I have been training for this for 17 weeks. I have been psyching up for it since October 1, when I got myself out of bed at midnight to sign up and assure me a slot. I have had the absolute best training plan to work with from LW Coaching and I have completed every bit of it to prepare my body. I have been a yogi and self-masseuse, although Kevin certainly knew when and where I needed his knuckles to dig deep. I worked at keeping positive and continuing to push when I was suffering and felt like quitting. I made a solid nutrition plan which I worked hard on in training. I learned how to bake (this proved to be no easy task and always a messy one) and pop portables to supplement my GU’s in order to make my calorie counts while still keeping my tummy happy. I know exactly how many Brews and Roctanes and water bottles I need to drink. My gear is right and my expert mechanic (also my dear husband) has everything working perfectly. Every detail that I can control has been dealt with and my total refusal to acknowledge our fabulous weather here in Tucson while the rest of the country wallows in snow and freezing cold has worked. It may actually be too warm in the first few laps! Shouldn’t this be an advantage for me?! I have the best possible pit crew supporting me who have experience and awesome attitudes. There is a niggle that has plagued me in the upcoming weeks, I’ve worked it out best I can; but this is the race I’ve been waiting almost 5 months for and I will choose to dismiss it from here out. Epic Rides’ 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo is here and I’m about to make my solo debut. Luckily I’m smart enough to make multiple goals for such a large task at hand here; of course, we all know some mean more than the others. Yes, some of them are quite lofty ambitions, but not unattainable. And yes, one target is just to finish…that’s supposed to be my easy one…
I’m excited and nervous waiting for the gun. I smile and talk to everyone (I am surrounded by over 500 of my fellow mountain bikers), ready to run for our bikes. I hit the run hard enough to warm up and not be behind all 500 of those others, see Kevin swinging our pink feather boa and swing myself up onto my Fate effortlessly.
I have in my head to keep it conservative, I was happy with my roll out. People were passing me, that was ok, heart rate up a bit from the run, but that was ok, it eases. I’m just trying to stay upright in all chaos. And man is it dusty! Then that first Bitch kills everyone’s momentum. Damn her! This is the first why in how these ‘hills’ earned such an affectionate name. Why are we walking? Never once since I’ve started riding these trails have I walked over a Bitch, but here I am walking the first one. I started calling out to the line of people ahead “Pedal!! Keep pedaling! Don’t stop, you can make it…you can do it!!” There is braking on the descents and then the steam blows up the next steep grind. I bump tires and decide if I’m going to have any efficiency here, I need to get around and start to pass. Mostly trying on the downs to keep the effort low, but some is necessary on the ups. As the dirt flattens out, I know, oh I know. Too fast. Too must energy expenditure. Back off. Bring it down. And I do. I chill. I pedal, I drink. I relax. As the single track rolls on, I watch how I pass and I tool along behind lines of people until the yo yo effect begins on little techy spots and riding becomes to inefficient and I proceed to move around. The traffic is horrendous. Much worse than any rush hour of a major city…inhaling dust rather than exhaust. There are so many people crowded onto this trail. This is my first time starting this race…has it always been like this? I know I am working too hard, but regardless of how much I keep telling myself to reign it in, I end up right back there in the crowds. My first lap is simply too fast, I let it go and move forward to my next laps, I work to keep the effort and the time down closer to my goal. It
takes until the third lap to get there. My crew is always where I need them and have things usually under control. Christina feeds and waters me, a horse come to trough…”You need to slow down” Cathy says nicely while she snaps a pic. I know, I’ll try harder. And so it goes on.
I see carnage on several laps. People down. Broken bikes. Rescue crews pointing me around. Each lap there are new barriers and warnings to obstacles ahead. But I know this trail, the lines are ingrained in my head so I know I can do them in my sleep (which will become helpful), these matter do not worry me.
Things start to feel different after you’ve been out there for awhile. In the dark, cacti look like odd people standing around in the desert until I can change my focus on them and I kept seeing some strange guy crouched in a wash under a tree. I thought he might have a camera or something. After my third time past ‘him’, I realized it was an empty, overturned camp chair. Sometime during the night, a cow must have keeled over near the Bitches because the smell was excruciating. At times I would lose track of where I was. I might follow the cactus person slightly off line and then realize, oh very wrong or like screaming down the descent into solo row and begin to wonder ‘Am I still on the trail on in someone’s camp?’ There’s tents and set-ups on both sides of the trail, everywhere. The sunset on Saturday night was a splendid array of colors and the moonrise was even more spectacular! A ball of yellow fire rising from the dark outline of the dirt, just breathtaking and it awarded renewal to the mind. I have to remind myself to focus on what’s ahead of me instead of what’s happening in the sky! Man, I’m so glad I had the opportunity to witness it, tho!
Cowbells and horns sound loudly, people yelling ‘Go solo!’ ‘Great riding’ ‘Lookin’ good!’ and the bag piper playing near the Rock drop. There’s always a crowd of people on the Rock, you can hear them ‘yea!’ and ‘Doh!’ the riders ahead announcing who nailed it and who ate dirt at the bottom. Those who chicken out and walk down get a collective ‘Boo’ while the rider behind tries to carefully snake around them. There is an easy option to skip the Rock…I assume those walkers will take it next time ’round. One lap someone yells out at me as I begin to take the Rock…”What’s the capital of Arizona?” Oh, uh…give me a second…I know this one…”Phoenix!!” And the cheers rise up! Seriously! It all actually happens much faster live then it plays out inside my own head. People are constantly yelling encouragement out and I hear my name everywhere. I can’t help but smile and keep pushing on. I know I get slower as the laps draw on, but I’m ahead of schedule allowing for a little leeway and I’m on my lap times now. On my fifth lap, I feel smooth and effortless. Cornering fast and efficiently, pushing on the sections that suit me and easing up on the long grunts or steep grades. I get into a conversation with a gal on the Corral trails, figuring out later that she is the soon-to-be winner of the female Duo category. It was a positive little talk. I’m good, right? At a conversational pace, so it seems. I’m doing well with hydration and nutrition and even decide I need to pee (good sign!) and choose to just squat behind the trailer. I realize I forgot to ask about Kevin’s lap on the OVB Corp team…”how was it, honey? I’m sorry I didn’t ask before.” He tells me it was good, still a lot of traffic. I’m happy he gets to ride out there and take a break from having to care for me the whole time. I tell him I’m trying really hard to stick to my limits, I’m not sure I’m doing a very good job; but he reassures me.
At some point in the dark, a guy attempts to pass me without prior notification. This actually occurs several times, but without much consequence up til now. People, you must use your words, please. To me, it was a quite unreasonable spot to attempt such go-round, where in I proceeded to wobble just ever so slightly, plopping my ass in some cactus. Yes, I then shamefully did scold the guy loudly; but I mean really, necessary? I’m quite sure that extra second to wait for a desirable location would have kicked you out of some lead that I know you didn’t have to begin with. I believe there was even a sermon by Reverend ChainRing before the start about being nice. I know, I understand both sides of the pass…it sucks for all parties involved. It’s not easy and I have been guilty of the inadvertent, yet ill-mannered pinch, but this is racing folks, not bumper bikes. I don’t like to hold you up just as much as you want to get around me. Ok, ok. So I’m not down; however, every time my rear quarters hit the seat now, the cactus spines suggest I not stay seated there. I make it back to camp and change shorts. I will now forever be indebted to Cathy for plucking thorns outta my stinky white ass and yes, this makes us real sisters! I won’t complain too much about a few badly placed
thorns, I’ve been thru them before and this, my friends, is nothing compared to what is yet to come.
The energy inside the exchange tent, even at 3am, was phenomenal! I don’t know what keeps these folks going, but they would all just be going nuts at every lap thru and I sure am stoked about that! It’s super motivating! During one lap, Cody yells out at me that there’s beer and cookies out on that trail. It’s about 5 miles in, he says. Great! I’m in! Well, I saw some whiskey tied to the wrong Tree and I saw some Spam on a hill. There was someone smoking pot out on the His and Hers, maybe they have the cookies. But, alas, there were no cookies. That might have been a bit disappointing…
In all honesty, I feel completely awesome for the first 11 or so hours of this race. I am positive and smiling, riding well. Thanking my crew every time before I roll out again, trying not to bark out orders. I find out later how all the caffeine kept them laughing to a point when Cathy says she felt bad they were having such a good time while I was out there suffering. It’s ok guys, this is what we’re here for, I’m glad you’re having fun! They were out making noise every single lap with that horrible screaming spider monkey! I am racing as a solo, but it’s still very much a team effort. But by lap 11, I had started digging myself into a very deep, dark pain cave that I wasn’t sure I could crawl out of and not even their antics were shedding light inside.
Rolling into camp after my twelfth time around, it’s somewhere in the vicinity of 5am. I am in pain. The searing kind of pain that stabs every muscle with every single type of movement. I have done all the core work striving to avoid this; but my back has given up, I have never felt such awful, relentless pain before. As I step off my bike, I fall over. I have gotten to the point I am unable to even hold myself up anymore, I literally could not stand up without the support of Kevin or Cathy and Christina. I felt as if my head was floating above watching my body flail around uncontrollably beneath it. My limbs wouldn’t listen to command. If I rest for a minute, maybe can I move again. I seemed to keep the bike upright thru painful pedal strokes even though I couldn’t walk. And had this been the only issue, I like to think I would have pushed on; but it was not the only concern. I could no longer see. After the dry winter and a lack of night wind, the dust and campfire smoke linger in the air. My contacts are done for and I have lubed them past their limits. This last lap I prayed to let the automatic drive take over as I was still letting go, speeding down descents I couldn’t see in front of me, hoping not to crash. It was also my last attempt on the Rock as I almost taco’d over my front wheel at the bottom from lack of control. “Whoa!” came from the few people left watching. Yes, Whoa indeed.
At my camp, the girls have hung motivational signs up telling me to ‘Be Awesome Today’ and that the ‘Pain is Temporary’.
I’m sure I don’t feel very awesome right now, but not for lack of my teams’ encouragement. I try to change out my contacts, but this only made things worse. My little eyeballs not only hurt, but now I could barely keep them open, any form of light sent them running for darkness behind eyelids. I had originally tried to use the motor cross goggles I trained with in an effort to avoid this exact problem, but by the end of one lap in them, my head and neck couldn’t tolerate it so I had to take the chance. I was extremely distressed about the whole situation. I did not want to quit, but it was like my whole body was saying “you have to”. I did not want to disappoint my crew, I did not want to disappoint myself; I was having a breakdown. I cried. I needed a nap. “It will be light soon, you’ll feel better.” they tell me. I know this, I can’t. I try to get up now after sitting, I can’t. I try to keep my eyes open, I can’t. “I’m so sorry.” I repeat over and over. They tell me I have nothing to be sorry for. Christina, with her pink boa, who has kept bubbly and positive for me, who has helped pull up my shorts when I couldn’t complete the task alone. “Christina, thanks for bein’ my Biatch. (as she has called our crew from the beginning…Beth’s Biatches) I’m not sure I even deserve a Biatch, but you’re the best Biatch ever!” Of course you do, she says, and I’m not just blowing smoke up your skirt. That would be ok, too. I’m still afraid I’ve disappointed you.
The next thing I remember is Kevin waking me and saying the sun was up and everything is ready for me to go back out there if I want to. I want to, I do; but I feel my race already is over. I move, it hurts, but I can walk with less assistance. We talk for a few minutes. I get down some chicken soup and I am told I’ve lost first and then second place, but can solidly hold on to third as long as I go back out and ride and I am overtaken at how proud Kevin is of me. Ok, I can do this. So, now, how will I see? I will try to wear my glasses, but the sun, it’s bright, my eyes won’t keep open. What about Kevin’s sunglasses? They’ll fit over top, maybe. I hope so, cause these eyeballs will not accept those damn contacts back in. “Here, I’ll duct tape them
together so they don’t bounce.” My golly, you’re a genius, it actually worked! My depth perception was a bit skewed and I squirreled around the trail at first; but I adapted and managed. I was talked into taking the Skip the Bitches bypass, the only lap during the race I choose to do so. By the time I rode back onto that last Bitch, I let it roll and can feel the trail under me again. I wasn’t fast by my own standards, but I knew I could keep riding. I drink water, get my hands on and off the bars and eat. Enough to keep going. I just kept pedaling. Little ring, nice and easy. My back still hurt with every stroke, but it was more tolerable at least. My raw undercarriage screamed out with every bump and I stood with weighted effort for brief relief. But I could see and I could hold my bike upright and I could keep riding. Friends roll up behind me, yell out encouragement, pat me on the back, make sure I’m ok, are patient in passing and even offer to ride with me. I’m so grateful for them, I sometimes shed a tear at their voices; but it’s good leakage and they keep me going here. No, I can do this, ride your own race and thank you for offering. Kevin is waiting at the last climb before town. I stop just for a few seconds to get some encouragement and a smile, thrilled to see his face and feel his hand on my shoulder and then I slowly continue to pedal uphill, checking off each landmark in my head as I close in on the descent. I’m cautious descending, probably more speed would help me and I pick it up. My hands hurt holding onto the handlebars, but for heaven’s sake I don’t let go! This is not my last lap. I know I will go out again, no matter how slow. I came here to race. I came here to put everything I had into it and that’s what I’ve done. That’s what I’ll keep doing. I have asked my body to endure thru some terrible pain and asked my brain to shut off (or shut up) and let it go even when I couldn’t see the trail anymore, hoping memory would take me thru safely. My body gave argument and threw a temper tantrum, causing me to stop; but I did finally get it to listen and amazingly it did keep going. Emotionally, I may have been a mess; but I had found the mental strength to overcome my body’s weakness and along with my superior crew and all those out there rooting for me, that’s how I finish this race. After a stop at the camp and a change of clothes, I went thru the exchange for what would be the last time until the finish. Kaolin Cummings, who has been a superb announcer for almost all of these 24 hours, pats me on the back “I know you don’t feel it, but you sure are lookin’ good!” Yes, please, I’ll take all the sunshine and rainbows you want to blow up my ass right now!
My final lap, in the beginning I still have aspirations of making it in to at least get that 15th circle, I know time wise it’s possible. I decide on the Bitches…cause I won’t let them get the best of me. I granny-gear each one and give myself a little cheer at the exit. Next part is a favorite and I roll easily thru. I eat and drink on the easy jeep track. The next climb is tough and I take a tiny break after, before making the S turns on the His & Hers. Kevin is at the Whiskey Tree (the right one). I need to pee, don’t much care who’s around. With Kevin and a small cactus, I manage to cover most of my hind end; and then I carry on. I carefully and happily let many riders pass, all of them seeing the solo suffer thru to the end. My fellow OVB’er, Gary rolls up on me and despite my insistence that he not let me stop his groove, he stays with me all the way thru to the end. I was grateful for the distraction of his talking. Kevin is at the final climb, I pause briefly and then continue my crawl back to the camp. I try to ride the descent fast and make a last minute decision to skip the Rock, although I’m sure now I should have taken it. I am about 5 minutes from the noon cut-off. My team and I decide we will wait.
So in the end, I met few of the many goals I placed on myself. I finished the race with 14 laps, 238 miles and 17,086 ft of elevation gain. I went there to race for it all, I absolutely went after it and I landed myself onto a 3rd place podium. I have absolutely nothing to complain about…I had no mechanicals, the Fate ran perfectly. No major, race-ending crashes. There were no hideous head winds. No cold, rainy, muddy weather. The pain and suffering come with the ride and I know it, so it has definitely been the best year for me to solo this race!
Our bodies are amazing! How they can perform and what they are able to push thru, it’s definitely always beyond what you think. Never again will I underestimate what I can do even when I feel like I can’t because now I know I absolutely can…it’s whether I want to that will always make or break me. I have always held respect for those soloists; but now I am filled with such strong admiration for the people out there not only riding solo as fit athletes or maturing adults pushing on simply to prove they still can; but also the ones out turning in 17 laps and on rigid single speeds no less. I know it is hard and I know how strong you all are. I didn’t realize before going into this how just by my perseverance, I could inspire others to keep pushing forwards. This is perhaps the greatest thing I have come away with today. I am excited and utterly flattered at people’s reactions to my ride and I hope I can continue to inspire you! I feel extremely special at how proud you all are of me! Never give up!
I’ve learned some lessons as an experienced XC racer yet newbie soloist…So will I be back next year to do it again, you ask. Mostly, it’s too early to say. I am both very proud of how I raced and slightly disappointed in missing the mark on some of my more aggressive goals. I am told I have nothing to prove, but I’m not so sure I don’t…
I want to thank GU Energy for continuing to provide fuel for my journey. They have been an outstanding sponsor to have on my side and keep an eye out for a little blurb on my nutrition plan. Thanks to Forest Canyon Endoscopy & Surgery Center for the huge support and encouragement that they have given me throughout this. Thank you to Oro Valley Bicycle for being the best damn bike shop around! They’re always there when I need them, they keep me in top equipment and help my hubby keep it all running in superior condition. Thanks to ALL of you out there who were rooting for me and continued to cheer me on throughout the race…you helped get me to that finish line! And, of course, I can not even begin to thank enough my better than awesome, completely outstanding pit crew consisting of my sis-in-law Cathy, my friend Christina and my very understanding husband Kevin!I could not have raced without each of you! Thank you for holding me up when I couldn’t, for providing butt butter to tender spots and for being my brain! All photographs are credited to Cathy Wright…she’s awesome and you can check out her website over there on the left!
Each year, I hear myself tell people “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done” and each year I dare for something more. So onwards to the next challenge! What will it be for you?