Time for a story or two about the Texas road trip a few weeks ago. We can all ignore the obvious that it's been a while since I last posted anything, I've been catching up on other stuff and generally being blogger lazy.

It's sometimes hard to write about 24hr Solo races and properly convey all that went into the event. I've now done 21 Solo's and from a casual observers perspective the story telling should be easier after doing so many, but a 24hr Solo is complex and big enough that the story is rarely simple and rarely the same. This 24 was action packed with lots of non-race related stuff swirling around it.

I left Rossland on a beautiful Fall morning, heading for Butte, Montana which is 8hrs away, to hook up with Dave Franks who had also driven 8hrs on a Calgary to Butte path.

Departing Rossland

Driving into Butte, I looked over towards the drop point where 23yrs ago I had exited out of a perfectly good plane at 16,000' to descend on a baseball diamond as part of Butte's July 4th celebrations. Landing my square parachute close to the pitchers mound and peeling off my Skyhawk's flight suit, I never could have imagined that I would be in Butte 23yrs later as part of a 40hr drive to a 24hr Solo race just outside of Austin, Texas. Life is funny like that. A few minutes after that thought I was shaking Dave's hand and we were loading bikes onto his 1 ton diesel. That's right, you are looking at six bikes; two for Dave, two for me and two for Julie Kelly who was flying in from Calgary to meet us in Austin.

Bikes loaded

Mountain biking is synonymous with road trips. You get some friends together, then drive to a trailhead, then hit the singletrack. You have some laughs, maybe a beer or two and then plan the next road trip. Living here in Rossland I have amazing singletrack surrounding me in a 360 degree fashion, I have trails that are less than 30 seconds from my front doorstep and I rarely ever get in a vehicle to go do some riding. I'm incredibly lucky to have such awesome trail access but nearly all of my riding is done by myself, in an isolated bubble of hard and fast singlespeed race training. Most of the time I have my earbuds in, listening to some rapid tempo music while sweating and drooling on my bikes top tube. I enjoy the solitude and hard work, the purity of focused effort, the satisfaction of ripping up several hours of dirt by myself. I really, really enjoy it. But there are times when I miss the camaraderie and competition of hanging out with other like-minded hardcore endurance racers and it's road trips like this that help to fill in the missing pieces.

Getting to do a 32hr road trip with Dave was a pleasure. He's an excellent racer and one of the good guys. I've coached Dave through a few endurance races and I knew this was going to be a really strong performance for him so I was excited to see him unleash his potential. We had a few interesting moments while heading down the road; a crazy windstorm that was closing down highways and had us diverting down farming roads, a GPS that went crazy and took us in the wrong direction, and a stop at a great little burger place to name a few. The burger place was The Cozy Inn and it's worth reading their history, the original home of the 'Slider'.

Cozy Burgers

The original grill

Cozy

We arrived in Austin, Texas at 0200hrs on Friday morning after pretty much driving non-stop with the exception of a quick break for some Cozy Burgers. Our buddy and fellow endurance racer John Russell was putting us up at his place. John is another one of the good guys, it's always great to see him and I was looking forward to hanging with him for a few days. I've coached John through a few races, including some podium results at 24hr Solos. Normally he would race this event but he was super busy leading up to this one and he made the smart call to skip it.

Johnny

After lots of hand shaking, back slapping and gear unloading, it was time to hit the air mattress for some much needed sleep. A zombie-like sleep.

Everyone convened in the kitchen on Friday morning, I had brought down a few bags of fresh roasted coffee as a treat for Johnny boy so it was a buffet of coffee to get us all started.

Johns-kitchen

After a couple of hours of getting organized and laughing a lot, we all piled into Dave's truck to drive out to Rocky Hill Ranch to do a pre-race lap. I was interested to see if the singlespeed gear I had chosen in Canada was correct and of course I was excited to get back on Texas dirt again. To say the vibe was upbeat heading towards the race course would be an understatement.

Pre race lap ahead

The pre-race lap went well, everyone got dialed in to the dirt really quickly and we talked about strategy and lines as we flowed through the course. It was real good to be moving down the trail with other 24hr Solo racers. I'm still not sure what John was doing in this image, maybe pinching himself to see if it was really happening?

RHR lap

Immediately after the lap we got on with some partial pit setup and then hopped in the truck to head back to Austin for some Freebirds burritos, mmmmmm, mmmmm, mmmmmm.

Freebirds

Saturday morning unfolded nicely, we all got into the normal pit routine setting up bikes, lights, nutrition, clothing and gear, etc.

Pit area

Julie, Dave and I would be relying on the help of our Texas pit crew - John, Thad and Shawn. These guys are all endurance racers and they know what it takes to race for the podium, we were so lucky to have their help and good cheer. Pitting for someone at a 24hr Solo is a big commitment and I can't thank them enough. Our pit crew also stepped up to look after Antonio, another one of my endurance athletes (who had a personal best 24hr Solo race, hoooyah!), so that put four 24hr Solo racers and three pit crew in a 20' space. Yes, it was a busy (and fun) little area. Dave grabbed this shot of John, Antonio and I in front of the pit just before the race.

At-the-pit

Eventually we all found ourselves standing on the start line giving each other the smiles and nods, we knew what was about to occur and we were looking forward to it. As I stood there I did a quick inventory of what I was bringing to the race. I felt pretty good considering I had hit Denver and the GABF a week prior and spent no time on my bike in the 10 days leading up to this race. My legs had felt really good prior to the GABF, in fact I was setting Personal Bests while pounding my favourite Rossland trails, so I was interested to see how things would play out with the unusual taper pre-race. I knew the temperature and humidity would be a factor in this race, the hottest we would see was approx 93 degrees and even at it's coldest point in the middle of the night it was in the 80's. But I like racing in the heat, so that wasn't as much of a problem, it was the humidity that was the killer. I think it was 127% humidity or maybe 184% humidity. It certainly wasn't normal 100% humidity, it was an 11 out of 10 moisture. From the start line to the finish line I never stopped sweating, I was soaked for 24hrs and in that heat it became a factor. When the Texans are blowing up from the heat you know it's tough conditions. Other than the humidity I didn't have any concerns about my two Orbea Alma 29'er S-Team singlespeeds as they were running perfectly. I knew the pit support was good to go. I didn't have any aches or pains, or anemia, or food poisoning, or broken frames to contend with so overall I was pretty psyched to get going and hammer some trails.

Once the gun went off I was happy to start doing my thing. Game on.

Up to that point I hadn't developed my race strategy yet but after all the endurance racing I've done I'm comfortable with developing my strategy in the race. Once the strategic objective is fixed I begin to implement tactical milestones against that strategic objective. For this race my strategy was decided within 3 minutes of riding dirt. I heard a familiar singlespeed noise just a few feet behind my rear wheel and I looked back to see Greg Parham with a game face on. Greg's a really good 24hr racer and was probably my biggest SS threat, there was no way I was going to let him ride my wheel for lap after lap so in a matter of seconds I decided to spend the next eight to nine hours putting out a pace that would cause the lead elements to crack or cause me to crack. So I started to crank up the pace which eventually put me out in 1st place.

Here's a photo that was taken just before last light as I was bombing down a jeep road, somewhere around 6-7hrs into the race. I was feeling the heat at this point but I still felt really good.

Last light

After a few hours of leading the race I checked in with my pit to learn that just over 9 hours of racing had put me nearly 75 minutes in front of Greg and my pit told me to take a break... sounds good to me. The hard pace and high temps/humidity had me suffering and I mean S U F F E R I N G. Smashing my 32 x 19 gearing around that course, at such a fast pace, in dehydrating conditions had put me close to the point of major cramps and I don't see cramps when I'm racing on Infinit. So yeah, a moment to finally stop was very much appreciated.

Taking a long break allowed Dave to catch back up to me and it was good to know he was feeling great and looking strong. At this point in the race I had shifted over into riding defensively (keeping the SS pack behind me) instead of riding offensively (aggressively putting more time into the rest of the lead elements). Handing the lead position over to Dave didn't bother me at all, it actually fired me up to know that one of my athletes was now leading the Open Solo Men. It was really good to watch Dave head out in front of me as he had his game face on and he was executing smartly.

Content with things so far, I got out and did a couple more decent laps and then checked back into the pit where I was informed I was nearly two laps up on the next place SS racer and that I should take a break... sounds good to me. Here's a shot of me dogging it in the pit with Julie, who at this point was approx 60 minutes in front of the next Solo Female.

night-break

I hung out in the pit with Julie making sure she was squared away (and of course she was), talking some strategy and swapping some stories. We hung out long enough that Dave made his way into the pit and pretty soon we were all laughing and telling stories, while John and Thad threw in some wisecracks. A moment in the race that really gelled everybody together. While we sat there I kept asking how far back the next racer was and both John and Thad were reporting there was a lot of breathing room. They went over to check results on three separate occasions and each time they reported that there was lots of time to relax. After the fourth timing tent results check, John came running back and said "There's been a mistake, you've been passed." I had no idea how that happened but there wasn't time to worry about it, I jumped on my bike and began racing again. When I came in from that lap I learned I was 30 minutes behind... uugh!

Now I had to make up those 30 minutes and then continue to push hard in order to create another safe buffer. So for the rest of the night and into the early morning I pushed the pace hard. As soon as the sun came up I pushed the pace even harder with only the podium in mind. Close to the end of the race I was putting out laps that were as fast as the laps I had been doing 18 hours prior, almost cross-country race pace. I must have looked like a lunatic out there on those last three laps as I was flying past other riders with only enough time to yell out "Passing on your left", I was a high speed drooling and dripping mess... and I was loving it.

It's funny the things that stand out when you are hammering super hard. I remember coming in to the pit around 9 in the morning and seeing Julie sitting there. While Julie and the pit crew were cheering me on, handing me a fresh bottle as I straddled my bike and generally getting me straight back out on the course, I was trying to make sense of why Julie was sitting down relaxing when I pulled up to the pit. It turns out she had put about 7hrs into the 2nd place Open Female and had fully secured 1st place by four laps. I think I smiled for that next half a lap after hearing that news. Another moment that stood out in those final fast laps was coming up on another one of my athletes who was racing Sport Male Solo and was solidly holding a podium spot. I had seen Philip out on the course a number of times and had always matched velocity with him to check in on how he was doing and offer advice or cheer him on. He was having a Personal Best during this race and it was a great thing to watch him pound out a solid 24hr. During the last few hours of the race I had a real battle on my hands and every second counted so when I saw Phil up ahead on my second last lap I only had time to yell "Passing on your left, sorry no time to talk, keep up the great work" or something like that, and then I didn't see him out on course again. I should have made an effort to spend 15 seconds with Phil just to make sure he was good to go instead of flying by but I was racing at redline and wanted to stay at redline. If I was to do it again I would have made some time to hang out and have a quick chat while riding with him. Another standout moment came during my last lap (which all things considered was ridiculously fast considering the amount of hard racing I'd done to that point), there was a moment when all the planets aligned and I got a huge endorphin hit after making a handful of beautiful carving turns on a challenging little piece of singletrack. The natural rush of pushing my body way harder than it wanted to be pushed and controlling the bike to a degree where I was operating in perfect synchronicity with it... that euphoric moment was worth a million dollars. One, Million, Dollars.

There were lots of other standout moments, how could there not be? It's a 24hr race, it's like cramming several days of living intensely into a space that's too small. The things that happen to you out on the course and the things that you manage to accomplish are enough to feed your racing soul for weeks and months.

Back to the race... With 20 laps (325 kilometres) completed and having lapped 2nd place SS, I had 1st place SS and 3rd place overall in the bag. Standing in my pit I had to decide on whether or not to chase down 2nd place overall, a guy from Salt Lake City that nobody knew. I was only 10mins back from him and I knew I could put out another fast lap before noon, then get another easy lap in before cutoff. It was kind of appealing to go for it as it would have been nice to race and place 2nd overall, finishing just behind Dave or maybe along side of Dave who had 1st place in the bag. I took a few seconds to absorb the opinions from my pit and do a self diagnosis. I felt fantastic and knew I could go for it, I knew I was enjoying the racing but ultimately I figured 20 laps of SS was good enough. It had been a real hard race and the young kid in 2nd overall was a gamer and I might not have been able to swap positions. Plus there was a small part of me that wanted to put my coaching hat on and make sure Dave really did seal the deal and get his first ever 1st place 24hr Open Male Solo finish... and he did.

For me the best parts of the race were:

- Seeing four of my athletes out there having awesome performances.
- Having to man up and race super hard.
- Enjoying the flow of the RHR trail.
- Being a part of a VERY well run 24hr race event (thx to the race directors at Terra Firma racing, they are the best).
- Getting to re-experience the fantastic Texas hospitality.
- Sipping on a cold beer after the race while having a laugh about the goofy things that Dave, Julie and I did out there.

End of race beer

Holding a cash payout for the fastest Solo lap and my overall placing - $350 will buy a lot of Texas BBQ and beer. Dave and Julie also got cash payouts, so we had a lot of BBQ and beer.

ss-awards

It's the 3rd time I've done a 24hr at RHR and we are all talking about maybe doing it next year. I hope we do, I'll be ready from more BBQ by then.

After we got packed up at the race site we headed back to Austin for BBQ, not just any BBQ.

Rudy's

That night we all had a few drinks and some laughs and some more drinks and some more laughs. And that's how the rest of our time unfolded in Austin... great food, great beer, great friends, great laughs.

Post race lunch

Texas Mexican

A few drinks

85 cent burritos

Brown bags

Austin bro's

Chicken to go

Seafood dinner

Pretty much my favourite photo from the entire trip. Johnny popping a wheelie, Dave mashing his 1 x 10 and me riding my SS no-hands so I could grab a photo of us riding through John's neighbourhood while all three of us were smiling and laughing on the way to some cheap hole in the wall BBQ chicken takeout. Truly a classic moment of grown men being boys again.

Popping a wheelie

Did I say hole in the wall? Here's the hole in the wall where you ordered awesome BBQ chicken while standing next to the guy who checked every bill for counterfeit.

chicken

Wednesday morning came too fast, Austin had been a whirlwind of activity and now it was time to pack up and hit the road for the 40hr drive. John took a pretty cool photo of our bikes lined up outside his house.

bikes-lined-up

We got everything back into Dave's truck before noon on Wednesday.

Packed up

And then it was time to hit the road. Along the way there was a little of this. Not much of a celebration for my 49th birthday but how was Sonic supposed to know they should have put balloons out for me.

Sonic

And a little of this.

Butte burger

I said goodbye to Dave in Butte and began the 8hr drive back to Rossland. I'm not afraid to say I had to pull over a couple of times and sleep at roadside rest stops. It was a zombie drive during the last few hours.

I've been back home for a month and I still miss all the fun we had in Austin. Quite possibly the highlight race of the year for all kinds of reasons.

Now it's on to skate skiing and cross-country skiing at Blackjack, and some telemark up on Red Mountain. The boys are pumped up for another season of skiing in the trees again and I'm also looking forward to it. In another week or so I'll be mounting up my Ice Spiker Pro's and mashing my singlespeed through the Rossland snow, I'm kinda looking forward to that as well.

3 comments:

J. Betz said...

Great write-up, as usual. Looking forward to one day lining up with you and some of your other athletes. Keep crushing it!

Anonymous said...

It's been 4 months or so, I'm now recovered as far as the issues from the 184% humidity (next year I'll try talcum powder every lap) and probably an issue with bad fit on the shoes or insoles (numb toes for a few months...nothing I'm unfamiliar with from other types of racing) and I said I was glad to check off a 24 from my list and that was enough...but reading your post has me excited...if you guys come back, I'll race it again (maybe not solo or not as my A-race). I need to hit some of those hole-in-the-wall places with you guys too. I'm so hungry right now.

Shaun Taylor said...

It's my plan to do it again this year. It's a fun course, the weather is great, as is the vibe. And it's hard to pass up on the hole in the wall goodness.

Maybe this year I'll tape desiccants to my race kit to absorb some of that crazy 204% humidity.