Some years when January rolls around, cyclocross ends for me and I embrace the “off season” with open arms. I take that one precious week (day) of not riding and then the Colorado weather takes a turn for the mid 70’s and I’m off adventuring. I love the bike for a lot of reasons and at the end of the day I’m happy to have an excuse to be outside, the feeling of purpose that comes from logging miles, and a reason to take a shower.
I finished up my cyclocross season strongly. Even though I planned to race a summer of mountain bikes that arguably starts and is concentrated long before summer begins, the motivation to get right back to business is for once absent. I’m excited to race and be on the road traveling but I would like to keep my focus on cyclocross in the fall and preserving my fitness for the quick turn around to race on the trail seems less important. Regardless I’ll be there, I will be happy to be there, but I’m okay with not being awesome and focusing on results. Rather, with inspiration taken from and in memory of Amy D., I would love to travel, be part of the scene, reconnect with the crew of racers I only see in the summer, build my form, and represent my sponsors, while prepping for the upcoming cyclocross season (hashtagcrossiscoming).
There aren’t a whole lot of places west of Colorado that I don’t love and since I’ve acquired the van I’ve been wide eyed with the prospect of heading the opposite direction from all the fall east coast cross travel. After one month at home to get some semblance of regrouping, I left the winter boots and spare puffy jackets in the closet and stocked back up on sunscreen. As per the usual Colorado winter weather inconsistencies, it was a beautiful blue bird short sleeve day when I left to head south for 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo just north of Tucson.
I’ve done this race a few times in the past years and I’ll never forget the moment I first caught sight of the venue eight miles as the crow flies from the main road. I thought for sure it was a nascar race on a track that I just couldn’t see from the road. Somewhere around 4k people and campers make for quite the spectacle in the otherwise vast empty desert landscape. Once in the venue it is even more eye opening, roads not made for low profile vehicles inundated with car traffic, everyone trying to find their party and join in on terrain highly susceptible to (and effected by) runoff erosion while parking in a highly entertaining anything goes private property style manner. The atmosphere is alive with pre-race anticipation, an underlying buzz of laughter, a constant whirr of coasting bikes, the slam of portapotty doors, generators roaring, the clanking of tents being set up, and the delicious smell of campfires. For an event that typically scores the rights to “first travel to an off-road bike race of the year” it definitely comes with an air of excitement.
I’ve raced OP on a fast coed five-person team and once also as an add-on to a corporate team for fun but never in the highly competitive four person category. Ultra endurance isn’t quite my gig, I have zero desire to bust out a solo or even a duo attempt in a 24 hour race. For me the four-person team is a happy medium between a classic xc race and an ultra event, you do a fairly typical XC effort, rest, recover, and repeat. The course is fast and flowy and fun, 99.9% of the other competitors are gracious and polite, being a member of a group effort is highly appealing to me, great training is had, and plenty of miles are logged.
My three teammates began their drive down behind me in a rented RV and after I filled the gas tank to the brim and headed south in the dark through the desolation and reservations in New Mexico, I sent them a “find my friends” tracker and found a location to pull over and sleep. I arrived, stepped out of the van to stretch and admire the brilliance of the unobstructed Milky Way and the complete silence and beauty of truly being alone, turned to walk back to the van and promptly set the car alarm off with the key fob.
The others joined me while I slept and we woke up to a frosty canyon on one side and a field of thousands of years old lava on the other. The location was beautiful and I’m glad I didn’t miss that portion of the drive to the night. In attempt to keep my perishables from perishing, I placed some items on the roof of the van. Considering the morning temperatures were below freezing and the inside of the van was fairly close to that of a refrigerator, I took great enjoyment in consuming literal frozen yogurt for breakfast.
My teammates took turns joining me in the van and the rest of the drive went by quickly with great anticipation in a way only winter dwellers can have of catching sight of that very first saguaro. We rolled into camp just in time to get 15 minutes of spinning which equated more accurately to 14 minutes of photo taking and 1 minute of productive riding. We chatted, ate microwave dinners from Wal-Mart heated in the RV’s under powered appliance, posted photos, and plotted out our plan of attack.
Friday morning we saddled up to pre-ride and check out the sights. The “town” had grown even larger over night and a steady caravan of cars was inbound as far as the eye could see. We were on the trail early as far as the festive, rowdy, beer drinking party crew was concerned and we rolled out amid parents herding the impressive showing of juniors who most certainly had a late night of giggles, campfires, smores, and hotdogs out of their tents and to breakfast. With so few people on the trails we set a chill but brisk pace while seeking out the lines to pass, huck, and hammer on the 16.2 mile loop. We GoPro-ed some riding and got back in time to get organized, catch up on work, socialize, and relax.
The race began at high noon and I was unanimously nominated as the resident cyclocross racer to participate in the quarter mile, shove filled, bike shoe awkward, Le Mons stampede to the stash of start line bikes. I hesitantly agreed to my assigned role as starter with the condition that the ordeal be videoed. Being the embarrassingly prepared van owner, I provided a broom which we ceremoniously hung a floro pink jersey on. One teammate held my bike ready for a grab and run to minimalize tangling with the surrounding shenanigans, another held the broom frantically waving the jersey high in the air as a beacon for my dash, and the third was assigned to camera duties.
Contemplating a hair late why I didn’t remove my winter season toe spikes to make running less about tripping, and despite joining the front of the line of runners, I slid back and a few girls more determined than I charged by. The run itself wasn’t nearly as stressful as reaching the bikes and having to jump over, around, and elbow my way through a group of 500+ folks trying to untangle their steeds from the racks on the side of the route and right them in the path of another 200 runners trying to push through. My girls were further down as per our plan so fortunately when I reached them the crowd of runners was mainly still trapped in the center of the chaos. I nailed an impressive “don’t kick anyone in the face” cyclocross mount amid the throngs of riders bending over to pick up their bikes.
At least half of the foot traffic who surged by me disappeared quickly in the dust on the first portion of double track. By the entrance to the singletrack the line was moving efficiently at a consistent pace and minimal passing was necessary. I made a few friends, had a moment of feeling overdressed as the sun came out for a full 30 seconds, discovered I was the lead girl being tightly pursued by the lead lady for the solo race, had more than a few moments of awe at this fact, discussed the fact that she knew my teammates and even cooler we were wearing the same gloves, and arrived back in 24 hour town to hand off the baton to our anchor and fastest rider. That went smoothly and as according to plan as we could imagine, the jotted guestimate of lap times in and out on a ripped off piece of a whole foods paper bag electrical tapped to the fridge in the RV was impressively accurate.
We were grouped in to camp with the four person men’s team gunning for the top step as well and as the rain rolled in and the wind picked up, we repositioned the least pro set up in the venue to block a bit more of the elements. Awesome in it’s lack of forethought and any form of organization, we configured the vehicles to provide additional points to tie a generic backyard pop-up tent and zip tie some tarps to it in a random fashion that kept at least one spot of dirt in the center semi dry while making it more difficult to walk into the pile of cactus we were centered around in the dark, but also way easier to trip over the bikes laying in various states covering our entire piece of real estate.
Our team held and built on our lead as we went due to consistent riding, a positive outlook, great communication, and zero mechanical issues. The boys were doing their part to hold off the most publicized team in the race and before I realized it, the day faded into night. Being that person who tends to do training rides late in the day I usually pop a light or two in my pocket to navigate home with and thinking those would be effective on a course I already had the familiarity of a few laps on was likely a touch naïve. My first night lap was steady desert rain, not enough to be dripping down your helmet vents or pooling on the trail but the perfect amount to keep the dirt fast and my gloves wet. That lap was busy with racers getting their first electronically illuminated miles out of the way and passing was almost constant. Three fourths of the way through, my fatigue came to a head and I began to get passed by faster folks for the first time as we headed into the mild, sustained climb that welcomed us to the last three miles of the course.
The second night lap was much less hectic with fewer riders braving the rain and dark. A sleepy zombie like state permeated the transition tent; the techno music blaring from the sound system was met with glares and the constant commotion of inbound riders struggling to comply with the “TURN OFF YOUR LIGHTS” regulators guarding the door was less frequent. After catching a full 20 minutes of dozing for the night following my fourth lap, my usual routine of eat food, change clothes, eat food, baby wipe bath, eat food, warm dry fuzzy clothes happiness, eat food, prep for next go, and eat food now IN bed, the daylight was a welcome sight. As the race drew into its final hours the venue buzz grew to it’s peak and anticipation returned to the faces of those waiting in the handoff tent. Riders concluded that minutes shaved could equal podium spots and the air became frantic once again with the shouts of race numbers, the jitter of nervous athletes, and the shove of teammates exiting the holding area to grab the baton handoff from incoming racers.
My teammates held near or even improved on their lap times as we progressed. My month of “sorry coach” hit pretty hard after that initial two laps of system shock and I felt I might have been the one showing my fatigue most significantly. We were planning on getting 20 laps total – 5 per racer and we came up a few moments and one lap of bonking, cramping legs short. None of us minded though, we were doing what we came to do and none of us were feeling like we were going to miss out by not partaking in that 80th mile. By mid morning our anchor rider sealed the deal by overtaking the trailing team by a lap. As our 19th lap came in for the celebratory finish at 15 minutes past noon we hiked our weary legs down there to welcome her.
Race promoters are noble in their efforts to carry on what has become a sport of passion and not as much profit. The Epic Rides series is a true testament to making the sport enjoyable to more than just the racers. Respecting the fast folks while evening out the playing field for the masses to compete at the same level, all while providing marketing and interaction exposure for the industry, ample entertainment, beverages, solid venues, family fun, and good vibes is the secret to success. Team opportunities in such an individualized sport like mountain bike racing are treasured and contribute to my being able to say with enthusiasm that I love this event.