Monday, February 24, 2014

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo Recap

A couple of months ago my friend/teammate Eric, came up with the idea to do the 24 Hours in Old Pueblo mountain bike race. For those not familiar, this is a bike race that takes place in the desert outside of Tucson, AZ and is commonly called the Burning Man of mountain biking. It starts at noon on Saturday and runs non-stop until noon on Sunday. Whoever accumulates the most laps of the 16 mile course in that time period wins.

With solo, single speeds, 2, 4, 5 person teams, there are enough categories to satisfy everyone's style of fun. Eric proposed a 4 man team and I got peer pressured into joining. That took him all of 5mins of pressuring. The other half of the team was made of Bobby B and Tanner/Silas. (The results say Silas, but he bailed at the last minute and head wrench at Bicycle Outfitters, Tanner jumped on. They wanted $20 to change the name and another $20 for a new waiver, so Tanner was Silas.) So we've got 2 guys that race pro enduro, a Cat 1 XC guy, and one "I ride for fun as much as I can guy".

Our goal as a team was to beat the other Grand Junction team, which was made up of guys that have done a number of 24 hour races and other marathon XC type events. We also wanted to each get in 5 laps, for a 20 lap total over the weekend. Now on to the adventure.

Sara (Eric's wife), had some extra time and took the camper down south a few days early. She'd make her way to Tucson with some riding stops on the way and serve as our pit-crew for the race. That left me, Eric, and his 2 boys to make the 14hr trip down on Thursday. Ya know, it really wasn't so bad. Modern technology has been a gift to parents everywhere on long trips with little kids. How did my parents do long trips with 3 kids and no aid from iPads, iPods, etc to keep us entertained? 2 minor melt downs, 2 playground stops, and a couple of melted Popsicles saw us to the 24 hour town in no time.


24 hour town? You've never heard of it?

Let me explain.

This is a huge race.

It's in the desert.

It's 15+ miles from a town.

There's literally nothing there except for lots of cactus, dust, and a few dirt roads.

That changes come race weekend. That's when close to 4,000 people with their RVs, campers, trucks, tents, and porta-potties come into nowhere. It's a maze. You can see it shining in the sun from miles away. It comes together for more like 72 hours, then vanishes.

Sunset over 24hr Town

Lucky for me and Eric, Sare is amazingly supportive of this bike racing thing and claimed a nice spot for our team early on. When we arrived, we had little to do other than some minor camp setup and pedal our bikes.


Friday, we got registered and did an easy preview lap to get the legs in gear. The course was fast and rolling. Very little in techy stuff, lots of mellow twists and turns, tons of sharp plants. Kinda like riding a 16 mile Rustlers loop in Loma or many of the trails at 18rd in Fruita. Basically, it's the kind of trail a 29er hardtail and not very knobby tires would be ideal. The Santa Cruz Bronson with 2.4 Conti X-kings weren't too bad though! If you had doubts about using a 150mm bike for mellow XC when needed, don't. It's still plenty fast, pedals great, and is way more fun on the downs.

Someone asked us if we were demoing SC bikes!
Bobby and Tanner rolled into camp late Friday afternoon. Bobby had a nasty chest cold, but was ready to do his best. Tanner jumped in at the last minute after we lost our other teammate. After riding his fat bike in snow all winter, he was psyched to be there riding dirt in the sun.

Bobby B.
We came up with a race plan. Eric would start us out, I'd go second, Bobby third, and Tanner fourth. We'd keep up that rotation all 24 hours. A little over an hour of riding, and 3 hours of recovery.

Gauntlet

The start. Not your typical bike race start. This one you had to sprint .5 mile with 530ish racers, find your bike among the other 530ish bikes, and bug out. Chaos! People got smacked in the head, almost trampled, grabbed the wrong bikes, etc...kinda like watching the running of the bulls. Eric ran hard and got out of the gauntlet in the top 25 or so. Nice start!

Where's Waldo/Eric?

The hand-off

Eric also decided to be a crowd pleaser and had a spectacular crash just after infamous rock drop near the finish area. Hence his pretty blue bandage. Ironic, that the pro downhiller on a 150mm bike crashes on the only tech section of the course! We all had a nice laugh as his expense.




After the hand-off, I went out to catch the other Grand Junction rider and turned a lap time of under 1:05. Not too bad! Hit my goal for a lap time and caught the guy.


Bobby and Tanner both went out and had good laps, Eric stayed on his bike for his second lap, then it was time for my second lap. That also meant it was time to mount my riding light, as the sun was setting. I managed to put down another decent lap, though a minute slower, I paced myself better and felt stronger all the way around the course. Darkness caught me about 2/3s through and then it was Bobby's turn. I was off to eat and try to nap.


We kept the rotation going all night. I hit my personal low point during my third lap. Hitting a couple miles of slow dirt on course, combined with the darkness and fatigue had me wondering why I was there. A few mile later thought, I found the flow and started having fun again.


Bobby went. Tanner went. Tanner's light died at some point on the course. Tanner got sick after his third lap. Tanner has been riding a lot, but wasn't expecting to race. Eric, Bobby, and I have all spent the winter training and we were tired and fatigued. To jump in and race without training is damn impressive! He gave it all, pedaled as hard as he could for almost 50 miles (which is the longest mountain bike ride he's done) and was spent. What more can a team ask of a rider.

Tanner heading into the finish zone
Despite a conversation about shutting things down until dawn, we kept the gears turning. Come dawn, Eric as team captain and motivator, pulled a double lap to maintain the rotation. My 5th and final lap was to be slower. In order to finish the race a rider must be on course at noon on Sunday. If I put in a fast lap, Bobby would either have to stop and wait or turn a 6th lap. That didn't seem fun, so I slowed down to buy him some time.

Speechless
Bobby did his lap, stopped with a few dozen other riders just short of the line, waited until noon, and then that was it. We were done.


Our team finished 21st in a field of 119 professional and amateur 4 man teams. We came up short of our goal to beat the other Grand Junction team, but we were pretty satisfied. They've done this sort of thing before, had bikes designed for this riding style, and trained specifically for the event. We had used the race for training, had fun after the fact, enjoyed hanging out, and rode a lot of miles.

Coming into the transition
 One more thing, I hate camp fires.

Huge thanks to my teammates, Sara, and Bicycle Outfitters. Without their support, it would have been easy to stay in bed!