Photo Cred

Monday, November 17, 2014

Ripping One More Fast One

The Stats:

It goes without saying that I was disappointed by the outcome of my 2014 NUE season--I wanted that championship, and was really hoping for the opportunity to join the other NUE division champs at La Ruta De Los Conquistadores.  (That being said, Gordon's overwhelming success down there makes me feel a little better--at least I was bested by a true competitor.)  So when I was asked to join the Twins and Berningman on a 4-Man Fitzy team for the 25 Hours In Frog Hollow ("The Longest 1-Day Race"), I said Hell Yes!  I mean, it may not be Costa Rica, but flowing down gorgeous desert singletrack at 2am with a crew of buddies?  Who would say no to that?

Not me.

Damn, this course is fast.
Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

Some background: the 25 Hours In Frog Hollow takes place on the first weekend in November every year outside of Hurricane, Utah on the legendary Jem Trail.  That weekend happens to be the fall time change, hence the extra hour of racing between 10am on Saturday and 10am on Sunday.  And the Frog Hollow course is the fastest mountain bike race course I've ever ridden.  (15mph is a reasonably fast average on a singlespeed, right?)

Sunset from camp, the night before.

So that's how we ended up in southern Utah on Halloween night, surrounded by hundreds of other cycling enthusiasts and their families, doing our best to "fuel up" (stuff ourselves) before putting out a 25-hour effort.  The scene around camp was super fun--costumes, laughter, kids squealing all over on those Strider bikes.  Burn barrels and fire pans began to glow as night fell and the temps settled, with rock n' roll playing in the distance in The Pit.

Morning came overcast and "breezy", but at least it was dry.  Nervously eating while making final adjustments to bicycles and clothing organization, we got kitted up in a pretty stiff wind and headed over to the start line to cheer George through the obligatory LeMans start.  (As ever, why make everybody run from the start line to get on their bikes?)  And we were off...

Bart adds some flair to the Jem Trail.Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

Lap 1:  Damn, this hurts.  George scorched the opening lap, so there are really only a couple of guys ahead of us.  Maybe I didn't warm up enough.  How do people do this short-duration max-effort stuff?  I end up chasing Chris Holley until I pass him halfway through the climb to the top of the Jem Trail and then I'm cranking away by myself into the descent.  Briefly.  It seems like I've only been pointed downhill for 30 seconds before I hear Chris behind me and watch him rocket by in his big gear.  How did he get so fast?  I think I've seen 5 other people riding the Pivot LES--stoked to see it becoming the hot ride.  Such sweetness.

George, too.
Crawling Spider Photography

Lap 2:  Damn, this still hurts.  At least it's not hot out here.  Stiff headwind on the climb, but it's a tailwind on the down!  Chasing Brent from the Roosters team, pass him just before the top of the Jem, and then watch him rocket past in his big gear on the downhill just like Chris did.  Crap.  Maybe my superior stubbornness will outweigh my lack of gears and I can pull ahead in the middle of the night.  This lap turns out to be my fastest of the day at 48:46.

Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

Lap 3:  Now this is just plain fun.  It doesn't seem to matter whether or not I bother to warm up--the opening road sprint and climb are painful either way, and before it really takes a toll I'm onto the romping downhill.  This time Bart has landed me ahead of Brent, so I'm hauling ass to maintain our lead.  Damn, this is fun.  If you've never ripped a 36x16 on a singlespeed on desert singletrack, get out there and do it--freaking amazing.  Tall enough to keep cranking away on the Jem downhills, but still just barely rideable on the short-lived steeps of the main climb.  The Lauf fork is perfect for this course--light, fast, responsive.  This lap goes 4 seconds slower than my last one.  Held the lead.  Having a blast!

Jason, racing to stay ahead of the impending rain.
Crawling Spider Photography

Lap 4:  It's dark.  And raining.  Not hard, just enough be chilly and add some grease to the sandstone plates on the Rim Trail at the low end of the loop.  At least the wind has stopped.  Much slower pace with this grease on the course, more tentative riding to stay upright.  Let it fly on the straightaways to clear the mud off my tires, pick my way through the corners to stay on-course.  Especially on those damn plates.

Lap 5:  Still dark.  And awesome.  I love riding by headlights, especially in the desert where the views are long and I can see other riders on the course miles away as their headlights become pinpricks on the horizon.  The rain has stopped and a light breeze is drying out the dirt--course conditions are unbelievable.  Tacky, tacky, tacky and FAST!!!  Even in the dark we're still burning well under 1-hour laps, and 36x16 couldn't be more perfect.  This racing thing is dreamy.  Somebody just handed me a slice of pie as I came through The Pit.

Lap 6:  Still dark.  Still awesome.  Maybe even awesomer.  No more pie, but damn if the course isn't getting even better.  I didn't know that was even possible.  Team Rooster lost their mojo in the rainy dark, so we're a fair bit into the lead at this point.  George and I have been alternating laps to give Jason and Bart a longer rest--we're about to swap that program, so this is probably my last night lap.  I could do this forever.  Probably my intake of caffeine and sugar talking, but I'm totally awake, and totally stoked.  Not sure how that's possible at 2am, but it's real.  I'm so glad that I'm not doing this one solo--this team thing is way more fun.

4:00am:  In the tent, warm under my sleeping bag.  Just got woken up by rainfall.  I think Bart must have beat the rain--he got back pretty quick--but Jason is getting hammered.  This isn't light rain.  No Irish "soft weather".  This is biblical.  Buckets pouring out of the sky.  I'm sure Jason looked at the radar before his lap (the wonder of smartphones...) but I doubt he could have anticipated this.  I wonder if Cimarron will call the race before somebody gets hurt, or the course gets destroyed.

Bart got brutalized out there.

6:00am:  Nope.  She told Bart that if he decided to go out for his lap it would be "at his own risk", and recommended that he wait 15 minutes to see if conditions improved.  But this is racing.  Who's going to wait?  What are we going to do, sit around and watch our lead evaporate?  So he charged out into it.  Jason came in shivering uncontrollably and covered in mud, had to get George to swap in for him so that he could warm up and clean his bike enough to get the wheels to spin again.  Lap times have slowed way down.  Definitely embracing the suck.

Lap 7:  George hands off to me and grins through mud-caked lips, telling me that the riding is actually super fun out there.  He's full of shit.  Except that he isn't.  The rain stopped an hour ago, and the desert air has done its work on the course.  The opening climb flows by with minimal sucking mud and then the Jem downhill is fast enough that I don't even care.  There's mud in my teeth, in my hair, packed in my ears and working its way behind my sunglasses into my eyes, but as long as I lay off the brakes and embrace gravity none of it matters.  This is mountain biking, and I love it.

George brings it in for Team Fitzy.  What a trip.

10:16:46am:  George crosses the finish line after our 28th lap, inexplicably working to retrieve the clothespin "baton" from his jersey pocket.  Who is he planning to hand it to?  We're done.  We took the win for the 4-Man division with a comfortable margin.  2 laps short of the course record, but with the conditions we were given we're feeling pretty good about what we managed to accomplish in the last 25 hours.  Apparently stubbornness does count for something.  And really, given those conditions, that record might be within reach in 2015...