I’m not sure what keeps drawing me towards 24 hours of torture. 24 hours of delirium. 24 hours of anguish. Maybe it’s the 24 hours of euphoria. 24 hours of doing what I love. Riding bikes. In my many hours to ponder life during these events, I often think, “I’d way rather be riding my bike right now than sitting in a car and driving on the 395 to Los Angeles. Funny how a 6 hour drive is so annoying and seems like it’s never gonna end… But a 6 hour bike ride, well hey now 🙂
Cut to the chase. 24 Hours of Halloween. Los Olivos, CA. My friend Tony, who used to live in Santa Barbara (and who raced 24 Hours of Moab beside me last year) turned me on to this one. I believe this was the 7th year, and it’s traditionally held the weekend before Halloween (or during Halloween depending on how the cards fall.) For 2013, it fell on October 26-27. It’s located on a private mountain biking ranch called “Dirt Club” in the foothills of the Santa Ynez Valley. Absolutely breathtaking scenery. Gnarled oak trees and pristine, purpose built singletrack. By mountain bikers, for mountain bikers. We share the area with what seems like thousands of head of cattle. Cow pies everywhere. Only adds to the majesty.
Loaded up the trailer, and took the fam bam as my “support crew”. It was Molly’s (our 7 week old daughter) first real road trip. Exciting times. Arrived in Buellton. Ate at Pea Soup Andersons. Not impressed. A blahzay Denny’s. Spent the next morning toodling around Solvang. Always a fun time. Had some great pastries at an old Danish Bakery. Marveled at the hispanic employees dressed in period Danish garb. Gotta love the tourism industry.
Then off to race venue to set up camp. We got there pretty early and wound up pitting next to two previous solo winners (one geared and one ss). They and their families were super nice and helpful, and we knew we were gonna have a fun group to share the time with. After setting up in what felt like scorching heat, I pre-rode the course. Apparently, while I was gone, Lucy found the pump track and set out for an adventure. When I got back, the pump track was all she could talk about. I was stoked to see her stoke on riding. Molly sucked on booby, Angela smiled her heart-warming smile, and I was starting to feel ready for the race.
Cut to Saturday morning. 10:45am. Pre-game antics all said and done. Nutrition plan laid out. Bike sparkly and dialed in. Butterflies contained in belly. Porta-potty filled. Chamois cream and sunblock applied. Front wheel off and in hand, awaiting the LeMans start. Boom, the canon sounds and we’re off running (jogging) to our bikes trying like jerk offs to figure out how to put our front wheel on. Then it’s off to my own little world in my head for 24 hours.
A blur of memories – getting stuck behind annoying broad with cowbell that kept ringing, the guitarist who serenaded me atop the last climb on lap 4 (“keep riding son, you’re almost to the top, and then it’s down, down, down… ), seeing Angela and Lucy and Molly every lap in the pit area kept me out of the pit of despair. The twisty, flowy fast rollercoaster singletrack sections that weaved in and out of the oaks, while the herds of cattle just stared at us with blank looks on their faces. I would just wonder what they were thinking. As always, my mantra crept in here and there, “My race, my pace.” Some other mantras not so positive crept in, but i’d treat them like the flies around the cow pies and shoo them out of my psyche. The Molly Ringwalds were covering hits from the 80’s – and I could hear the tunes echoing in and out of the valleys and canyons through much of the course. “Take… On… Me… Take On Me… Take Me On….” SWEET ASS SWEET!! After the band played, they had trick or treating for the kids, pumpkin carving/ smashing… and played a movie in the camp – “Ride The Divide” ( a very suiting movie for the endurance junkie crowd). Riding through the pit area was definitely fun at this venue.
The sunset lap was invigorating. Temps dropped from the 80’s down into the 60’s in a flash, and the crisp air shot me with a charge of love life. Looking out to the west and smelling the damp air kept me giggling and that lap passed so fast. My legs hung in there, and treated me well. My altitude toughened lungs were also game for the affair. I looked forward to the night laps so I could don my Shrek mask. I attached it to my helmet facing backwards, with my red blinky light popping out of the mouth. I hear it was well-received, and it was Lucy’s idea.
Then around midnight, the dreaded negativity started lurking. 41 degrees out. I’m cold. I’m sweaty. I’m physically beat. Mentally drained. Nothing I ate was doing the trick. Bananas, avocados, pickles, sausages, pb&j’s, gu, chomps, pretzels, water, gu brew, dr. pepper, carne asada… The core is not holding heat like it used to. My wife’s hugs are definitely not encouraging me to get back out on course either. Hmmm, maybe a little nap? Just to warm up? Take a break for a minute? That darn devil is playing tricks. Next thing I know, my neck hurts, my back hurts, I’m shivering uncontrollably. Feet are numb. That bonfire might do the trick. NO. Alan, get the fuck back on course!!! Don’t listen!! Don’t even think, just throw your leg over the bike and be gone. Just like that, out of the pit area, back on track – disaster averted. Once out on course, those thoughts are consumed by fortitude. Push on.
As hard as I pushed, one gent was pushing slightly harder. He slowly got a 45 minute lead on me through the dark laps. I made one last attempt, my final push… to try and catch him. I did two hot laps through the night, without pitting, hoping he’d take a long pit, and I’d sneak by him. It didn’t work. I gained a few minutes, but not what was necessary to reel him in. It did give Angela a 3-hour nap though, and not stopping kept my demons at bay.
I did some math. On this lap, the sun should be rising just as I’m finishing. Nice!! I did some more math. The third place rider was 3 laps behind me (approx. 4- 4.5 hours). By the time I finished this lap, I should have confirmed my 2nd Place position without having to go out for more. I was not going to catch Jesse in first. So I decided to ride a very conservative sunrise lap, and just enjoy the magic. That it was. I climbed to the last summit of the course, got off my bike, and after almost 20 hours of riding, just let everything consume me. As the ambient light started to illuminate the area, I just stood there. Leaning on a trail sign. I started to see cows silhouetted on ridge lines with oak trees. The faint white dots of bike lights were now complimented by bodies visible pushing the dots forward. Orange and violet and a crescent moon high in the sky. This is it. This is why I ride. Moments like this you can’t explain. The endorphins. The sense of accomplishment. The sense of camaraderie. The miracle of a sunrise. Images that will stay locked my head. The smile that won’t wash away.
I was done. A blazing fast descent, and a mile of flat riding back to camp. I was ready for family time. Passed by my pit, gave my wife the sign that I was riding straight through to the finish. Crossed the line. Done. Quietly at peace. Hard work. Amazing memories. Busy living, not busy dying. Drop the bike, join my family in the Subaru where the heat is cranking. Hugs rejuvenate my soul. I want to do this forever. There were four hours left in the race, and I shoveled pancakes and eggs and bacon inside my neck and cheered on the others. Fun being a spectator. Go ride the pump track with Lucy. So proud of her. My legs were tired, but not too tired to show her a couple fun lines. So blessed with my family. One day, I’ll show some pics and this blog to Molly. Her first race at age 7 weeks.
Drink a beer. Stand on the podium. 2nd Place Singlespeed Solo. 2nd Place Overall Solo. Somehow two singlespeeders bested the geared bikes. A pilsner glass and some prize money to take my fam to Wood Ranch for a celebration dinner.
Until next time.