Well that was fun.
It was my second kick at the Chico Racing 24 Hours of Summer Solstice.
It was my second kick at the darkness during a night lap.
It was my second kick at wondering how on earth Adam Ruppel and his crew at Chico Racing manage North America’s largest 24 hour bike race.
And dang, it was fun.
I don’t even know the name of my team, I couldn’t tell you how many laps we did or how we placed, I don’t know my lap times (except to say they were bad–like real bad), but I can tell you this. It was a friggin’ blast.
Spoiler alert: I am ON this year. I am riding faster and smarter and harder. However, none of my lap times reflected my on-ness. I did the first lap (which didn’t give me an accurate “real” time because there was an additional start loop and the normal start pack jamming); my lights crapped out 7k into my night lap (which only gave an accurate sense of how scary the dark is); and the race was cancelled during my morning lap due to weather and horrible conditions (which gave me an accurate sense of, um, mud).
But none of that mattered because the 24 Hour isn’t a race for me. I was there to ride.
Here’s a textual picture of Albion Hills during the 24 Hour:
It’s a village. There are neighbourhoods of tents and campers scattered around the park, and each neighbourhood is populated with campsites filled with teams and tents and bikes. Each campsite has a unique feel. Some have giant bike racks lined with awesomeness, and some don’t. There are signs and placards, and BBQs and clothes trying under canopies, and coffee and beer, and people chatting and people sleeping, and bike shops and teams and pros and lots and lots and lots of bikes.
Chico even names the various campgrounds: Chico’s Chillin’ Campin’; Chico’s Crawdaddy Creek; Chico’s Fishin’ Hole Campin’; Chico’s Kickin’ Corner; and even Chico’s Make-Out Point (or Chico’s Fortress of Solitude if, well you know).
And everyone is there for one reason: to ride (or race, whatever floats their boat).
So with all that awesomeness, I didn’t go to race. Heck, I didn’t even really go to ride. I went to the 24 Hours of Summer Solstice to see my community. Honestly, if the world collapsed during the race, and the people at Albion Hills we were the earth’s sole survivors, it’d be pretty cool to spend my remaining zombie-filled apocalyptic days with the peeps in my biking community.
Oh crap, my family wasn’t there. Okay, so if the world collapsed AND my family was there, it’d be pretty cool to be spend my last few hunger-filled, shelter-seeking, probably unbathed, days with the peeps in my biking community (and my family).
Aw damn, my non-cycling friends weren’t there either. Okay, so if the world collapsed AND my family was there AND my non-cycling friends were there, it’d be pretty cool to have to resort to cannabalism with the peeps in my biking community (and my family and my non-cycling friends).
Have you ever started an analogy and then realized that it just wasn’t working? Yeah, me too.
Okay, post-apocalyptic nightmare and cannibalism aside, what I’m getting at is the 24 Hours of Summer Solstice is a really cool chance to play bikes with a whole bunch of bike minded people, for a giant weekend of awesome bossness. For many, it’s a race. For many, it’s a ride. For me, it’s MTB utopia.
Because, for 24 hours, Albion Hills becomes a microcosm of a a pretty cool world.
Leading up to the race, I had the usual nerves and pre race angst. The longest day of the year always comes at challenging time for me. I’m a teacher, and it lands smack dab in the middle of year-end duties, exams, and report cards. As an added bonus this year, I was sick, tired, and distracted. But then a bunch of events collided and I found myself in Bolton on the Wednesday before the race. I decided to race the Albion Hills Weekly Race Series, and when I registered, I was greeted with the news that it was 24 Hour course preview night. Riding the course on my single speed, after a long day, gave me not only a preview of the course, but a preview of ME. It let me know that I could ride the course without gears, I could ride it when I was very sick and very tired, and I could and with lots and lots of phlegm. I posted a “Post Course Preview” video on Facebook.
Race Report(s). 24 Hours of Summer Solstice: Albion Hills. June 23+24
The course this year was about 17k, and I knew from my pre-ride that pretty much all of the climbing was in the first 7k, so it was just a great rip. Of course, in the first 7k, the course punched you in the throat with some nasty climbs, including the Brown Monster, but the rest was fast, fun, and a bucket of awesomeness. While on course, after the last grunty climb at 7k, I made a comment to another rider “Glad that’s it for the climbing”. Another rider took issue with what I said, and told me, most definitely, that it certainly wasn’t, in the most explicit terms, the last climb (jeez, dude, calm down), but it was. There were hills, but no more climbs that made you question your life choices. That meant. after the first 7k, you could let the fur fly. My buddy John always says that. I don’t know what it means, but he’s always talking about going fast, so there you have it. The fur flew.
At 7k, the lap hit a sweet grass berm, took the bridge to the “north trails”, and flew through the solo pit, before taking us on so much sweet single track, and eventually back to the START.
My team had campsite 43, so we decided to transition there instead of the START/FINISH.
A great bonus this year was that the course wound close to the START/FINISH at about 5k, and the crowds gave the course an even more electric feeling.
Lap One. The/My First Lap: I actually seeded myself nicely. I always hang at the back of the START corral, but this time, I got there early and nosed my way closer to the front of the pack. It worked. When the race started, I was riding hard and fast, and aside from a few jams, the pace was decent. I chose my singlespeed because, well, I like my singlespeed. The first lap had a start loop to help distribute the massive crowd, and it worked. Within the first 15 minutes, it seemed like everyone was riding at their pace. By the time the climbs were done, I was warmed up, and had a few moments where I just booked it.
Lap Two. Night lap: Here’s a pro tip: When you buy new lights and test them, make sure you charge them fully before you ride at night. It may seem obvious, and perhaps even a little redundant, but it’s a tip that could save you the embarrassment and stupidity of being caught in a 24 hour race, at night IN THE TOTAL DARKNESS!!! I bought new lights and after testing them, I did not make sure they were fully charged. That meant, at about 6k, my handlebar light died. “No problem” I thought to myself “I’ve still got the light on helm—are you kidding me?”. Yep. Both lights. No back up light. Total darkness. So what do you do when you’re in a bike race and your lights die? Well, if you’re me, you stumble along the course trying to find your way. It was so dark, I couldn’t see my hands in front of me.
“Oof, stupid rock”.
Thankfully, a rider was approaching, so I clipped in, and waited, hoping to find some guidance in their light. The rider passed me, but wasn’t on course. “What the?”. I pretty quickly realized that I was the one who was off course, so I groped my way back to the trail, and waited. I was clipped in, and saw another light bobbing in the distance. A moment later SWOOSH, the rider flew past me. I tried to keep up, but it was useless. The rider was too fast, and as soon as he got more than 10 feet ahead, trying to trail him was useless. Again, I waited. A group of lights bobbed in the distance. I figured I could maybe tuck myself into the pack, and use the lights from riders ahead of, and behind, me. Nope. I couldn’t find a gap, and with all of the stumbling of trying to dip in, I lost momentum and couldn’t even attach to the end of the group.
It was bloody frustrating, utterly stupid, and a bit scary. It’s really dark in the forest at night. I dreaded the time I was wasting, and felt bad for my team. Plus, did I mention how dark it was?
Another light bobbled toward me. It looked like it might be going slower. I was clipped in, I was on course (I hoped) and boom, I was behind them, and tailing a not-too-distant beam. It was tough to get a handle on the light because it was eternally in front of the rider (and so so far away from me), and I rode slightly to the side in order to see the trail. The rider was fast, but not too fast, and there were a bunch of “What the hell did I just do” moments as we hit a really steep down/up section that saw me and my bike flying blindly, at a blistering pace, through a black forest, with only a shadow of concealed light leading my path. It was nerve wracking, dangerous, and sketchy to say the least. I had about 8k to go, and I was not looking forward to it.
Somehow, I held on to the rider…until I lost him. Again, in the pitch black, I tacked-on to another rider, and trailed him for a while. This happened a few more times, and each time, when the rider’s light dipped just a bit too far ahead, I stopped and waited for the next beacon of light. I hit things that threatened to unseat me. I hit things that shoved my teeth into my skull. I hit things that scared the crap out of me.
Yeah, I was the thing that went bump in the night.
Nearing the end of the lap, a fellow rider took pity on me and called for me to trail her. She was awesome.
Some how, some way, I made it to the last bit of forest before my team transition area.
Fire and Ice! That was my team name. We were Fire and Ice. I remember because I promised them I’d scream it as a warning when I crested the hill before our transition. So I screamed “Earth Wind and Fire…and Ice!”.
I was so glad to be finished my lap. My time was 1:18. (I just checked our results).
Lap Three. Mud: At our campsite, we strategized. It was wet. we were cold, and course conditions were getting pretty bad. A teammate said he wouldn’t fault me for not riding, but I didn’t register for a 24 Hour Tea Party. I went to ride (not race).
So, I kitted up, cinched my shoes, buckled my helmet, and waited for my teammate to reach the transition zone. Of course, as much as rain is part of MTB, and as much as I was there to ride (not race), I waited for him in the relative dryness of our canopy. Watching the rain teem–actually, feeling the rain teem–I knew my lap would be a painfully slow trudge. Mark arrived at the transition area, wet and muddy. I left the transition wet and slow.
It was tough. The urban hard pack of Albion Hills is dry, hard, and dusty in normal conditions. In the rain, it’s gooey, sticky, slippey, and just tough to ride. Worse, every root became an electric eel and threatened my body with a spin out. So, even though it was only a 17k lap, I called on my experience from loooooong races, and did what I always have to do when the FINISH line is a world away. I tucked my head, gripped my bars, and pedaled. Puddle, root, muck, repeat.
By the time the course neared the mid-lap START/FINISH area, I heard Adam (or maybe Sean) on the mic calling the race, and telling riders the final laps were about to start.
I had a choice. Conditions were worsening, the rain was only getting heavier, and the race was, for all intents, called. It could stop, or I could ride. It was no choice for me. I kept going. After all, I was there to ride (not race). Besides, I always say, “Team Colin does not DID NOT FINISH”.
It was slow going, and the mud weighed heavily on my drivetrain, rendering most gears useless, but I hit the same climbs, and the same roots and rocks that seemed so ominous and dangerous only a few shout hours ago during my lap of blackness, and were now…ominous and dangerous and WET. Trails at Albion Hills drain well, but nothing drains well during the actual deluge. Plus, that urban hard track…Ugh.
I spent the better part of an hour trying to keep upright.
North side, solo pit, bridge.
Finally, I hit our transition zone. My team was waiting for me, in the pouring rain, drenched and screaming “Go straight to the finish!”.
Yeah, my team was waiting, soaking wet, in the middle of a torrent, supporting their teammate (me). Awesome.
After the race, my pal Geoff told me he didn’t know weather (see what I did there) I knew the race was called, and waited for me for about an hour. That’s my guy.
As I approached the FINISH, I skirted the roots that I could, attacked the ones that I couldn’t, and stayed on my seat. A few rollers and a dismount, and I plopped my drenched team card onto the lap timer. #259.
And then I posted a video.
End of Race Report.
So that’s the story of the time I started the 24 Hour bike race, rode in the dark without lights, and did not DID NOT FINISH. Yeah, Team Colin does not DID NOT FINISH, but sometimes races do. Boom.
Can I talk about my team for a second? I really like these guys. I met them last year at the race, and I haven’t seen them all year (except for Geoff who I ride with frequently, and Mark and Rich who I saw at the Steaming Nostril for a brief moment), but seeing them at the race was a really cool homecoming. They are supportive, generous, and awesome–and Rich’s coffee after my lap was a very welcome treat. I don’t know how I got so lucky to land on such an amazing 24 Hour team, but I did, and I’ll ride with these guy as long as they’ll have me.
Thanks Geoff, Mark, Ed, Rich, Luis, Jonathan, and Bill. I like you so much, I’d eat you first in the zombie apocalypse.
And so it was 21.5 Hours of Summer Solstice—and Rain, and we crammed a heck of a lot into it. You can’t beat that.
Congratulations to all the winners, and especially to the solo riders (and my solo pals Mike, Mike, Mike, and Raf), and really especially to Adam Hill with 20 laps (40-49), David Vigneault with 18 laps (40-49), and Paul Guenette with 17 laps (under 40).
Were you there? How did you do? If you want to add something, or just talk bikes, comment on this post, or send a message to: TeamColinBlog@yahoo.com. You can also comment on the Team Colin Facebook page too.
A few more shots from the day: