trail is super crowded still. Again, it’s like interval training….and too much talking. “When there’s a spot. On your left. Thanks”. One guy even yelled at me for being too aggressive as I warned him I was coming from behind…before I ran up on him. Seriously? By the end of the race, other than the smaller kids and solo riders, those sentences of warning became one word grunts- “left. Thanks”. “Left. Thanks.” The descent into Town is super fast (I absolutely look forward to this more as the race goes on) and I hit the drop rock…a spectacular site with all the spectators hooting and hollaring as people ride down it. Lap 1- done. 1:06 and change. Uh-oh. Yep, too hot. Ok, back it off a bit. And back out to lap 2. Again there is more carnage seen on the rollers. There is a bumpy rut on one of the downhills that you catch air on everytime, but you have to hit it just right. This causes a few people some problems. I love it! “Yahoo!” I yell out everytime I careen off of it. Same story second lap. Passing, headwind, fast descent and in at a 1:09. Geesh, still too fast maybe. I pass the baton off to Kevin and he’s back at it. I roll quickly back to camp. Change my clothes while eating. Get the next bottle on the bike and my GUs ready. I ready my lights and batteries onto the bike as the next time I go out, it will be dark. Using a new set of batteries to assure that they last the entire double lap out there, I have trouble getting them to fit on my bike frame like the usual ones. Cory helps me out with an extra extention cable and some duct tape..it works. I grab some water and put my feet up. Pretty much this is how it goes between every lap. Hurry get everything ready, eat, put up feet for a few minutes. There isn’t a plethora of time to do much else.
Back in the tent for laps 3 and 4. It’s dark. There are still a whole lot of people waiting with me. Lap 3 I feel pretty good, but those Bitches sure are getting harder! The passing is getting harder to do as my energy waxes and wanes. There is still a massive wind out there. And somewhere in lap 4 is where things start to get just a little murky. With decent times coming out of these laps, Kevin is waiting and is off. I head back to camp to go thru the same routine, it’s somewhere around 10pm and I’ll be back out by 1230. Paul checks in on my bike and gives the chain a quick lube, the tires some additional air and helps get my 2nd set of batteries in place. I will say, that ProGold Xtreme is really keeping the machine running well.
Thank goodness Paul helps with my bike maintenence while I try to eat and change and lalala. With all the dust and wind out there, my contacts are really starting to fail on me. I pull them out quick and hope to moisten them. I set my phone alarm for about 10 min later and close my eyes, altho sleep didn’t come. And back into the exchange tent again. The many volunteers still in there have energy like you wouldn’t believe. They really keep you going in the middle of the night! I start out laps 5 and 6 basically blind. Blinking uncontrollably and trying to get the glaze off my contacts, I feel slightly worried and maybe even a bit scared as I scream around a corner poorly and into a dip. Making if, of course, but barely. Come on eyes! And by the time I get up the first Bitch (damn those!), I can see again. Whew! There is slightly less traffic on course finally; I start breaking up the trail by sections to remember where I am and where I need to go, but I find that I might get somewhere and not remember riding the section prior. How did I get here? Hmmm…riding by memory, asleep? The climbs are getting harder, I need to keep reminding myself to focus and for the first time I am the one being passed. Left? O, the other left. Yea, ok, no problem. Feels like slow motion. Lap 6 is my slowest out there at a 1:20. Somewhere in there, I pass the second place team female and she catches up to me again on the final climb to Sassy (the saddle), but I descend past her and move us into 2nd by only seconds. Kevin and Thelen go out together. This is when I first realize how close we are with 2nd place… It’s just before 3am and back to camp to do it all over again. Batteries, clothes, food, bottle, feet up. I struggle with my compression socks..I wish someone would help me get my stinkin’ feet in them. This time, I have a luxurious 30min; I take out those filthy contacts and set the alarm. I may have actually fallen asleep briefly, but worrying I wouldn’t hear the alarm go off, I keep waking to check the time. As I ready to get back out there, I go to pull on my helmet and the bucket breaks! What??! I’m a little delirious at this point. How do I ride? I first try the only other female at camp, but she is heading out on her lap too soon. I run into our buddy Chad’s trailer. “Chad! Chad! I need some duct tape!” I’m having a crisis in my head. Later he tells me, I came crashing in yelling and he thought he was getting trailer-jacked! Ha! I don’t know what I was doing, all I know is I needed a solution. Chad had it. Some secret fancy tape and he rigged the helmet. I say, don’t tell Kevin, I don’t want him to worry; Chad tells me later that Kevin did of course notice and didn’t want to say anything to me to scare me. The mind doesn’t work quite right…
And out to laps 7 and 8. It’s 530am and this time there is hardly anyone waiting for teammates in the tent. Last night lap and into a rising sun. The world will be anew again. I’m still breaking the trail into sections just to get thru them, tiny goals on the path back to town and anxiously awaiting the big descent. At some point, I’m following a guy on some singletrack somewhere and clearly remember getting wacked in the face by something. Mmm, that’s never happened out here before. Whatever. I’m able to shut down the lights on the final climb and pull out my fastest descent back to the finish. There is a guy behind me and kudos me on my “mad downhill skills” at the exchange tent. Sweet! It’s still getting harder, but I’m almost there. Back out again. The sun is up. I can’t see a damn thing. My clear lense glasses are doing nothing to block the rays and I even put my hand up a few times to see the trail. Once I remember telling my fingers to shift the bike and them not doing as they were told. Riding with a mostly functional one-hand, traffic building again and on no sleep, relying on my memory and knowledge of the trail to not crash. Sure, sounds about right. On the descent back in, there is a guy standing with his bike blocking the trail. What the? It doesn’t seem real to me at the time. Then I realize there is a woman lying in the trail behind him. I think, I’ll tell the volunteer when I get in, I remind myself again. Than later, and I mean hours later, I remember it. I know there were enough people around and medics that she is helped out; but I still kick myself for not being able to remember at the time. I slug myself back in to meet Kevin and with tears in my eyes say “I love you very much, but I don’t ever want to do this again.” He tells me later that he said he felt the same way and that the volunteer sitting there let a little snicker, I only half remember even this. Back at camp, people are up again and milling around. We are down to single laps now, so I have just over an hour before I go back out. Paul checks on my bike again, I eat a little and put my feet up. Chad keeps me sane and awake as I lay on the couch in his trailer. All I can think about is one more lap and I’m done. When I try to communicate outloud, I know I am making no sense. And there is a tiny voice in the back of my head shouting ‘you may have to do a 10th lap’ should have shouted louder because I simply ignored it. But in all honesty, no one else in camp seemed to mention this known fact, either. Lie to me for my own good, will ya. And I’m back in the tent waiting, current 2nd place Tracy Thelen is waiting, too. He comes in first. Two minutes later, Kevin. I take off. I bury myself on this lap. The wind has briefly died down and changed direction. It feels hard, but I feel good and am flying past people like it’s my first lap. I see her ahead. There are 2 guys between. I yell out, I need to catch her and they pull off and yell out “go get her!” I am reeling and swoop around her. I come into the tent telling Kevin a put just a few minutes on her and to kill it and he says in response…you have to do another lap. What?! Crap. That damn tiny voice, why couldn’t you have been louder. Three minutes later, she rolls in and as he runs out, points at me and says “you’ll have to go out again”. In my mind state, I couldn’t tell if he was egging me on, teasing me or just being mean. I was so emotionally unraveled, he coulda been tap dancing with jazz hands and I probably woulda started sobbing! At any rate, we’ve again switched positions into 2nd place. Back at camp I am still trying to come to terms that I have to go out again. I used it all up on my lap 9, it turned out to be my second fastest lap after that initial hot one yesterday. My body aches, my mind is a mess and emotionally I am just trying to hold it together. Everyone is around. “You don’t have to go out. You’ll be solidly into 3rd. What do you want to do?” Well, as much as I don’t want to go, there is no way I won’t. We are so close. This is a race to the finish! The next week, I’ll find out that the Utleys and the Thelens actually pushed The King and Queen of pain into having to do another lap…cool. I lay down on a couch, forcing calories down and my friend Jen gives me a great little massage. Oh my muscles! Rubbing down my unbathed, sweaty and surely stinking body…now that’s a friend! Our peeps get the message to Kevin out on trail that he had a 3 minute lead and that I will be in the tent ready to go out, I heard he yelled out a “hell yea!” And back into the tent I go, really for the last time. Surrounded by my friends, all handing out encouraging words and rubbing my shoulders. I am so lucky! I am so tired! Tracy and I find ourselves waiting together again for our men to come in. Thelen comes in first. Damn. The guy is fast. And then Kevin about a minute later. Cory heads out onto his lap just behind me, he’s encouraging me from behind. I hit the Bitches and my legs won’t move. They are heavy, weighted by two-ton boulders and my heart drops. Cory passes me and soon disappears. “Come on, honey, push down. You don’t have to do these again”. By the time I get thru the last one, my legs are starting to listen and I am able to pick it up. The next parts are easy, just ride harder, ride faster. I still feel slow. By the time I hit the his ‘n her trail, I feel slightly relieved. This is my trail, I own it. I have to catch her. But there, in the midst of the whiskey tree, stands Thelen looking at his watch; and for the second time my heart sinks. I won’t catch her.
I keep pushing, but the last climb up to Sassy sucks. There is a huge headwind again and my legs are dead to me. I feel like I’m dragging dead bodies behind my bike. I yell at the wind. I yell at my legs. I yell at the trail. None of it makes it go any faster, but then I see Cory ahead and I think “I can get to him” and this turns my pedals over just a little faster.How thankful I am just to see a familiar face (or back, I guess) and I do catch him. There are several guys ahead of us. I yell out at Cory, I have to get around them and he takes off. I think, I’ll follow him down the descent I have been so looking forward to; but he again disappears and I can’t keep up. I zoom down into the finish as fast as I can; but it’s just not quite enough. I roll in over a minute behind and we win ourselves a 3rd place. I left everything out there and came back slightly short. It just wasn’t enough to pull back the time. I firmly believe it was my inablility to adequately get up those Bitches why I couldn’t catch her. We both put in similar lap times…and she is a good racer.
It was over. Now what? A giant, two-handed steak sandwich from the Blue Banjo vendor! Tasty! I really am stoked about our performance out there. My husband gave it his all, had nothing left at the end and I felt the same. We accomplished more laps than our scheduled planned and as many laps as our 5-person team last year. And it was truely a race to the finish. I am so proud of us! My nutrition was right on, I never bonked, both on and off the bike. I was hydrated enough and had the right routine between laps. We were lucky enough not to have any mechanicals out there. We ended up with super support from our friends and some great cheerleaders..I am extremely grateful to all of them! These Duo newbies gave them a hell of a competition out there this year! And I am not anywhere near ready to commit to doing it again! Next year…OVB corporate team for this chic!
Check out the results! http://liveresults.epicrides.com/24results/default.aspx?event=2013