Racing the 24 Hours of Moab in the Duo Pro/Expert division (two guys taking turns racing a technically demanding 15.7 mile course for 24 hours) was just nuts. It’s also the most epic ride I’ve ever done.
I just started a new job, so I don’t have any vacation time built up. This means that I had to do this trip on a strict weekend–no taking off Friday or returning Monday. So, Saturday morning, about 6:00, I got up and drove to Moab. The road into the camp–which is also the first few miles of the race course–looked even sandier and dustier than usual, and people who had pre-ridden the course said that it was in fact, slower than ever before. Great.
Anyway, Jeremy (the owner of Frank’s Bikes, the best bike shop in the whole world) had set up camp the day before, right on the edge of the course, so that his canope was the first thing you saw as you peaked the last hill and came down the home stretch toward the finish line. Matt O’ Ran and his crew were there, nervously prepping about eighteen of his Cannondales. I casually mentioned that if Cannondales weren’t built so poorly he might not need to bring so many bikes. The Cannondale rep received this comment coolly. I handed my bike to Jeremy and asked him to give the bike a quick once-over if he had a second. As I got the rest of my stuff ready, nervousness set in. I didn’t know if I had prepared well enough for this event, and if I didn’t, during the next 24 hours I would pay for it in a big way.
The race begins with a member from each team running–in biking shoes–across desert sand about 100 yards to a juniper tree, around the tree, and back to their bikes, where they can begin riding. The official reason the race begins like this is to spread out the riders–there are 360 of them, after all–a little bit. The real reason is that it makes great comedy. As you may expect, neither Brad nor I wanted to be the guy who does this sprint.
Luckily, I had managed to get Gravity Media–the best darned Web Design company in the whole world–to sponsor Brad and me for this race. I say it was lucky for two reasons: first, because I didn’t have to come with $200.00 for my share of the entry. More importantly, though, it gave me excellent, compelling leverage against Brad when it came time to decide who would run around the tree at the start of the course. Essentially, it went like this:
Me: “I arranged sponsorship, so you have to run.”
Brad: “OK. Bastard.”
Brad and I agreed to do sets of two laps, giving each other more opportunity to rest between turns. That meant I wouldn’t have anything to do for at least the first couple hours of the race, except wish that I had worked harder at staying in shape.
I must say, Brad ran magnificently. He was easy to locate, too, resplendent in his blaze-orange Gravity Meda jersey (yep, I was able to get Gravity Media to design us jerseys. Hah!). Especially considering he had to run around the tree, Brad put in a very fast first lap, about 1:17, I think.
His second lap didn’t go so well, however. Sometime last week, the pump holder on his bike broke and Brad forgot to replace it–evidently, Brad had taken race preparation even less seriously than I. So, when Brad got a flat, he was just a teensy bit screwed. He changed the tube anyway, and somebody loaned him one of those tiny little pumps that look really cool in catalogs but have the minor drawback of not being able to inflate a tube. After 1500 strokes or so, Brad was able to limp his bike to Nosedive hill, where they had a floor pump. Brad finished that lap in just under two hours.
Of course, I didn’t find this out until well after the race was over. While I was standing around in the staging area waiting for him, I couldn’t help but think that he must’ve had a serious injury. And while I wouldn’t want Brad to be incapacitated, I have to admit that at the time I could see an upside of having my race partner get injured very early in the race. Hell, if you’re going to DQ, DQ early.
Until now, all of my memories of the race course were based on when I did it a couple of years ago. I remembered that the rocky, ledgy descents and ascents were very difficult, and that I had to walk a number of them. I also remembered interminable sand pits you had to walk through. So it was a nice surprise to find that in the couple of years since I did that race I’ve improved enough so that I was able to not only ride the technical stuff, but really enjoy it. I cleaned everything but Nosedive hill, which I didn’t even try.
The sand, though, was even worse than I remembered it, to the point that the long downhill section toward the end of the course offered no recovery at all. You had to work constantly to keep momentum, not to mention the right line. Still, I felt pretty fresh as I finished my first lap. I took about 1:20–not as fast as Brad, but pretty darn good for me.
My second lap went a lot like my first, except I didn’t clean nearly as many of the technical moves, and I was fully beat when I finished. It was 6:00 then, giving us an average time of 1:30–right on track for what we wanted.
Brad must have bungled his math a bit for his next lap, because he went out without lights, even though the very earliest he could hope to come in would be at 7:20. So when he finished that lap, it was very nearly dark. He pulled into Jeremy’s pit stop, where Jeremy and crew got Brad set up in about one minute–including a quick lube for his chain–and off for his fourth lap.
No More Doubles
Brad pulled in from his fourth lap about 9:30, looking pretty shot. He said that he wasn’t up for doing sets of two anymore. I, still having done only two laps at that point, thought Brad was just being a baby. I took the baton and headed out.
Then, about twenty minutes into the lap (my third lap and first night lap), my handlebar-mounted lights went out. I’m still not sure why. Maybe I didn’t charge them properly. Maybe when I disconnected the battery from the gauge something got bunged up. In any case, I had to do the balance of the ride–including all the technical sections–using nothing but my helmet light. I switched it to dim (didn’t want it running out, too) and continued. This was a spooky lap. With nothing but a narrow-focus spotlight, it’s hard to tell what’s coming up. I walked a lot of the stuff that I had climbed earlier in the day.
Apart from the light debacle, my third lap went fine, and my fourth went great–a fully-lit trail makes a big difference in your confidence. By the end of that lap, though, I understood why Brad wanted to do single laps from that point forward–I was whipped, too.
Settling Into the Routine
For the remainder of the race, Brad and I turned in very consistent times–we each did 1:40 to 1:50 laps. It was nice being able to show up at the staging area at the right time and have Brad show up within a few minutes every time. Between laps I had a pretty effective regimen going, too. Go back to the camp, give my bike to Jeremy for lubing (necessary every lap), go back to my car, start the engine and turn on the heater, make a sandwich (Great Harvest bread, smoked turkey, lots of mayo) while the car warms up, climb into the back seat and change into the clothes for my next lap, eat the sandwich and drink about a quart of water, refill my Camelbak, rest for about 20 minutes, go to the restroom, then back to the staging area and wait for Brad.
I should point out that this easy routine I settled into would never have been possible if not for Jeremy. He was taking care of twelve riders’ bikes (Brad’s, mine, a Sport team’s, an Open team’s, and a soloist’s), not to mention their lights–making sure they were recharged in time was no small thing–and often, the riders themselves. He did all this for 24 hours, without–as far as I know–a break, and without ever dropping the ball or losing his cool. Thanks, Jeremy.
Okay, now back to the race. Brad says he felt strong up to and including part of his seventh lap. Toward the end, though, I guess he bonked hard. As he handed me the baton, he said that he had done the math and figured that I would finish my next lap (my seventh) about 11:40. He was completely fried, he said, and there was no way he was going to do another lap. “You have to!” I yelled. “No way,” he said. “You have to!” I reiterated, just in case I had been unclear the first time. “No way,” he said, just in case I hadn’t caught the subtle nuances of his previous statement. For emphasis, I yelled “You have to!” one more time, climbed on my bike and took off.
For the bulk of that lap, I was preeoccupied with what we would do when I finished my lap. At first I figured that Brad would see that he was obligated to do that lap and would be at the staging area ready to go when I pulled in. Then I thought about it a little harder and decided that if Brad said he was cooked, he was really cooked. I didn’t want to hold back, though, and intentionally turn in a slow lap for my final effort. I had treated this event like a race for 23 hours; I was going to finish it like a race. I decided that if Brad wasn’t able to do the final lap, I’d do it.
Around 11:25 I pulled into Jeremy’s pit stop and asked if Brad had suited up for another lap. They said he hadn’t and that I should just sit down and chill out until noon. Instead, I handed Jeremy my bike and asked him to lube the chain while I filled up my Camelbak. I don’t know if there were really wild cheers all around, but it seemed like it at the time and drove my morale right through the roof. I took off for lap number 8.
Asleep at the Wheel
It was during that eighth lap that I had the most impressive crash of my life. About five miles into the course, there’s a steep, sandy descent that ends with a very tall banked curve to the right. Riding high up on that bank is a blast–you feel like an skate rat in a half pipe (or at least that’s what I imagine it feels like). This time, though, I rode too high up on the bank, snagged my front wheel in deep sand and flipped over the front of my bike at about 25mph. I flew about ten feet in a Superman position, landed on my hands and rolled onto my back, where I slid to a stop. My bike must have gone over me, because it was another 20 feet down the trail. I just wish somebody would’ve caught that on film.
It wasn’t far into that final lap that I began to feel exhaustion like I have never felt before. Stuff that I had been blowing through in my middle ring now required a granny gear. I walked things that I would never walk. I felt like I was out there forever, but the actual time wasn’t much different than my other times for the day: 1:49
Apparently, that was good enough for a fourth-place finish, which is far and away my best finish ever in an endurance event. I rode a total of 126 miles in that race and pushed myself harder than ever before. I know this will sound dumb, but I’m excited to do it again next year. Now I just need to figure out a way to make sure Brad does the run again.