This race could easily be summed up in 3 words for the ADD folks reading this...hard as shit.
I got it in my head to try a 24 hour solo race after finally doing well at a solo 12 (Dirty Spokes Unicoi) last year and went ahead and signed up for the Burn 24 Hour Challenge wayyyy back in January. I knew having already paid my money would serve as motivation to do the long cold rides in the winter, which I suffered through gladly hoping I would have enough miles in the bank come May 29.
The logistics that go into getting to one of these things is insane....the travel time, the money, the preparation. It is hard to imagine doing more than one or two of these in a year.I asked off work in a 4 day block for this Memorial Day weekend to give time to get up there and a day to recover once back home. I went over to Tyree's place Friday AM and we began to pack up the new Honda Element (thanks Cahaba Cycles). We hit the road around nine or so and I looked out the back window and was greeted by two bikes swaying WAY more than I was comfortable with on the hitch rack. After a call to the hitch place confirming that yes, this thing actually could hold an entire fifty pounds of bikes, I still did not trust it. I climbed under the car, shook the rack around some and decided it was time to hit the road. I spent the next eight hours terrified that one big bump in the road was going to send the whole deal crashing down onto I85 N. Rain was forecast for the weekend and about 400 miles into our 450 mile drive the bottom fell out. The campground for the race in Wilkesboro, NC looked like an EZ Up graveyard.
We busted ass to set up camp and soon realized we had both forgotten any sort of clothing appropriate for cold, wet weather. Oh well, bound to forget something. A couple beers and a sandwich later it was time for bed. I didn't trust my Dick's Sporting Goods tent so I slept in the back of the Element which was surprisingly comfortable. I woke up at about six the morning of the race greeted by some of the thickest fog I have ever seen, a beautiful sight. After an espresso and some breakfast I headed out to take a look at the course to see if I would need mud tires on the spare bike I brought...ehhhh, probably not. We met up with Lee (also racing solo SS) and nabbed one of the last good pit areas near the start finish.
Noon brought the dreaded LeMans start, a run all the way around the campground. I say run-I mostly trotted and tried not to cleat anyone around me. With 430 racers in attendance thinning the crowd was a must so the promoter had us do a parade lap. About half of us did a SECOND parade lap....still not sure how this happened and it wasted a good bit of time. Meh. My plan for the first part of the race was to keep my heart rate down and figure out which climbs I could use without burning all my gas before nightfall. Plan failed. I am still not sure why but I just simply rode too hard the first six hours...I knew better, the heart monitor told me not to....check for my first learning experience in a solo 24. I felt good despite going out too hard and rode consistent laps around the 7.5 mile course until nightfall. The Dark Mountain trails up there were awesome. Good steady climbs, fun downhills, and roots....more roots than I have ever seen on a trail. Every last one of them was slick from the high humidity at the race and proved very challenging to ride. Right around dusk I came into the first downhill of the course and saw a female rider down in the trail. I had no time for a good reaction so I made a horrible one and steered directly into a tree throwing myself directly onto my ribcage. Shit...not the right move with 18 hours to go. I didn't look at the damage because I really did not want to know if or how much I was bleeding (turned out to be mostly bruising).
8 PM saw a quick light installation, some chicken broth, Wheat Thins and I was off again. I clipped an Ipod to my helmet with the buds sort of hanging from it to try and keep sane during the night laps. The temperature dropped some and I immediately felt strong again. I knew my best laps would be at night and I was right. I rode all night with no stops at all and just focused on laying down steady times. Around midnight I had a really hard time mentally and have no idea why.
One minute I was happy and cruising along and then really sad I was not at home with Melissa which I had convinced myself would be better than riding at the moment. After spending ten minutes talking myself out of sitting down to cry (it seemed totally reasonable and possibly even productive) I regained some focus and got in a good groove on the tech sections out there. The hallucination began a couple hours after this and I was convinced there were people popping out from behind trees out on the course. It was around this time I realized Snickers and Mountain Dew were the absolute best race food I had at the pit...screw the clif bars, I needed some gas station eats.
I was insistent before the race I did not want to know what place I was in til 6 AM. Tyree had told me a coupe times I was doing well during the night but I did not press for any info. I came though the pit around 4 AM and noticed a singlespeed in a 29erCrew jersey (ended up being Fisher rider Dave Holmes) pass me. I heard someone yell, " Go get him! You just lost second place!" I really didn't feel like hammering to catch someone after riding this long so put in a consistent lap to find out how much faster Dave was than me....two minutes. Not bad. I went out around five in the morning to catch him and leave him for good. I passed him about halfway through this lap and hammered both big climbs on the course to try and put time on him. He passed me again and we rode together through one of the more technical sections and came to a dead stop against a root and just sort of stared at each other in a daze...not the best way to sneak away from your competition. This effort shattered my legs, which had felt like iron up until this. My hands were also on fire from the constant pounding of the roots, all I wanted/needed was to hold onto my podium position.
Around dawn, I saw Lee back at the pit and found out he was in fourth place BUT a lap back on me. I was comforted some by this and went into survival mode the rest of the race. The last few laps hurt. I was totally drained, felt like my legs were about to cramp, just generally getting my ass kicked by this trail. I rode lap 22 with Lee and we got back to the timing area with an hour and a half or so left til noon. From the results it looked like second through fourth was pretty locked in so we tossed our timing chips in. Dave came through a while later and found him so he wouldn't have to go back out for no reason. After collapsing for a few minutes I went to check final results. 3rd place singlespeed and hanging out in the top ten of all solo riders with 165 miles completed! I still have not wrapped my head around this but I am more than happy with how my first 24 solo played out. Called my mom and Melissa to let them know I was alive and headed back to Birmingham watching the bikes bounce the whole way back. I learned a ton at this race.
1)Bring more food than you think you need. Its hard to eat crackers with a totally dry mouth.
2)Ipods rule at night
3)Go way way easier than seems prudent the first six hours
3)Have a good pit guy if possible. Tyree was awesome.
4)WTB Vigo was a perfect saddle, no ass issues at all.
5)Hands really hurt the last few hours. Not sure what to do about this. Hate the Ergons I have tried and am not sure what gloves I should try next. Riser bar seems like a good idea.
6)Caught off guard by how pitiful I felt when I was done, it was ridiculous
7)Advil, Snickers, and soda...yes, please
8)I might have a heat rash...or poison oak. Pretty sure I didn't get scabies out there
Oh yeah, I need a wheel sponsor. Mine are wobblin