It has come and gone and it was every bit as great as I had anticipated. I still feel the effects in my body and I wanted to write it down before the soreness and weariness go away because it helps me savor it that little bit more. I have said it on here plenty before but I just cannot help repeating myself that 24 hour relay races are my absolute favorite way to ride a bike.
We got on the road Wednesday with a later start than we wanted due to Jason's plane ride home from New York being cancelled. It was a pretty huge bummer that he had to fly back to Kansas City before he drove nearly all the way back from where he was being held up. He did a masterful job of not complaining about the absurdity of the situation and just carrying on. Thursday afternoon we got our first crack at the trail. It had been raining a ton in West Virgina and lucky for us all this trail holds up to ride able conditions even with loads of water being poured on top of it. But that does not mean you are not going to pay for it somehow, all the wet made a already demanding course simply brutal. Your rolling speed was drained and you had to work so hard for all the momentum you earned, no freebies here. The rocks and roots were slick but not in the way you might expect, the fine gravel of the dirt helped you cling to the rocks even when they were covered over in the motor oil like wet dirt. We rode another lap on Friday, it had rained more and was harder yet, all the climbs were infinitely harder because you had to work so hard to get to the base of the hill. All that said the course was still a riot. Plenty of descending, plenty of fast singletrack, plenty of places you were rewarded for being able to ride fast through a mess of rocks. The crown jewel of the course is about a 2 mile stretch that begins in a soft pine forest with huge pushed up berms, that gives way to a mostly downhill rhythm section that you can scream through if you can get people out of your way fast enough and committ to some tough lines at speed, and that gives way to a monster downhill that gets progressively faster until you are at breakneck speeds plummeting through terrain where you better not stop and contemplate what you are doing. The lap ended with two back to back monster climbs that were punishing everyone, they were ferocious and would make your stomach hurt standing in the exchange tent waiting for your teammate and your turn on the course.
Race day went smoothly up to the start, My team has all a been through many of these before and we had a great campsite set up and all our bases covered. Amber came to help and Andy Smith came over from DC to keep us company and help out with whatever he could. We had a darn good team in all. Scott was doing the first lap, the energy on that start line was out of control. Everyone took off like they were shot from a cannon, it was incredible to watch. Scott had a phenomenal start, rode a great lap, and put me out in 7th overall. I caught and passed all the team racers that were ahead of us, but two outstanding Solo racers remained ahead of me. My first lap turned out to be my fastest lap at 1:10.27, it came up just short of the fastest lap for the event to Josh Tostado's 1:10.14. Craig and Jason took their pulls and the story of the race began to form. We were chasing the West Virgina team lead by local hero Gunnar Shoogren, and a Pittsburgh team was knocking on our backdoor. I think we were about 12 minutes down when the sun went down. We battled hard through the night, at one point we pulled to 6 minutes and change behind the WV team. We could not get over the hump but were putting some solid real estate between us and third place. It was odd how my laps fell into order. I ended up doing five laps, but only had one night lap. I went out just after midnight and had a wildly enjoyable lap, and came back in solidly under my goal of keeping it sub 1:20. After that I went to sleep and did not wake up until the sun was up. It was good to get the sleep, but I did not do as good of a job preparing for that lap as I should have. My nutrition was a little low and I should have had my bike in better shape, my first lap the next morning was only around a minute faster than my night lap. With sun rise it was looking increasingly like we would not be catching the team ahead of us. Scott and I had the final two laps of the race and we did cut back into their lead by ten minutes to finish a respectable 19 minutes behind. My last lap was painful bliss, the course was getting a touch drier and I was chasing hard trying to get up to a five man team that had started a few minutes ahead of me. I had a solid lap with a 1:13 but it was not quite enough to bridge us to the 5 man dude who finished :30 seconds ahead of me. It was fun to have someone to chase and give my last lap a little boost.
We broke down camp quickly and had everything loaded up into the two vehicles before the awards. It is always fun to stand on the podium with your boys and put your hands in the air after such a big effort. It provided good motivation for the rest of the season and hopefully returning to do battle again next year. We ate huge hamburgers and got in the car to put some hours in. Actually I knew what was going to happen. Jason was not going to stop until we got home. This is where the story goes from awesome racing to legendary. Immediately after leaving Morgantown I was rendered completely useless in the passenger seat as Amber and Jason chatted and started going, it just took a bit and I regained consciousness and we motored up and onto I70 pointed West. Amber slept while Jason and I talked about the race and whatever else to help pass the time. Soon Columbus, Ohio was in the rear view mirror and Jason drove on. We came to Indianapolis in the dark and pushed on. Around about midnight I got behind the wheel for a short stint, I took us to the west side of St. Louis and we re-grouped at Quick Trip, Jason bought a large Coke and a strudel. I became, as Jason put it, "a puddle of flesh," in the passenger seat and he moved forward. A hour outside of KC I came to, We were entering thunderstorms and with a hour to go a bit of humanity leaked from Jason when he said, "I'm ready to be done." I was awake and amazed as we drove into the lights and the rain of Kansas City. Jason dropped Amber and I off at Craig's house and we got in our car for the painful drive across town to our bed, which we hit at 5:30 AM. Unbelievable.