Tuesday, September 14, 2010

12 Hours of Pitch Black Single Track - WEMS' Shining Star

It's been over a week since Amy and I have returned from our 11 day vacation and I'm still beat.  You know when you've had a good one when you need a vacation from your vacation.  This particular trip had bike races as book ends to it.  The Salsa Two-Four launched things, while the 'Pitch Black' closed the deal. 

As you might have guessed the 12 Hours of Pitch Black is an overnight race that takes place from 8:00 p.m. - 8:00 a.m. and is one of the final races in the Wisconsin Mountain Bike Series.  I wish I could say that my game plan going into this race involved a whole bunch of rest with naps off and on throughout the day, but that's just not true.  We were coming out of a whirl wind 3 days of touring downtown Chicago on foot.  We went to museums, jazz festivals, blues bars and restaurants.  We walked over 50 miles in three days.  How could I know that?  I wore a pedometer, because I knew Amy wanted to see it all.  She's a marathon runner, I am not, so when I would say "can we just get a cab?", she'd say, "C'mon, pull up your skirt and stop being such a Nancy".  Gotta love it.  The bottom line is she walked my freakin' legs off! 

I pulled into Heather's Bar, the site of the race venue, feeling tired already and nursing a bug bite on my neck that wouldn't stop bleeding.  As I tried to register for the race I was getting some weird looks until I was directly asked, "are you alright?".  Embarrassed, I tried to explain how the chunk missing out of my neck just wouldn't stop bleeding.  A bystander suggested that I was bitten by a vampire bat which secretes an anti-coagulant into the wound in order to suck the blood outta ya.  I don't remember any bats diving bombing me, but here I am super tired at the start of the race and my blood count is in the tank.  Oh well, I love racin' when my back's against the wall, especially when I have to do it over night.

We lined up for the traditional Le Mans start and I reviewed a new strategy that I intended to employ.  "They'll come back to you" were Danielle's (Salsa teammate) words that rolled around my head.  Back up to the beginning of the vacation - Danielle and I conducted a clinic on endurance racing and we spent time discussing each other's race strategies.  I told her about my typical mode of operation and she told me hers.  I'd go outside my "box" for this one and start easy.  My plan included getting to know the trail, staying out of the "red zone" and maybe even yucking it up a bit with some fellow racers in the beginning.  I'd ratchet things up later in the race, but I wasn't going to blow the lid off this thing too early.  I'd wait for my competitors to "come back to me" as the race unfolded. 

Things were going just as I had planned.  I talked about my vacation with a racer who resided in Chicago, I discussed the outstanding single track we have in Duluth, Mn and I even had time to look up at the night sky while riding through the open fields.  A crescent moon and starry sky were my ceiling, I could get used to racing at night.  It was weird how my body shut down it's internal clock as I'd check my GPS to note the time and see that I was closing in on 1:00 a.m., but felt no where near tired.  I even thought about how impossible it would be for me to stay up to 1:00 a.m. on my couch at home, but here I was, dodging frogs and mice while railing corners in Rockdale, Wi. 

While I enjoying my ride and dreaming of everything under the "stars" I came to the infamous section run by what I termed the "drunk guys".  I remembered this section from last year and I loved it.  You knew you were getting close when you'd hear the concert sized speakers bumping in the distance and see the skeletons hanging in the trees.  Soon you'd spot the fire raging near the trail, then the screaming "drunk guys".  My first encounter with them was my best.  About 5 guys were mobbed up near the trail screaming something I couldn't make out over Rob Zombie's voice echoing through my skull, but then it was clear.  There was one 20 something guy crouched down as if he were about to receive a shot gun snap from a center looking me straight in the eye directly in front of me, not 10 feet away.  I thought, "dude, you better get out of the way or I'm going to put this 29'er right in your zipper".  Just then, he screamed over Rob Zombie in a maniacal voice, with the urgency of his life's worth..."DO SOMETHING SWEET!!".  Pressured, I didn't know how to respond, I was on the spot, what could I do?  Should I try to snap off a wheelie?  No, that would be lame.  A track stand?  Again, lame.  Stupidly, I just rode past him and apologized.  I felt so small.  I let him down.  What could I have done?  Maybe I should have quickly clipped out and jumped up on the top tube and surfed past.  No, I couldn't have pulled that off.  I failed that guy.  Only if he would have given me more warning.  Bummed, I eventually went back to the task at hand, the race.
I wondered where my competitors were, but in some strange way I didn't care.  I was riding well and despite a slight shifting problem 'Big Mama' was doing what she usually does - pull me along.  I realized that it would be about 3 laps per 50 oz. of fluids, then it'd be time to change out the camel back.  I reviewed my needs before hitting the pits, I didn't want to miss anything.  "Re-fill camel back, take some Ibuprofen (for the headache), put on leg warmers...Re-fill camel back", and so on....  As I pulled into the pit I heard an exorbitant amount of cheering for Tim...me!  Wow, what's going on?  Either there's another Tim here or Amy made some friends at the bar.  Well, the latter was true and up on the deck over looking the start/finish/pit area were Amy and some new friends who were fresh to the mt. biking scene.  They had just stopped in for a few drinks and got interested in what was going on.  Soon enough Amy was teaching them the ins and outs of the biking world.  She discussed everything from the advantages of 29'ers to how cool Salsa Cycles is.  Something tells me that some bike shop in Rockford, Il is going to be selling some Salsa's. 

I began to settle into the routine of night racing and I was finding my groove while still feeling strong.  Around 1:30 a.m. I decided I needed to start picking things up a bit and as long as I was "feeling it", I'd go with it.  I began to turn some respectable lap times considering how deep into the race it was.  I also began to think a lot about the leaders.  In fact a small obsession with the leaders began to develop.  I kept thinking about taking minutes out of whomever was in front of me, then without warning I got the "wink" from my lights as they dropped down to low level telling me battery power was diminishing.  "No", I thought.  This is supposed to happen when I need to pit, not in the middle of my 3 lap rotation.  Then, the finally, the handlebar light went completely out!  Talk about a wake up call!  Imagine navigating a tricky little piece of single track and suddenly having someone throw a blind fold over your eyes.  I turned the helmet light up to full power and begged her to get me to the pits, once there I'd do a wholesale battery change to get me through to daylight.  The pit went as smoothly as it could have and things were definitely more quiet around the bar.  I felt truly alone during this time.  It was me 'Big Mama' and the timing crew.  The timing crew's words meant more to me than I could tell them as I rolled through.  Sometimes it was just simply, "Nice ridin' 2".  That comment would get me out of the saddle as I kicked in for another lap.  I liked those guys.

I noticed that I was looking more and more to the eastern sky for a glow as I needed the light of day.  I knew the daylight would bring even faster lap times.  But, it'd bring faster times for everyone.  Thing is, I was still feeling pretty good.  I felt as though I still had some pretty good pop in my legs, maybe they didn't.  Maybe I was taking minutes out of them, I had to keep the pressure high.  I vowed to not check in at the timing tent until there was one hour to go.  I didn't want to know how far the leader(s) were ahead of me for fear of either letting them go, because they were too far out or blowing myself up trying to close a 10 minute gap.  I needed to stick with the plan, ride hard and ride steady.

The morning sunrise brought cold temps and a lot of dew.  The grass was slippery and the descents were teeth chattering.  I started eating gel packs like they were the best omelets I'd ever seen.  I wanted to load up on calories the best I could for the closing push.  I'd ride to 8:00 a.m. unless something told me not to.  As the day opened up before me, with the sunshine pouring in, I saw things that I had been riding past all night; horses, beautiful homes, roads, and gorgeous forests.  I really loved this course! 

7:00 a.m. had me pulling in on what was typically about a 50-53 minute lap.  In other words, I had enough time to go one more time if the need was there.  Going one more time was a great idea, but the fact is about 20 minutes previous to the close of the 7:00 a.m. lap I experienced a complete physical shut down.  It was like my brain did the math regarding that final lap, you know the part of the brain responsible for energy output, it determined that enough had been doled out, no more would be supplied, the game was over.  I couldn't believe it, the internal dialogue went something like this, "bridge to engine room - more power, more power damnit!"...No response.  So, after learning that there'd be no response from the engine room I checked in with the timing crew and asked about the leader(s).  There was one man out in front and he had left for his final lap about 20 minutes ago.  There would be no reason to give chase, my night was over and good enough for 2nd place.  I was satisfied. 

When my mind wanders back to this race I can't help but think about riding through those fields, looking up at all those stars, loving the dark, loving The 12 Hours of Pitch Black Single Track.  The WEMS' shining star.  What a night!

7 comments:

Ari said...

Night riding is great Tim. I really liked the experience you had. I am glad you enjoyed Chicago. I worked and studied there for almost 16 years. Also our shop, North Central Cyclery is located 40 miles south of Rockford and we are huge Salsa dealers. We are really waiting for the Arrival of the Mukluk.
Best to Amy,
Ari

Charlie Farrow said...

Very well written...I wept...you are a great writer and a pretty biker as well...
George Mallory

Jeremy Kershaw said...

Nice stuff Eki.

Bear said...

Thanks for making it out to Rockdale again Tim. That CORP all-star timing crew knows how to rock it for 12 straight hours....I'll pass your kind words on to my wife.

I'm with you....Pitch Black is dang fun night of biking!

Scott B.
CORP - President

Devon Dyreson said...

You sure didn't do anything sweet but did you at least take a Twinkie from me?

Tim Ek said...

Yes, he shows himself. I did not take a twinkie I am sorry to say. I was telling my wife after the race that I thought you guys were saying "dinkie" and waving little rubber "you-know-what's" until a few laps later when I realized it was a twinkie. I wanted to take one, but I feared I'd get sick from it. Sorry. Thanks for being out there, it was super cool!

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