The cannon fire signalled the start of the 2003 "24 Hours of Great Glen" mountain bike race. I was, for the second year competing in the SOLO division. AKA the "you have a mental deficiency" division. Ride your bike as far as you can in 24 hours. noon to noon in the New Hampshire wilderness. Nice! Off we went into a sunny, albeit humid day.
Only about 40 brave (READ stupid) souls dared to pay good money to have a yellow number and be called SOLO. The pity applause was everywhere! Now, mind you, there were plenty more crazies out there. They at least had teammates to give them a break from suffering for a while. Some wimpy (READ smart) people had 4 or 5 other people to do laps whilst they sat on their asses and enjoyed the scenery at the base of New England's highest peak: Mount Washington. We solo rides had no such luxury. If we weren't riding we weren't making any ground. We were indeed modern gladiators (READ idiots)
So off into the sunshine we went.
Each lap was 8 miles long. A mix of climbs and descents, fire roads and single track, easy and hard terrain. For the best riders laps could be done in less than 40 minutes. Just after 1pm I was well into my second lap when the rain started. It came down in buckets. No lightning, no wind, just torrential rain.
It felt good. The previous weeks had brought some rain so the course was a little muddy. The rain was washing the mud off my legs and off my bike. It was fun!
The mood in he transition area was jovial. Kids frolicked in the mud, riders and support crews laughed and jumped around in the puddles. It was truly a fun time!
Riding in the pouring rain can be fun for a little while. As the hours wore on my patience evaporated and my fatigue grew. I wonder if the rain is going to stop.
The course was changing drastically. A puddle one lap was 2 foot deep mud hole the next. Parts of the course became un-rideable. Many parts of the course. By 4pm every bit of single track was a soupy, nasty, muddy mess that you could barely walk through. Parts of the course had literally become rivers. The famous plunge became the slid of death. I slid down on my face almost every time. It became safer to ride as far as you could then fall off then to face certain injury trying to walk your bike.
What started out neat and fun had turned into and absolute night mare. And the rain kept falling. No lightning, no wind, just massive amounts of rain. At dinner time I went to the repair tent to get my first set of new brake pads. I would need two more sets before the race was over. I was destroying brake pads and my bike in general. I didn't know it then but I would never ride that bike again. The next spring I'd get a new one because mine just wasn't right anymore.
Meanwhile my wife / support crew was having a hell of a time with my then toddler son Colby. Every time Charlene would turn around Colby was off into the deluge. By 9pm she'd had enough. Colby and she had long since used up any shred of dry cloths and patience. Colby was stripped and shoved into a warm sleeping bag for the night. Charlene was off to bed soon after.
Just after this I cane by shivering, hungery and miserable. Did I mention wet? I sought out my support crew which had now turned into a box of pizza in 3 inches of water on a folding chair out side the tent. I sat down in said water, ate me soggy pizza, and thanked my loving wife for abandoning me a 9pm in the pouring rain. I was too wet, cold and tired to be mad. Off into the darkness I went.
The race had been going on for 13 hours. For the previous 12 the rain had been coming down in buckets. I had endured countless miles of suffering. Now I was lonely and totally exhausted but I pushed on and on and on. Then a 1:37am my lights gave out when I was on the most remote park of the course. I was trapped in the wet darkness. Oh crap.
I was walking my bike up the biggest hill around mile 6 of the course. Normally I could power up the hill and then coast through the roller coasts off the top but not tonight. I was walking my bike up and river and trying to maintain purchase with my mountian bike shoes. At the top I was picking my way through the mud back on my bike when my yellow light didn't seem to cut through the night like it did earlier. Within seconds it died completely. Oh great. I reached for my spare which just didn't work. Great. I looked at my watch 1:37am and here I was stuck in the forest in the middle of the sickest rain storm ever. It had been raining like this for over 12 hours and I was sick of it. Now I couldn't even ride my messed up bike any more. This sucks. I'm never doing this stupid shit again. (Until next year of course...)
Finally a rider came along and I followed his light till I couldn't keep up anymore. After a while another rider came along and I followed him to the transition. I got to my tent, peeled off ever bit of nasty, soaking wet clothing that I was wearing, climbed into my sleeping bag shrivled up like a raisin, defeated. At least now I had an excuse. Can't ride without lights. Stubborn sleep eventually engulfed me. I didn't dream.
Around 6am the clouds began to glow and at last murky daylight arrived. The rain was still there but was now steady and no longer ridiculous. I peeled on some sopping cloths and gingerly got back onto my bike. The course was bad last night but 10X worse now. There were parts of this course thought would literally be closed to bikes for an entire year. One section of trail you couldn't even pre-ride the next year because of the damage that we caused in 2003.
Overnight the parking lots had flooded. Many cars were stuck in the muck. The river that flowed through the area hadn't left it's banks but it almost did. That would have been a disaster.
I rode my little heart out for the next few hours. I even tried to ride some of the trickier sections a couple of times. I conquered the plunge on day 2 without falling. At 11:30am the rain stopped and the sun came out. If you had just seen the start and finish of the race you would have wondered what all the complaining was about. The weather's fine...
Come to find out later that it had rained 6 inches in the hours of the race. That's a ridiculous amount of rain. Most of the solo riders packed it in about the time nightfall came. Only 12 of the 40 rode at all in the dark. I ended up finished 6th after all the troubles that I had. I bested my 9th place from the year before. In 2004 I went back and on a dry year actually rode through the night without sleeping and finsihed 3rd place it a stacked field.
I haven't done a 24 hour race since 2004. If I never do another race like this I will certainly remember this race as the most epic race I ever did.
As I sit here at 10:50am on August 2nd, 2009 I bet you can't guess the thought that is racing through my mind at this very instant. Yeah, I want to do this race again...