So I finally had a weekend without racing or riding, which is why I have nothing to blog about. I was actually in Vegas, for the curious, paying several hundred dollars a day to inhale secondhand smoke.
But I'm still totally pumped, even if I haven't been on the bike in 5 days, because it's almost time for the 24 hours of Great Glen. That's right, this weekend from noon Saturday to noon Sunday it's going to be a non-stop adventure in the pain cave. This was my first race last year after moving from Florida so it also serves as my 1-year anniversary of coming back to bike racing.
I've done this race twice before so I've got some solid experience racing all day and all night. In 2004 I was on a 2-man team with my dad called "Somewhere Over the Handlebars" that clocked 23 laps on the way to 4th out of 12 in the men's pairs class. In 2006 I was on a 4-person men's beginner team called "Dirt Waffles" that rode 21 laps (of a longer course than 2004) and finished 3rd out of 7 in our category. It was only my 8th time on a bike in 14 months and we had two girls on our team, which is why we rode beginner.
The Great Glen course is really unique. It's about 8 miles per lap and probably 5 miles of that are on the smoothest dirt road you'll ever see. If it was a regular MTB race you'd call it the lamest course ever, for good reason, but you'll find a lot fewer people complaining about it when they're riding lap after lap throughout the night. The other 3 miles are some legitimately technical singletrack, so it's not like you can just rock the cross bike, although I wouldn't be surprised if some idiot tries it. The crowd gathers around a steep downhill near the end of the lap called "The Plunge," which like the rest of the course seems easy when you're fresh and impossible in the dark. Last year I went 4-for-6 on it, crashing at a good clip by hooking a tree by the bars on lap 1 (that will put you down fast) and eating it on some roots in the dark on lap 3. At night, you can see lights slowly bobbing in the woods as rider after rider decides discretion is the better part of valor and walks down.
This year Linnea and I are on a mixed pair team. I've already been talking smack about the race, telling CTodd I might ride more laps on a pair than he could solo, and claiming that our two-person team was going to beat Alex's four-woman team. Basically the only person I know in the race I've avoided challenging is Justin's two-man singlespeed team, because singlespeeders are crazy. Linnea raced this last year on a 4-person team so she probably thinks this will be twice as hard -- having done it before, I'd say it's more like 4 times harder. You have to ride 2 times as often but also only get to rest 2/3rds as much as you did before.
Alright, before this becomes any more of a stream of consciousness, let's try to pull it together with a top ten list.
Top Ten Reasons you should ride 24 hours
10. Racer Camaraderie. This is the last place you're going to find hyper-aggressive racers. When time gaps are measured in hours, people get a lot more relaxed. When you're riding in the dark, everyone with a light is your friend.
9. Bragging Rights. Telling people you're "going to do a 24 hour race this weekend" is about 100 times more impressive sounding than "a bike race." Sure you might only be riding 6 hours (or 12, or 24) but they don't know that.
8. Night Riding. If you've never ridden a mountain bike at night, you don't know what you're missing. If you're a weak technical rider, this is probably going to go badly. Last year one of my teammates slowed over 50% on her first night lap and refused to ride any more. Good times.
7. Le Mans Start. Yeah, the race starts with a 3-4 minute run around the pond. Jogging in bike shoes with a helmet and camelback bouncing all over the place is part of the experience.
6. 130 riders on course. This equates to at least one rider per 30 seconds spread out over the course. Some of the smaller 24 hour races get really lonely, but this isn't one of them. There's always someone out there to chase or be chased by.
5. Solo Riders. On top of 90 teams there were 40 solo riders last year. I don't know what's wrong with these guys but they make everyone else feel a lot better, as they walk their bikes through the night with that glassy-eyed stare. Don't worry buddy, only 12 more hours to go!
4. Builds character. It's 4 AM. You've been asleep for 2 hours and it's 35 degrees out (seriously, this was the overnight low last year). Must be time to get up, get dressed, and go ride some laps.
3. So many lap times. You ride with a chip, so every lap is clocked with precision. Afterward you get to look back and see how your performance degraded with time, and you can compare against other teams (try putting 186,101 into that form). It's no surprise that the owner of crossresults.com likes this a LOT.
2. Slow Teams. It never ceases to amaze me how many teams seem completely unprepared for this. Plenty of DNF's and teams that just quit riding at like 10pm and wait for morning. Solo riders doing 4 laps (wtf?!), pairs riding 8 laps, people turning in 2 hour night laps. It's not like a Root 66 field, there's plenty of people here to just chill out and ride bikes. Why would four guys ever pay $500 to hang out at a campsite and ride their bikes slowly...?
...Because of 1. The Memories! If you can do this race without acquiring at least one "war story" then you probably just can't tell stories.
Colin's Favorite Great Glen Story: "The time I rode 4 night laps"
In 2004 my dad and I were on a pairs team. The old man doesn't like to ride short efforts any more so we decided on a plan that would let him ride the majority of his laps in three blocks. So I started with 2 laps, then he rode 3 laps, then I rode 3 laps, then he rode 4 laps, then I rode 4 laps, then he rode 3 laps. This got us through 19 laps and into the morning light with him only getting on the bike three times -- the catch was that he rode almost 3 hours each time, and maxed out at 4.5 hours.
Of course, since I'm the other half of the team, that meant I was out doing the same thing. I started my four lap block at thirty minutes after midnight, expecting to ride until 5 AM. I was scheduled for a light change after 2 laps since I didn't have battery for 4 hours. I had 3 gels and a full camelback.
While this task seemed daunting, it actually went down surprisingly well. It was a beautiful, cool night, and I'd already ridden five laps so the spring was well sapped from my legs. I just took it steady and focused on finishing each lap, so I could eat my next gel. Every once in a while the woods around me would fill with light, much brighter than my meager lights, and then one of the expert teams would blast past at twice my speed. I could barely take advantage of the heightened visibility before that rider would be disappearing off ahead of me in the trees, sending me back to my little tunnel of light.
On the second lap I had my first excitement when my bar light came loose decending some rough singletrack. One second I'm blasting down the trail trying to pick a line from the shadows, and then next thing I know there's 15 watts of light on my handlebar pointed straight into my eyes. I was completely blind, the only thing I could do was lock 'em up and pray that my memory of the line was good enough to keep me out of the trees until I stopped. I did keep the bike upright, and after taking care to tighten things down enough to prevent a repeat occurrence I was back on track.
The course had started out muddy, although thousands of laps being put on it were definitely drying things out. Where there had been unrideable mud bogs at noon there were now packed down lines through the bogs, but all that mud had to go somewhere -- specifically, into everyone's drivetrain. This was back in my grip shift days, and I noticed that upshifting my rear derailleur was getting harder and harder as the laps went past. I was developing a nice blister on my thumb from twisting the grip with all my might to get back up the cassette for the hills. Then, finally, the inevitable happened on the third lap -- I was wailing on my shifter when suddenly there was a pop and the resistance was gone. I easily twisted up to my easiest gear, while at the same time there was a "ching, ching, ching" sound as my gears shifted instantly in back. Unfortunately, the change was going the wrong direction -- I had broken the cable and was now in the smallest cog I had. I had to finish the lap riding the worst-geared singlespeed ever, and then headed back to the campsite after 3 laps to pick up the spare bike, a hardtail Raleigh.
I tried to quietly get the bike off the car and switch my pedals, but of course my dad wakes up, and when he realizes I'm outside the tent he starts panicking, thinking that he has to go ride a lap right now. After a 15 minute break I get everything fixed up, but in the rush I forget to change the number over to the new bike. Meanwhile my dad is in no danger of falling back asleep (amazing how hard it is to sleep during this event) and gets to lie in the dark for another half hour before getting up to race again.
I rode the fourth lap on hardtail with a noticeably longer reach than I was used to, so my back was pretty much destroyed by the end of it. I was also pretty surprised at how much rougher certain sections were -- apparently dragging around that dualie was actually worth something. With one mile left, I could see a little glimmer of sunlight in the sky and heard the bagpipes across the field -- it was 5 AM. I'd been on the bike for 4.5 hours, but it felt like thirty minutes. I could've kept going.
Before my saga was over I had to figure out if I was going to get penalized for riding a lap without a number, something that they had definitely suggested was possible. I stopped a hundred feet before the finish tent and started to dismount to climb the fence and run back to camp for the number, but then I heard my mom (best support crew EVER) yelling at me from the tent. She had gotten up and used her motherly inclinations to sweet-talk the timing volunteers (mothers themselves, I'm sure) and got everything smoothed over. Then she took my broken bike to neutral support, while I sat down at the tent and ate a little food. After all... there were still 7 more hours to ride.
I didn't feel really tired, but I decided to lie down for a bit anyway. I was lying there, thinking about the race, and then suddenly someone starts shaking my foot. What the heck? I'm trying to fall asleep here!
"Colin, it's time to get up."
Yep, it was 7:15. I had just passed out for two hours. Time to chamois back up and get on the bike again... oh wait, I'm still wearing my chamois.