April 23-24, 2005: The 24 Hours of Temecula

Race day dawned under a heavy tule fog, with visibility about 50 feet. The news reported a 60 percent chance of rain. Still nobody else from the Dream Team. Things looked grim.

Laird lays it down
The Dam(n) Climb
LeMans start

Pretty much from that point on though, things got much, much better. At Denny's, we found Dain and former professional MTB racer and current Bike Magazine Dream Team captain G-Money just settling in for some Moons over My Hammy. Within minutes we were joined by The Sarge and Supermodel. The team was coming together.

At one time, Dain had mentioned that they were hoping for a few sparks here and there as five complete strangers handled the stress of a 24-hour race and each other. Turns out, he ended up putting together a team with four guys from completely different backgrounds that got along great. I mean, seriously, these were the three nicest guys I've met in a long time. I felt immediately comfortable hanging out with the team, and as I've mentioned before, these events are all about team dynamic and camaraderie.

Back at the campground, more guys from Bike Magazine, including a second Bike Mag team, were showing up to the campsite, and the whole ball of wax was starting to take shape very nicely. Dain, a former Trek race mechanic, was acting as Director Sportif and wrench for the Dream Team, so that was covered. Also along for the ride was a carload of food, a large cooler of Gatorade, and an ice-cold keg of Sierra Nevada, compliments of Bike. By race time, our site was everything you could want in a 24-hour team pit: lots of people, energy, and excitement.

Turns out that this was the first 24-hour event for the Bike Mag crew, so that was pretty cool. It definitely added to the excitement level.

Around 9:30, the fog burned off and it started to get hot. It was clear and sunny and the chance of rain seemed remote. Also clear however, was the relatively small field of racers (only 51 teams -- Granny Gear 24-hour events in Snowshoe, West Virginia and Moab, Utah regularly draw more than 400 teams). In our conversation last night, Laird had alluded to a light turnout and said that the riders he talked to said they weren't racing because it had rained a lot more than normal this winter and neither they nor the trails were in proper shape for this event. I'm sorry, but come on. You can train through the winter in California no matter what the weather is like -- just move to the pavement until weather permits (See January 8, 2005: You just do it). That's just not a good enough reason. As well, if you're riding as part of a team, you'll only need to do three or four laps, and as long as you've been doing some riding, the chances are pretty good that you can eke out three 10-mile laps over the course of 24 hours. I suspect the real reason for the low turnout may be the same reason that the numbers for all 24-hour events are down the last couple of years -- the sale has not been made to rank-and-file recreational mountain bikers. Until that happens . . .

Dain mentioned that he thought the Dream Team had a chance of winning the Five-Person Open class. One thing was missing though. To qualify for this category, a team must include at least one woman, and that woman must ride at least two of the team's laps. At breakfast, Dain informed us that the woman he had lined up for the team had bailed, leaving us female-less.

As hard as it may be to get commitments from people, you've got to come to the race with your entire team. 24-hour mountain bike racing is a tough pick-up sport. People want to have their bikes, their gear, their heads wrapped around the idea. At the race, it's hard to find someone who isn't already racing but is ready to jump right in. That said, JB valiantly offered to ride our female laps. Her offer was accepted and Dain produced a woman's Giant full-suspension that sealed the deal for JB. Compared to her cast-iron 1994 Fisher Hoo-Koo-e-Koo hardtail, this Giant was superplush and featherlight.

I unloaded and assembled my 2002 Gary Fisher Sugar (Blue Sugar). She's looking and running good, but since Dain had been a Trek race mechanic, I asked him if he had any thoughts on the chain suck situation. Like Carl at the Sea Otter (See April 15, 2005: A day at the races), Dain suggested attaching something to the chainstay to prevent the chain from getting wedged in between the rings and the chainstay. While he worked on that, I wandered off to attend to a crap log the size of a disc brake wedged in my upper colon.

As an aside, don't you hate the toilet paper you get in public restroom facilities (including port-a-potties)? It's thin and completely non-absorbent; it just smears the shit around your piehole and gets it all caked in your fur. Especially with wet-camping or early morning coffee shits, it can take five minutes and half a roll of paper to finally get down to clean, bedrock ass, which is critically important when you're going to be ramming a plastic saddle into it for the next 24 hours. Oh, oh, OK, I see, it's just me, nobody else has ever had a similar experience. OK, fine.

At the pre-race riders' meeting, we listened while Laird laid out the rules of the race, and fired everybody up. Noon to noon, baby! I was happy to see Rich in the crowd; he was riding for Team Bontrager (with Keith Bontrager). Rich is a Ned Overand-type freak of nature. I don't know how old his birth certificate says he is -- old enough to race Master's class -- but he races and places in cyclocross, 24-hour events, and cross-country events. His times are competitive for overall standings, let alone age divisions.

The baton exchange
Ridgelines of glory
Cannonball rolls

G-Money started the race for the Dream Team, and I figured he'd be out less than an hour. Nobody on our team had ridden the whole course, so we really had no idea what the lap times would be like. G was a former pro racer though, so I figured he'd rip off a pretty fast lap.

The first racer through the pits recorded an unhuman 45:00 lap, and G-Money was close behind with a 58:00 lap. The benchmark set, I took the baton, swiped my RFID card, and set off across the huge lawn leading to the course, which started with a massive sand wash about 50 yards across. On the other side of the wash, a steep, short uphill led to some fast fireroad. I had scouted this first section earlier in the day and decided that it was more energy-efficient to run across the wash rather than try to muscle the bike through the deep sand.

The scouting report paid off. I passed three riders while crossing the wash, scrambled up to the Dam Road and started hammering. I passed three more guys as the fireroad started to gradually climb, but by the time I came to the first part of uphill singletrack, my legs had started to fade a little bit.

I had gone out too fast. And it was suddenly really hot. A spike of panic. Was I going to crack less than two miles into the first lap? What the hell? I started to feel nauseous, and my legs were buckling as I creaked and groaned up the steep, rutted singletrack.

A few deep breaths and a downshift to the granny ring and I started to weather the storm. Still, the Dam(n) Climb seemed extraordinarily long and tough as its singletrack followed rolling ridgelines up and up. Traction was tough. These were desert trails. Hard pack dirt and rocks punctuated by deep sandy washes and ruts that suck all speed right out of your wheels and all strength right out of your legs.

I started to get my head back about mile 3, Where the Fun Begins. From there, the trail rips along the rigdgetops, up and down, fast and furious. Just before the EMS station, I tentatively picked through the first few sections of XXX trail and started to feel a little more confident.

Screaming down the XXXs of the Funner Downhill, I felt positively giddy. I hit the fire road at the bottom of the Funner Downhill, dumped it into the big ring, and powered towards the finish, which I expected would be reached via a series of flat, fast trails.

Curiously, the trail started to turn back into the hills. Oh no, no, no. Yup. Looking up toward the ridgeline, I could see riders struggling up the Ambulance Road Climb past the EMS station again and up into the horizon. Oh ouch.

Just past the EMS station were two legitimate hike-a-bikes. These impossibly steep sections were tough to walk to begin with, but over the course of the 24 hours, after hundreds of riders had trampled the trail into knee-deep powder and the bike suddenly had the added weight of two or three laps on it, the hike-a-bikes were downright brutal. Once I summited them though, I was treated to a whirl of lefts and rights, up and downs, fleeting majestic views of Vail Lake, and some absolutely vertical XXX downhills. This was a fast section, but the wind was blowing hard across the exposed ridgelines, buffeting me around pretty good and more than once causing me to almost miss my preferred line as I dropped into a treacherous downhill.

I was starting to pick up a little rhythm, but because I was not familiar with the course, I grossly misjudged the trail topography in several sections of the Burning Calves and the RaceTrack, forcing me to dismount at least twice to make some short, steep climbs that caught me unawares and for which I was not properly geared. Luckily, Dain's chainsuck solution held up beautifully through the stressful shifting.

Finally, after what seemed like a dishearteningly long detour back into the hills, I shot out of the Home Run and was back onto flat, hardpack fire road. I went to the huge gears and started barreling for the finish, coming in nauseous and hurting, but with a 59:00 lap. The Sarge, JB, my Dad, and my brother B were all there to greet me. That felt good.

Back in the pits, Dain told us he had acquired the services of a pro-level racer to handle our female laps, meaning JB was off the hook. JB is a competitor though and after getting all geared up mentally and physically for the task, this was a bit of a let-down for her. I was proud of her for volunteering, but I was ultimately glad she didn't ride because this was a tough, advanced course with hills, wind, and sand -- three things that JB does not like. Also, because of some shared gear issues, she would have had to do her first lap in the dark; that's just not fair to anybody.

I rode the second lap a little smarter and more efficiently, an adjustment I made based on Supermodel's course experience. He had not done very well on the climbs, but had gone for it on the downhills and made up time there. I heard a couple of other riders confirming that it was important to save a lot of energy for the last half of the course. So, rather than blowing my wad on the Dam Road and the Dam(n) Climb, I throttled back on the climbing and focused on staying smooth in the back half of the course and keeping up enough speed to use momentum to carry me over most of the rollers.

This strategy worked great, and I really nailed the XXX downhill sections, passing about 15 riders on this lap and notching a 58:00 lap, my best for the race. As I came roaring into the pits, I looked up to see JB and my mom cheering me on. It's always nice, even at the weekend warrior level, to hear someone yelling your name when you come across the finish line.

Between my second and third laps, I asked Dain to rework the chainsuck solution. It had worked great on the first two laps but was looking pretty chewed up. I was hoping he could just replace the worn solution with a new version of the exact same thing. Foolishly, I made this request within earshot of my Dad, who immediately jumped into the fray with his 18-pound, 347-attachment Leatherman, ready to fashion an industrial-strength "solution" to a single-serving situation. A one-gallon plastic water jug and half a roll of electrical tape later, I had something on my chain stay and I was ready for action. Dain seemed satisfied, but finesse and delicacy are not my Dad's engineering strong suits, so I was somewhat leery of how it would work out.

I set off on my third lap about 11:20 PM. The night was partly cloudy and brightly lit by a full moon. The Dream Team was outfitted with both handlebar- and helmet-mount lighting systems from Light and Motion. Eh, they were OK. Given the choice, I would definitely keep my NiteRider HID handlebar-mount light and my Jet-Lite helmet-mount light rather than take the Light and Motion lights, but they worked OK.

What wasn't working was my glasses. They immediately began to fog up as soon as I started the Dam(n) Climb, and by the time I got to Where the Fun Begins they were completely steamed up. Not good when you're about to ride a roller coaster of rutted, treacherous downhill singletrack. Immediately, I went into time-damage control mode for the lap.

This lap was a comedy of errors. In addition to the hopelessly fogged glasses, I had not one, but two chainsucks. For the first, I was able to pull the chain loose manually, but for the second, I had to get the 8 mm hex wrench out of my CamelBak and loosen the crankset enough to dislodge the chain. This took about a minute and a half, which blew, but it was still far better than using the chain tool. On my best day, the fastest I can get the chain apart, dislodged, and back together again is four to five minutes.

Let's see, then I dumped it going down one of the steep, XXX downhills. I braked a little too much on the 25-degree slope, slid into a deep rut that was full of sand, completely washed out the front wheel, and pitched left off the bike into the chaparral. No harm no foul, but time lost. Later, I took the wrong line through a section of tall grass and wound up 20 feet off the trail at a dead end. I had to stop, backtrack a few steps, and start up again. More time lost. Finally, I got bitch slapped by every roller on the back half of the course. It seemed like I did more walking than riding between miles 7 and 9.

With my eye on damage control since mile 2 though, I passed about 20 riders on this lap and was able to come in at 1:05. Pretty damn good, all things considering.

Earlier in the evening, Dain had laid out a riding schedule for the rest of the race. This schedule included our female laps in the morning and showed that my fourth and final lap would be around 8:00 AM. After I returned from my third lap around 12:30 AM, I reveled in the thought that I had over seven hours until my next lap, and that my night riding was over. I love the night riding, but when my glasses fog up, I'm blind, blind I tell you, BLIND!

I hung out at the scorer's tent, watched a few riders come in, hung out at the Bike campfire, and soaked up the very enjoyable atmosphere. Finally, about 2 AM, I crawled into the tent with JB and Zuma, our Siberian Husky, for a couple of hours of sleep. As I drifted off though, I could hear Dain taking to G-Money, who seemed to be preparing to go out. Ugh. I followed G in the rotation, so I quickly calculated some approximate lap times and figured I would be needed about 4:30 AM. Damn.

While I dozed, it started to rain. By 4:30 AM, the sandy sections of the trail had picked up a patina of mud and the rocky sections were getting slippery. In the fuzzy beams of my lights, it looked like I was manning a small boat in heavy seas, my front tire sending up powdery mud spray as I wallowed through the troughs and crests of the race course.

Visibility was nil. My glasses were completely steamed, but with the flying mud from my front tire, I needed the eye protection, so I left them on. Periodically, I wiped the insides of the lenses with my forefinger, improving the visibility from opaque to frosted. I navigated this lap more by memory and feel than vision. In a 24-hour race, by the time you do your fourth lap, you pretty much have every rut and pothole of a 10-mile course memorized. It's pretty cool.

Even though I was having my worst lap of the race, I passed a lot of riders. The 4:00 AM lap is the Dead Zone for riders. Most of the riders I came upon not only moved over for me to pass, they completely stopped their bikes and watched me pedal by. It seemed like a lot of the riders out there in the mud and the rain at 4:00 AM were looking for an excuse to stop.

Coming up the Ambulance Road Climb, I passed a few riders, but about half way up, I felt a rider come right up behind me. After a few yards, I asked him if he wanted to pass, but he very forthrightly admitted that he was riding me up the hill. Hey, that was fine with me. I'm not too proud to be a domestique for a better rider. In fact, I was flattered that I was riding this hill fast enough to be of use to the guy. He rode me the whole way up and once we passed the EMS tent he was gone like a shot in the dark.

Finishing the lap in the dawn's early light, I was wet, muddy, and very tired, but euphoric with the feeling that comes with knowing you just finished your final 24-hour lap and it's time to put the civvies on, take a quick nap, and enjoy the rest of the race.

Burning calves
The Dream Team
Ground zero

But not so fast. Dain woke me up about 9:00 AM with a change in plans. Turns out the woman that Dain had lined up had bailed on us sometime in the morning. This meant that we would have to take a one-lap penalty, which jeopardized our chances of finishing second in the class. Supermodel's back was really hurting him, The Sarge had just finished a lap, and G-Money was out on the course, so there was nobody left but me to do one final lap and wrap up our number two spot.

Like a frozen link on a rusty chain, I slowly went through the motions of getting myself ready to ride. As long as I started my lap before 11:59 AM, I could take as long as I wanted to finish it. Finally, by about a quarter to 11:00, I was all suited up and ready to hit the trail.

Out of nowhere though, Supermodel rallied himself and stepped in at literally the eleventh hour to take his fourth and final lap. Relieved, and more tired than I thought I would be, I stumbled around the campsite for the next twenty minutes or so trying to figure out what to do next. Finally, I got out of my bike clothes and started to collect my gear.

It had been exactly what a 24-hour race should be. I had a great time riding my bike and hanging out with a large crew, soaking up bikes and racing for 24 hours straight. There were a couple of things that could have gone a little smoother: a female rider would have been nice; a person dedicated to food preparation around the clock; a Friday night hangout; a larger race turnout. But these are all just minor improvements on a grand time.

G-Money, The Sarge, and Supermodel were totally cool -- great riders with that quintessential mountain biker's persona and ethos. Dain and the guys from Bike were all really friendly and fun to hang with. For a 24-hour event, it's literally the more, the merrier, so having 10-15 cool people hanging out around the clock made the event.

As a bonus, the Dream Team finished third in the Five-Person Open class, so we even got a little podium time (the real-time scoring had showed us in second place for the entire 24 hours so we were a little confused when we were announced as the third place team). G-Money posted three of the 20 fastest laps for the class, including the third fastest lap, and I posted two laps in the top 20. It's too bad we didn't win this class; each member of the winning team got a full XT disc brake set, XT front and rear deralliers, and a set of Shimano 959 pedals!

Rich's team, Team Bontrager, ripped off 23 laps, but since they were the only Master's team (45 years and older) entered, they got lumped into the overall standings and still finished third, with Rich ripping off the fastest lap in the Master's class (53:28). The better Rich and his crew do, the less depressed I feel about getting older.

After the awards ceremony wrapped up at about 3:30, we packed up the Bronco and said our fond farewells. I was crashing big time, so JB steered us to the nearest Starbucks (where we ran into likeminded Supermodel and The Sarge), loaded up on caffeine, and piloted us back into the southern California highway system for the long journey home.

JB and I had a great time, and despite our initial reservations and a slow start, riding the 24 Hours of Temecula with the Bike Magazine Dream Team turned out to be a one hell of a great time.

1 - 2 - 3 DREAM TEAM!!!


Mileage: ~40.0 Time: ~4:15:00 Avg: 9.7 Max: 33.5 Weight: 165.5

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