Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The 24 Hours of Clear Springs

The 24 Hours of Clear Springs. Wow, what an unbelievable race. That was, by far, the best time I have ever had racing my bicycle. I am serious. If you've never experienced it, you are greatly missing out. Brian Coleman, for all that you have done with this race, both this year and in years leading up to it, I sincerely thank you.

Relax, I am going to try a Cliff's Notes version of my typical race report. I mean, 24 hours of racing? You don't want that.

This was my first time to ever race a 24 hour race. I am not nearly enough of a sadomasochist to ever attempt doing one of these solo, and was lucky enough to be asked early by Joseph Dabbs to join his team for this year's race. I committed to doing it and probably should have been committed for doing it. With the joy of this race comes the absolute pain, physical and mental hurt. Luckily, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

The week leading up to the race was HECTIC. Juggling work/family obligations while trying to prepare for the race had me wondering if I should also try to join the Cirque Du Soleil. I figured I might have a decent shot. Thank goodness I was racing with a group of veterans, and they had a LIST. A nice set of rails for my mind. Friday night, I checked off the last few items, and got to sleep at a nice early midnight.

Up at six, and out by seven, I was on my way to mountain bike Heaven. (I know, CORNY, but it just came right on out. I use a Weegie Board to write these, you know.) We'll fast forward through registration and the camp set-up. That's how it felt to me anyway. It felt like I was watching time lapse video watching Jeremy, Joseph, and Tanner set up camp. Those guys are impressive. Not only did they know what to bring, but where to put way too much stuff.

Just before the race, I think I was in shock or something. I was getting information overload, and all I heard was "words, words, words, words." My team was trying to alleviate my pre-race jitters, but they didn't know it was not going to happen. The only way to calm my nerves before a race, is to start racing. I chose to defer my pain relief while Dabbs rode our first lap. Once I had gone a lap and familiarized myself with the transition and what to do during my down time, I calmed dramatically. I just settled down for a very long race.

I won't go into great detail about each and every lap, but I will discuss a few things that I experienced during my time on the bike.

I broke a chain for the second time ever on my second lap. The last time I broke a chain was in Oxford's race last year. I just learned how to repair a chain (Thank you, Scott Mackey.), and after fumbling with my multi-tool a few minutes before realizing that all I needed was a quick link, I proceeded to quickly reconnect my chain. Of course, I didn't run it through my derailleur correctly, and got a little more practice the second time I fixed it. This time, chain repair happened much more quickly. I looked at my chain, thought I only needed a quick link, dug it out of my jersey and fumbled it securely into place. Thank both of you who stopped and offered help, especially you Fred. You know, somehow, just seeing Fred on the trail at that time helped me mentally. I can't explain it, but I just thought it was awesome to see him out riding during the race. If I hadn't broken that chain, my second lap would have easily been my fastest lap. While realizing that, I also realize that my chain could have been damaged beyond repair and made that lap not just my slowest, but also my team's slowest. That chain lasted me the remaining six laps.

I rode at night for the first time ever with only a bar light. If you are considering purchasing a light, and you are only going to get one, GET A HELMET LIGHT! For this race, I had a MiNewt on my bars and an older HID Niterider on my helmet. At the beginning of my first night lap, I had both lights on, but decided that my HID was plenty of light and opted to save my MiNewt's battery in case I needed it later. Well, just after leaving the transition area at the beginning of my third night lap I noticed my helmet light starting to fade fast. I clicked on my trusty MiNewt backup just in time to see my HID die. Well, at least it died fast. Oh crap, I'm riding faster than the speed of light! That night lap is unquestionably the very hardest riding I have ever done on my bike. Not being able to see where you are going next, is just about like riding in the complete dark. I've never had to use my brakes more during that lap. Brief stretches of straight trail and the uphill sections were the only places I could relax. Imagine looking forward to all the hills. That lap, I must stress, was demoralizing. I knew my light was my limiter on that lap. Fortunately, I got to ride another lap right after this one. I went back to our camp, borrowed Tanner's battery, which we had no idea how long would last, and headed back out. I had only one goal. Ride faster than the Hell lap. I think I did that.

80 miles of racing and not a significant wreck to speak of. Yes, I fell off the side of a bridge once, well, more like jumped. I got to the bottom of a downhill section at the beginning of Mills where there is a bridge perpendicular to the trail. It is a nice, tight turn onto this bridge and you hit it with speed unless you've scrubbed some off with your brakes first. Well, it was night and I didn't. I straightened out the curve a little while on the bridge, and just kind of jumped off while falling. Even managed to land on my feet. I was impressed. Picked up my bike and started the climb up.

I am fairly confident that my wheels will eventually hook up during a drift in a curve. Sometimes, that hook up occurs on the outside of the curve however, and I get a little help stopping, or redirecting my trajectory, by a nice Pine tree. Yep, that happened at least twice. Other than that, and bridge jumping, a safe and wreck free ride.

80 miles of racing. I still have a hard time even believing that. Before the race, the longest I had ever even ridden my bike was at last year's Ouachita Challenge and it was less than sixty. I'm not talking about just my mountain bike, either. I've never even ridden my road bike that far. The first thing that helped me reach that milestone was the fact that I had NO CLUE that would happen. We all figured that, at most, we would have to ride six laps. Things happen. When I rode my seventh lap, I thought it was my last lap of the race. I found out that there might be a chance that I would need to ride an eighth very soon after completing that "last lap." Why not? What got me through the eighth lap? Claire Sanders. She was riding her tenth lap at the time. I told her she was my hero, and she asked why. 22 hours into the race, and she was still riding. SOLO. Awesome job.

Team Buckwheat. The best competition I could have imagined. Part of what made this race so great for me was how close the race was at times. At one point, in the middle of the night, I was on the starting line with Rusty Bernard. Our team members came into the transition area together, so we sprinted off the line like we were starting a short track race, not like we had already been racing over 12 hours. Tied even in the middle of the night. I'd say that was perfect. 24 hours of racing and a three minute win had to feel great. I know Malt and Buckwheat have been battling the last few years. While I would have certainly enjoyed a narrow win, a narrow loss to these guys left me overjoyed. I was truly happy for them.

This race was my first time to ever really be a part of a team. I do not come from a sports background like many of the other racers, so didn't experience it in my past. Just being able to race with Joseph, Jeremy, and Tanner was a great experience for me. While I am very proud of my role on the team, Jason Betz did not do anything. The La-a Blazzers raced to a very hard fought second place.

Tanner, I didn't really know at all, but his value as a team member became quickly apparent. Two 24 hour races under his belt and a wealth of learned information to go with it, Tanner was early on walking me through what was to come. It didn't hurt that he had some bike mechanic knowledge as well. His worth became most apparent when Dabbs and I heard Tanner splashing his dinner all over his shoes in the middle of the night. A team of three is not as strong as a team of four. We already discussed this when early in the race a team or two were riding short a member. We were going to miss him for sure.

I knew going into this race that Dabbs was going to be a SOLID team member. I have watched him race all year and gotten to know him a little as a person and a racer. He definitely did not let me down. After slight nudging just before daybreak, Joseph drug his weary body out of his sleeping bag to go ride another hard lap. He didn't want to at all, but that lap was our team's turning point. It was the daybreak lap, and with the sun, we all agreed, came new hope.

To me, Jeremy Wesson was our strongest team member. I mean that wholeheartedly. His positive mental attitude, and hilarious sense of humor helped me over and over again. I know it also helped Dabbs. Our team's true darkest hour was just before dawn. After my back to back laps, Jeremy suited up and rode his lap just like he said he would. If he wouldn't have, we would have been done. He rode the last lap of darkness for us, and we were able to regain some momentum in the new day's light. He also served as my alarm clock for the only 20 minutes of sleep I got. We both were ready to ride our team's 23rd lap, and staying warm by the fire, when I shut down. He woke me up and we both went to the transition area. If Joseph made it back by 9:00, I was to go, if not, Jeremy would do so. I hoped it would be him. It wasn't. When I returned in time, for one last lap, Dabbs took off. So did Jeremy . . . just because he wanted to. He wanted to ride more.

Three minutes. A fitting end to a hard fought battle. In my opinion, this was the absolute perfect race. Yes, there were issues, but they were dealt with. I would not change one thing about our race. I am more satisfied at the moment as a mountain bike racer than I have ever been before.

Thank each and every one of you who helped in the slightest to make this race happen. Thank you for the happiness and thank you for the memories. I look forward to doing this again next year.

Jason Betz,

La-a Blazzas (That is, La Dash Ah, Fool. Still not sure about "Blazzas," however.)

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