Tuesday, October 16, 2007

24 Hours of Moab

The first 24 hour race I witnessed was the 2001 24 Hours of Moab. This is the 24 hour race that I compare all others to. It’s big, it’s brassy, the course is quite a handful and the talent that shows up for it is impressive. It’s late in the season, which makes it feel like a grand finale, but that also means that weather can be a huge factor.

This year I hooked up with Dave Armbruster from Denver, the team captain from my first tour of the 24 Hours of Moab. Dave has been fielding teams since that first year. He had a spot open and he offered it to me. Our team was The Mud Pigs. We entered as a Men’s Veteran 4-man team.

I went out to the venue mid-week to grab a good parcel of real estate. Dave and Jesse showed up early Friday with a travel trailer they had borrowed from one of Dave’s 2006 teammates. We set the trailers up in an L-shaped formation to block the wind, should it become a factor. Our fourth guy, Paul, rolled in Friday afternoon.

Friday was a beautiful, idyllic day, but with the wispy clouds that warn of an approaching front. The rumors were that there could be some harsh weather. Saturday morning was cool, with a sort of moist breeze. There were fairly high clouds moving fast--looked like something was going to happen. But the race start was approaching, and nothing looked likely to stop that.

Jesse was our 1st rider. He volunteered to do the LeMans start and hit the course in heavy traffic. Paul was #2, Dave was #3, and I was anchor. We agreed Friday night to stick with a simple 1-2-3-4 rotation. So I didn’t have anything to do until some time after 4 PM.

From the start, three or four teams stormed off ahead of all the others in Men’s Veteran. This is the way things go at the 24 Hours of Moab. To be on the podium in any category requires that all riders on your team are elite, and no mistakes are made. Our guys all did just fine, and we were sitting at around 13th of 25 by the time I headed for the starting line.

I had a decent first lap, an hour and twenty minutes. That's as fast as I've ever turned at Moab, even though the course was remarkably sandy this year. My 2nd lap started at quarter to 11 PM, so it was plenty dark. I was rockin' a really fast night lap, but flatted about 2/3s of the way through and spent nearly 10 minutes fixing it in the dark. That lap was 1:39. My third was a nice frisky 1:33:46, which is decent for a 2nd night lap that started at 5:30 AM.

As I was preparing for that early morning lap, I conferred with Jesse and Paul. We were analyzing our results with Excel on Paul's laptop in a trailer in the desert in the wee hours of Sunday. Jesse was due out after me. He was feeling shelled, and also feeling regret that we were looking iffy to get a 16th lap because his times were suffering. He did a 1:55 lap between midnight and 3 AM. In order for us to have any chance at a 16th lap, we needed to have him do a 1:50 or better when he went out after me. He doubted that he had that in him.

We had been playing around between 11th and 13th place in Men's Vet since the start. The best we were going to do was 11th, and finishing there would definitely require doing 16 laps.

Jesse offered to skip his lap, letting all the faster riders do theirs, and he would take the clean-up lap at the end, which we would almost certainly get to do. In order for that to happen, Paul would have to be ready to go right after me, and he had just come in off the cold, dark course. So that sounded pretty difficult to him.

As I got up to go ride, I told them that it was really up to them. It was Paul's burden, and he should decide if he was willing to do it. Jesse noted that I had a say in it too, since I could lose the chance to do the four laps that they all were doing. I told them that I was OK with whatever.

I went out on course. As I raced, I considered that perhaps I should offer to double up, and go out again when I saw Jesse at the start/finish. But I eliminated it by the time I got there. I felt that it might not be respectful of Jesse's feelings. I should just smile, wish him luck, and let him know that I had faith in him to do his best. It really didn't matter. We were doing this for fun, and Jesse could do his lap or not do it. He could turn a fast lap or he could fall completely apart, and it was his experience that mattered then, not whether we did 15 or 16 laps.

Well, Jesse dug deep and came up with a 1:44. It was fast for him on his tired legs. And he got the dawn boost that I had predicted would help him. He came off the course smiling, happy, and proud of himself. Hot damn! And we were still in it for 16 laps!

Paul went out and turned a nice quick 1:27. Then it was Dave's turn. He hit the course at 10:24:45 AM. He needed to do a 1:35 to get me onto the course for a final lap. His first lap, when he was fresh, was 1:29:19. Clearly, it wasn't going to be easy for him to throw down and finish a lap that fast. I cleaned up my bike, suited up, stretched, and got ready to go if he got back in time.

All three of us were in the start/finish tent as noon approached. Wildly enthusiastic team exchanges were going on. The team that was currently holding 11th place sent out their rider at 11:49. So he had a lead on me, but I'd been smoking this guy through the whole race, so I wasn't worried about catching him if I got to get out there. But would I? The minutes kept clicking by, no Dave. As it got past 11:58 I started to assume that we were done. Oh well, that's how it goes. Then it got to be 11:59. The announcer started to count down to noon, and suddenly I heard Jesse yell "He's here!"

I jumped over to our start/finish volunteer and said "Our guy Dave is coming!" The countdown started and here came Dave, his eyes hollow with exhaustion. He rolled up to the table, handed down the baton, scanned his card, and promptly fell over, bike and all. I laughed out loud, took the baton, scanned my card and jogged out to get my bike and start that last lap. I laughed on and off for about the first 5 minutes, then got down to the business of catching the rider from the 11th place team.

There were lots and lots of exhausted solo riders out there, and other quite a bit slower riders. But of course that's all I saw. There really weren't any riders starting after me. I was probably the 2nd to the last rider to hit the course, if not the last. So nobody was passing me, and I was passing plenty of slower riders.

I kept the hammer down, watching for my competitor. I checked the number of every rider I approached from the back. I covered all the gnarly climbs and technical sections in the tough first half of the course with as much speed and grace as I could muster. It was not the time to crash or flat.

Finally, as I approached one of the last technical rock descents in the middle of the course, I saw my guy. He came to the top of the rocky descent and skidded to a stop. I heard him say, "Not this time." Then I blew past him and dropped it. I heard him say "Nice job", but I just kept after it.

So now I knew that I had 11th as long as I didn't mess anything up. As far as I knew, there was still a chance to move up even more, especially if somebody had a mechanical, so I stayed on it as much as my tired body could.

My final lap was 1:27:30. We were 11th place, and all was at peace in our world.

For mere mortals, this is how the 24 of Moab goes. The podium belongs to the truly fast. The rest of us create our arbitrary measures of success, and we go out there and do the best we can. Real victory for us comes in behaving like a team and making good memories. So we won. We all had the most dramatic, best finish ever at Moab. Everybody on the team threw down big time to get us that 16th lap. We all got what we got by doing our best.

It was a great time. A great way for me to sum up my 2007 race season.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Sandy Course!

Out at the venue, I've done two laps to check out the course. She's deep, bro. Mucho sandy. Gonna make it interesting this year. The big wheel will be an advantage.

This dude powered his way through the whole dune, but it's deep baby!

I'll blog a report when I have it, but don't look for it before Sunday. Woo Hoo! 24 Hours of Moab, baby!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Porcupine Rim

What a classic ride.

After I spent the morning helping out at the venue, I decided it was time for some “me” time. I put on a wool jersey, threw my provisions into the truck, and headed to Moab.

There are lots of stock rides I could do. One of them, the Sovereign Trail, I’ve only ridden once before. That was during the ridiculously rainy Rim Ride Moab. There was some temptation to do that ride, but I haven’t ridden good old Porcupine for a couple years. It’s a wonderful ride. So that was it.

I went straight to Lions Park, at the intersection of Utah state highway 128 (the river road) and highway 191. The ride finished onto 128, a few miles upriver. So I parked there and rode through town and up onto the Sand Flats Road. I had to pay $2 to the BLM to get into the Sand Flats Recreation area.

It took me about 90 minutes from the time I parked to the time I hit the Porcupine Rim Trailhead. I encountered three jeepers right away, then two hikers. From that point, I saw nobody for an hour or so.

I rode the jeep road downhill section with a strong sense of mortality. I’m still a bit sore from the crash I took at Phil’s World on Monday, and of course I broke my hand on that road back in 2000. I remember that day like it was yesterday. No need for broken bones today, especially with me all by myself.

The first other human I saw after the hikers was a Euro chick in full-on pro racing togs. She was walking up the jeep road as I was descending. I stopped to ask her if she was alright and she pointed to her bare wrist and said “I lost the jewelry—you see any jewelry?” I shook my head apologetically and rolled on. A minute later I ran into her Euro racerboy companion. He told me “She lose her jewelry.”

I saw a cluster of shuttle riders (an empty shuttle van had passed me as I climbed the Sand Flats Road) just as I approached the beginning of the singletrack. I rolled past them and hit the brief but fun and technical singletrack. It was just as I remembered it; all ride-able, but with several difficult visual problem-solving puzzles. Only after you give up and put a foot down do you see the easy line. It’s the kind of ride that you could get dialed if you rode it every day for a week.

Ah well, it’s beautiful anyway. You descend to the river in a way that looks impossible. So far down, such a steep canyon wall.

I was back at the truck in almost exactly 4 hours. I drove straight back out to the venue to defend my turf. When I got there, I found that I had neighbors on two sides. But my boundaries had not been breached.

Home at the Venue

I dragged the tPOD into the 24 Hours of Moab venue Tuesday early afternoon. Monday night I stayed at the Moab KOA where I could shower, fill the fresh water tank, and dump my poopy tank. After I checked out of the KOA I went into town to do laundry and some shopping.

Then I rolled out to the venue and pulled the trailer in there using 4wd low. Even though I went in using creeper, the road really wasn’t all that bad. I remember years past when it was really pretty gnarly. Granny Gear has worked it over really well. Perhaps it will get worse after a couple hundred vehicles, trailers, and RVs have rolled in to prepare for race day.

I got a decent spot, then walked over to command central to volunteer to help. I’d like to reduce my camping bill, and it helps to know people anywhere you go. So Tuesday late afternoon I helped Snedly clear tumbleweeds from the beginning of the course, heading east along next to the entry road. Wednesday morning, we filled prairie dog holes in the field used for the lemans start.

People keep trickling in, but as of Thursday morning, it’s still pretty much empty. SRAM and Cannondale are the big vendors who have arrived, and IMBA has sent one advance scout.

Let the games begin.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Phil's World

Damn, but do I like Phil's World.

I rolled over to the entrance to Phil's just about an hour before sundown yesterday. I carefully towed the trailer over some nasty road to a turnaround where I could park for the night without blocking the road. It got danged cold overnight. I hung out in the tPOD until almost 10 AM waiting for the air to warm up a bit.

Then I hit it. I spent a whole day riding Phil's last Spring during the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde. Today was no race, just for fun.

Man is this a fun place to roll! Swoopy, curvy, up and down singletrack weaving through the piñon/juniper and sagebrush. Then there's the ribcage. How much air do you dare?

OK, this is pretty funny. I decided to shoot a little digital camera video of myself stylin' off one of the best whoops in the ribcage. I took two bits with the camera positioned too high, then re-set it and went for the final cut. If you can handle a ~9 MB download and you have a minute or two to burn, check out my crudely edited video here:

So, on that last one, it might look like I landed it fine. But I was too far forward. I could tell while I was in the air, and I stiff-armed the landing. The biff happened off-screen, and you get to listen to me commenting on the after-effect.

I'm OK by the way. Rung my bell just a bit and scratched myself. I'll live to make a fool of myself another day.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Durango - Telegraph Trails II

It did dawn clear. The air was very chilly, but the sky was cloudless. I got up, ate some breakfast, secured the tPOD and hauled her back up to Durango.

It took me longer than it should to find a legal place to park the truck and trailer, but once I found one I was suited up and ready to ride in a few minutes. I had to dress pretty warmly, since it was probably mid-50s in town at around 11 AM when I was getting ready to embark.

I went back to the Horse Gulch-Telegraph trail system on the east side of Durango. I like that place, enjoyed it in May when I was last here, and it's nice and low. I didn't feel the need to ride in cold high-country. I could do that at home.

I made a couple goofs and wound up doing more hard climbing than I wanted to, including climbing up the Anasazi Descent, which is obviously not meant to be climbed. All the walking I did gave me plenty of time to peel off my leg warmers, since I clearly didn't need them by the time I got halfway up.

Once I got to the Telegraph Trail summit, I spotted this little crawly thing crossing the trail. Not a huge tarantula, but bigger than any of the hundreds of black widows that can be found back at the bikey commune.

My lenz is nicely shaken out. The Fox fork is wonderful. Long live Fox Racing Shox!

Good day riding. Nearly 4 hours out there and almost no re-tracing of routes. Now I'm doing a few minutes of library time, and then it's off to Mancos-Cortez. Tomorrow, Phil's World!

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Road Apple Rally

I hauled the tPOD to Farmington, New Mexico on October 5th, the day before the 2007 Road Apple Rally. I parked it in the parking lot of the Lions Wilderness Amphitheater, which serves as Road Apple HQ, then got my bike out to do a little shake-out ride. I have a brand-new Fox F-29 fork hanging off the front of the Lenz, and I’d re-cabled the front and rear shifters. That had all happened without even a test ride, other than around the shop--dodging the clothing racks and display cases. Just hadn’t had time to take her for a proper shake-out ride. So just as the sun set on Friday, we did a little 25-minute dance on the Roadapple singletrack.

Afterwards I twisted the barrel adjusters on the shifters a little and let some air out of the fork. Then I locked her to the tongue of the tPOD, made some dinner and hit the rack.

When I woke up, I could hear people talking and RVs being backed around. The parking lot was already filling up as the sun came up. I fried some bacon and ate a little cereal, then I put on my monkey suit and started circling around, warming up like the other bikey geeks that were showing up from all of the four-corner states.

The nervous milling about, egos being compared for where one should line up, the countdown from ten, then the pack starts rolling. An uphill doubletrack start spreads the pack out pretty quickly. I wasn’t in this thing for a win, but any racer knows that once people start racing, people start racing.

I don’t do much cross-country racing. I’m not blazing fast. I prefer setting up a decent pace for a long haul rather than pushing my throttle down to the floorboards for a couple pain-filled hours. But the Road Apple—it’s so steeped in tradition. Ned Overend rolled past while I was warming up. And the course is a blast; long and swoopy, and flat relative to Colorado race courses.

So when the riders started sorting out on the doubletrack at the beginning I put the hammer down. When the doubletrack gave way to the seemingly endless rolling uphill singletrack, I stayed on it to the extent that I could. When the rollers got deeper, I pump-tracked my way to a couple easy passes.

About 30 minutes into a cross-country race, you get to witness what happens to people who really don’t have much fitness, but can hang with faster riders for a while. You’re grinding along behind someone, feeling pain but staying with it. Then their body language and sometimes even an audible queue tell you that it’s all over for them. They give kind of a huff, and either shift down or start pedaling slower. You say “on your left” and they happily slip to the right to let you around.

I don’t think I’m any faster than usual, but I have some pretty deep fitness in my life right now. I went out hard. I kept at it hard. About an hour and a half into it, when I was about two-thirds of the way through my race, I wilted for about 10 minutes. I didn’t drop my pace entirely, but I was feeling it. Then some guy who had been following me on a section of singletrack, about my age, came alongside me when we came out onto a stretch of road. He had an exasperated look on his face, and said “how much did we pay to do this?” I just smiled at him and rode away like he was standing still. I may feel like I’ve been beaten, but this goober is NOT going to cross the line before I am.

He didn’t.

I finished in 2:19. That put me in 7th for 40-49 Sport. I was 11 minutes behind 3rd place. Of course I had to look at where I would have been in Expert. I was only 9 minutes behind 3rd in Expert. Damned sandbaggers. I’m going to declare myself Expert next year. If I’m going to be mid-pack when I race X/C, I’d rather be a mid-pack Expert than a mid-pack Sport.

As my race finished up, the decent weather that we had started to degrade. A chilly wind came up, and the clouds rolled in. I put on some warm clothing and went to the awards and to collect my free plate of Mexican food. It got colder as the awards ceremony went on. I bumped into some friends from Albuquerque and another one from Bakersfield, CA (Sportsman).

After the awards wrapped up, I wandered back out to the parking lot where the tPOD sat. The lot was already more than half empty. The wind was rocking the tPOD. I went inside, took an Advil, turned on some music, and stretched my legs out. Within an hour the parking lot became almost totally empty, and the wind became a force. I started reading a crime novel, and thought about where I should go tomorrow. I’m doing the 24 Hours of Moab on a team next weekend, so I’m just staying out this way for the next week.

Is the weather going to go to shit? Should I just skip Durango and stay somewhere lower? Maybe I should just do a day at Phil’s World then head on up to Moab.

Tom Waits from the speakers, the wind, the empty parking lot—these things combine to make me feel melancholy. But tomorrow is another day. As the wind blows itself out there seem to be fewer clouds in the sky. Tomorrow will probably dawn clear. I’ll pick someplace to ride and get on with my 4-corners tour.