Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo - Oracle, ArizonaSometimes just getting there is the real challenge
My preparations for the race started in December when a coworker of mine hinted that some people in our office were going to be putting together a team for the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, scheduled for the weekend of February 16-17, 2008. Almost instinctively I had to find out who these people were, and why had I not found out about this sooner! Come to find out, a coworker from the office in Tucson was trying to put together an 8-man corporate team to compete in the race. I emailed him immediately and inquired if the team roster was already full. He responded quickly and let me know that he would love to have me join, and informed me that he wanted to put together a 4-man team as well with the more experienced riders, (of which he felt my experience was more than satisfactory).
So that is how things began. I stocked up on supplies such as slime tubes, CO2 cartridges, tire patch kits, band-aides, and Elmer's Glue (to help remove cactus needles from the skin). I made sure to visit the Kona site a couple of times well in advance to get a feel for the course. The course was well laid out, and perfect for 24-hour racing as most of it was singletrack that was fast and not technical by any means. However, the course was physically demanding, and required your complete attention as it had quick off-camber turns and was lined on either side of the trail by thousands of cactus and cholla bushes all of which could do their fair share of bodily harm.
Friday, February 15th
Flash floods and persistent rain had sprung a sneak attack against the State of Arizona all winter long. In fact, it was a near record year in terms of precipitation in just the first couple months of 2008. The day before the race was no exception. I drove to Tucson in a driving rain and as I climbed in elevation near Mt. Lemmon, snow flakes began to fall, and snowplows were out on the road (not a very encouraging sign). However I could see the bright lights of 24-Hour town off in the rolling hills to the north, far from the highway and I knew this event was going to happen. As I turned off the Highway to make my way the 7 or 8 miles into 24 Hour Town, the dirt road was completely overwhelmed by the precipitation and was one slick and muddy mess. Cars were turning around, trucks were turning around, and even high-clearance jeeps were turning around! One guy had managed to get his Toyota pick-up and pop-up camper completely jack-knifed in the middle of the road. I persisted in my Honda Accord. I actually had to stop and wipe the mud off my headlights 4 times on the way in just so that I could see where I was going. After numerous treacherous creek crossings and clearance issues, my car made it to camp, where I promptly set up my tent and found my way to the fire.
Race Day - Feb. 16th, Noon
It was amazing. It appeared that nearly everyone had made it for the race. Hundreds of people lined up for the Le Mans start. I had taken my time getting to the starting line (despite what my original plans had been). In turn, I waited for quite a while after the gun went off to finally begin a trot to where the bikes awaited some 400 yards away.
We were fortunate. When we had woken up, everything was covered in snow and mud. However, the clouds had broken for the start of the race. However, the mud persisted, and it got all over everything on the first lap. I would argue that the first lap was by far, the most miserable lap of the entire race. I jockeyed for position on the long two-track road over what are lovingly referred to as "The Bitches". The Bitches are a series of 7 short grinds and steady downhills that progressively get bigger and steeper as you go through them. As I made it to more singletrack I had found a good group going my pace and I settled in for the long haul. The course was considerably more torn-up since I had last ridden it, as it had been washed out by the recent rains, and it had developed some heinous mud pits that swallowed a couple of riders desperately trying to find the right gear.
After a long steady grind to the top of the course, I descended the last hill toward the start/finish and opted to take the rocky section where most of the pictures are snapped during the race. It was at that moment that I realized how popular the event was. Hundreds of people were there drinking beer cheering on the riders. It was one of those moments when you realize you are in the right place at the right time, surrounded by hundreds of people who think like you do, and enjoy the same things. It was a truly awesome feeling. Shortly after that, I handed the baton off to my next teammate and wished him luck with a muddy smile.
I must say this….there are definitely some gifted people in this world, and then there are some freaks! Freaks who have legs that will spin faster, harder, and longer than is imaginable. I have to give an enormous amount of credit to those who do 24 Hour Solo mountain biking. If anyone reading this has done a solo 24-hour, I have the utmost respect for you. Some of these ladies and gentlemen consistently turned in times faster than even my fastest lap at 1:20:and some odd cents over the 15-mile grind of a course. Unbelievable. My team it seemed was not made up of freaks, but instead of regular fit guys out to have a good time, which was exactly the case.
Perhaps it is just me, a stubborn young man who will beat himself up until it hurts, as long as it is in the name of bike competition. I admit that I am not at a competitive level like I once was, however the same thick-headedness still occupies my skull, and I will fight through any pain as long as I know my teammates will do the same. However, just after 3:30am I finished my second night lap (third lap total). I came into the start/finish tent to relinquish the baton for my team to my next teammate. However, he was not there. Another one of my teammates was there in a flannel shirt, and jeans. He informed me that the rest of the team was tired, and did not want to race anymore that night. I won’t say that I was mad, but somewhat disappointed, after-all I had worked hard to keep my times fast throughout the night. I almost went out immediately for another lap, but my better judgment told me not to as it was below freezing, and I was drenched in sweat and low on energy. I knew that good things would not happen if I went out again. So I came back to camp. I sat by the fire and dried out my clothes, and went to bed vowing that the next time that I do a 24-hour race that I would do it with stubborn people like myself that will ride through the pain.
Race Day #2 - Feb. 17th, 10:20am
I had about an hour and forty minutes to do the last lap. I told myself to make this one a fast one so that I could sneak our last rider out on the course before noon, when they stopped the riders from going out any further. I knew I had plenty of time if I had no major mechanical problems. Fortunately, I didn’t. The course had dried out immensely since the day before at the race start, and hardly any mud existed at all. That is one of the miracles of the desert, water disappears quickly. The course was fast, and fun. I had a huge smile on my face the entire length of the course. I came in with plenty of time to spare, and had beaten my previous fastest lap time by 10 minutes at 1:20 minutes. I was incredibly pumped-up and happy…which completely resolved any bad tastes I had in my mouth from the night before. I was riding my bike, fast, and we all know that is why we ride (it may not be the primary reason, but I know there is an adrenaline rush that we are all junkies for). I celebrated with beer and the most fattening food I could find at camp, a bag of jalepeno cheddar potato chips, it was fantastic!
I have no hard feelings for my teammates at the race. I realize that their personal goals and my own were different. We are also at different life situations, and ages. I am sure that also makes a difference. I also have more experience on the bike. Perhaps that is why I know the pain a little better, and can probably cope with it better. All in all, we had a great time, and my teammates had fun, and that is what counts.
Next year I’m going to do it again, but will probably do it with friends that I know will be stubborn like me. That is the number one lesson learned from this race. Make sure you and your teammates are on the same page as to what your goals are before the race. If you are there to have a good time and drink beer, that is fine. But it probably isn’t a wise idea to combine interests of competing, and drinking beer and skipping laps on the same team. That is my advice, and advice of others that I have read from other 24-hour race accounts. My other advice is, have fun and don’t let the small things get to you, after all you are on your bike, you should be happy! One last thing: do the Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, it’s amazing!