Saturday, June 9, 2007

24 Hours of Big Bear

Big Bear (BB) was my first ever 24 hour race, and I hope not my last. We tried to get a group together for BB, but we couldn't find enough willing. So I posted on BB message boards for a team. I got several offers, mostly from younger sport teams. That was tempting, but I didn't want to be on a real competitive team for my first year. Then I got contacted by team Bike Me out of Maryland. Their ages ranged from 37-57, and after talking to the team leader Jeff on the phone, Bike Me seemed like a good match for me, and I hoped for them.

Got to BB in the early afternoon on Friday. I drove up to the top of the park, where there is an abandoned airstrip that is used as the start/finish for the race. Now to find my team. Ty had gotten there Thursday and had set up camp, but I had never met Ty before so I wasn't sure where to find him. I finally found a car with Arizona plates (Ty had driven in from AZ to be with his old teammates). When I saw the Steelers stickers on his car and bikes, I knew I had the right place. Ty was nowhere to be seen, so I set up my tent and waited a bit. Soon Ty rolled in from his pre-ride. Ty is about 6' 4" tall and bald, and I never would've guessed he was 57 years old. We finished setting up camp and sat around and talked the afternoon away. I thought of going for a pre-ride myself, but the dark skies made me think better of it.

Late afternoon, Jeff the team leader, came walking into camp. I thought it was odd for him to walk in, but he explained that their pop-up trailer had gotten a flat just down the road. Met his wife Mundy (sp.) and her mother who were there to be our support crew for the weekend. Judy and Mike rolled in within the hour to complete our team.

Just as we got camp set up, a rainstorm rolled in and we spent the next several hours in the camp headquarters eating and getting to know each other.

I actually got some sleep that night, of course the queen sized air matress that I stuffed into my tent could've been the reason why. No more roughing it more than I have to.

Woke up the next morning, got some breakfast, tweaked the bike. Headed over for the pre race meeting. Before we knew it, it was time for the first lap racers to line up. Mike got the nod to be our lead off racer, as the rest of us had bad knees and other such excuses.

This was Mike's first race ever, and what better way to experience it than enter a 24 hour race, and be the lead off racer. Mike and the other racers had to run a large loop to their bikes, then ride their bike on the same loop, and then enter into the single track. The idea was to spread out the riders, but Mike told us they logjammed on the single track pretty quickly.

I got to the start line to wait for Mike, though I think I scared Jeff and Mundy. I was warming up, but they hadn't seen me and thought I wasn't going to be ready. The top racers came in just over an hour. Mike got in about 1:40, not bad for his first race and first time on the course. Later I found out from Mike that he had bonked about half way out. Even though he knew he shouldn't go out too fast, he did anyway. It's all right, we've all done it, even though we know better.

I was up next. I made Jeff and Mundy quite nervous. They couldn't find me, didn't know I was warming up before my turn. Jeff got already to go out in case they didn't find me. I knew something was wrong as I rolled into the tent and saw their expressions. Just trying to keep them on their toes.

Mike rolled, gave me the baton, he swiped his card I then swiped mine, and off I went. I entered the woods and quickly got to the first downhill section. Having ridden the course before helped quite a bit. I flew down this section, and around the corner to an uphill slick rock section. Almost pulled it off, just got a bit of tire slippage at the end. Travel through all the ups and downs, slowly gaining more elevation. Once again, my experience on the trail helped. I knew that if I got speed going into the short uphills, I wouldn't have to pedal much to top them. I could tell the new riders when they got stuck half way up.

They added more trail this year, and they did a great job by adding it to my favorite sections - the pines. The trail winds it's way through a huge plot of pines. It's so quiet in there, many of the turns are banked, it's relatively flat, and you can just fly. After the pines came the long downhill section that is just awesome. In the spring, my rear brakes hadn't worked and I couldn't really take the downhill with any speed. This time was different. I really let the bike go, letting the 5 inches of suspension just soak up all of the rocks. At one sharp right turn, I almost missed it, but quickly got back on track. By the time I made it to the bottom of the hill, my triceps were cramping, as well as my hands and fingers. Sharp left into creekbed that they humorously call a trail. Either they had cleaned this section out a bit, or I was riding more confidently, not sure, but I made it through very easily.

On some fire road, then up. Got in an easy gear and spun it through, making it for the first time. This was really the first hilly section as we did most of the downhill stuff up to this point. I was hoping I hadn't gone out too fast. Continued on passing the EMT camp on the left. Kept riding the singletrack, which was subtly going uphill. It snuck up on me, felt like maybe I was just a bit tired, but then realized the I was going uphill more and more.

Cross over a few fireroads and then into the real hill sections. Had to walk one of them, with one of the women I had been pacing myself with yelling to me to not get off the bike. Blah, I was tired. Got back on bike at the top of that hill, got in an easy gear and tried to spin my way up.

Looking at my watch, I was on track for a 1:30 finishing times, which I was thrilled with. That's when Mr. Murphy woke up and took notice of me. Going through one of the many rock garden sections, I remember hitting one rock a bit too hard. And of course, quickly realize I've got a pinch flat.

I jump off the bike, and really change the tire in record time. Thankfully I had switched to co2 rather than my pump. Back on the bike in under five minutes and continue up the hills. I make it to the last hill, suffering badly, when I notice I've got another flat in the same rear tire. I didn't remember hitting any rocks hard.

Bad news, I had only taken one spare tube with me as I had never flatted in a race before. I had a decision to make, patch the tire or hike the bike to the finish. Decided it might be faster to run the bike in. I come to the big bridge that enters in to the finishing tent, and realize that there is an absolutely huge crowd watching us finish. I'm a bit embarrassed at having to push my bike. My embarrassment grows to outright laughter as the P.A. announcer calls out my name and team name, and rambles on about how the rider coming in isn't going to let his team down, he'll finish anyway he has to, even if it means he has to push his bike in.

Hmmmm, rereading this entry I realized I never finished it, so here's some impressions sitting here in March...

First lap finished and I was exhausted. My stomach was upset and cramping from the hard effort and the gels I sucked down during my lap. I really thought at that point that I would not be able to do any more laps when my turn came around again. Well, grabbed a shower (not bad showers considering we were in middle of nowhere) finally got some food into me and stomach settled.

Wandered around the campground met Jeff R. and ran into Tom and Chris H. Tom and Chris were support for Holly who was doing the 24 hour race solo. Totally boggles my mind how people can ride for that long.

Tried to nap, didn't work. Got some good pasta in me for dinner and lots of water. Sat around campfire talking, finally got to sleep around 11:00 or so. One o'clock came very quickly and it was time for me to get up and get ready for my second lap that would be around 1:30 a.m. Went to the start tent to wait for Mike to finish his lap. It was quite cool, but I knew I'd warm up as soon as I got a mile or two under my belt. Mike arrived, he checked out and I checked in and off I went.

My thought was just to ride slow but really steady. My muscles were really stiff but after about ten or fifteen minutes they loosened up nicely. I had my ipod on really low to keep me company, but I would be able to hear riders coming up on me.

Some random memories from the night lap: I was surprised at the number of people awake to cheer us on as we rode, I passed quite a few people but some expert riders just blew by me, flashing orange pumpkins hanging in trees, a taped loop of a yeti howling, two guys playing guitar and banjo in the middle of the pine forest, the emt campsite all lit up with torches, the endless uphill back to the finish line. Those last hills seemed to go on forever, as if I were on a conveyor belt. In the end this lap only took me 10 minutes longer than my first lap.

Arrived back at the camp site and was trashed. Stayed up about an hour and a half then collapsed. We were down to four people now. On Ty's lap, his battery died had no lights, crashed, sprained his ankle and killed his bike. Sometime overnight Jeff bonked out on his lap and took over two hours to get back. But he got back with a great story of a solo rider basically just falling on his side in the woods, still clipped into the bike, and decided to wait out sunrise in that position. I could only imagine what he was feeling.

I woke up in the morning, hoping that I wouldn't have to do my last lap. I asked where Mike was hoping that he was asleep in his tent. No such luck, he was out on his lap. I got dressed and waited for him again at the start tent. At this point I was exhausted and really sore. But once again I loosened up quickly on the trail. This lap went by without incident, and my time was right on the my average of the earlier laps.

Judy finished the last lap for our team, another solid time, and that took us to the noon deadline. We were done, we had completed our 24 hour race. Tried to get tons of liquid in us, kept falling asleep if I sat down. Took the obligatory pictures and we all headed out. The hardest part of the race was yet to come, it was the drive home. I had to pull over twice to sleep, I was so exhausted. It was an awesome time, everyone I talked to was really friendly. The biking community is a really good one.

Post report: two days later, I had a pass to the U.S. Open at Oakmont for one of the practice rounds. I felt pretty good, thought I was recovered from the race. Went to the Open, and as I was walking up the hill to the clubhouse, I found myself having to sit down and rest, exhausted. Now I've caddied at Oakmont, and have never had a problem with that hill even when shouldering two golf bags. I couldn't believe how long it was taking to fully recover. But I'm already looking forward to racing again this June!

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