I brought two bikes to the event. One being the El M. Ti and the other, the super sweet Spearfish 1. I would ride the Spearfish as I knew from past experience (2007) that the course was rough, but did not contain a ton of climbing. The El Mariachi would serve as my "back up" bike. It's hard to consider either of these rigs as "back up", but I can't ride two bikes at the same time.
Immediately, I knew the full suspension 29'er was the right bike for the course as it soaked up the roots and rocks with a buttery smoothness. "Stay consistent on your lap times and stay smart", was what I thought as I moved through the first lap. I knew if I executed the plan I would have a good day. However, the field was full of talent, so a top 5 was the goal I had tucked away in the recesses of my mind.
As I approached the gnarliest climb on the course for the 2nd lap I saw fellow DBD member and training partner Jason Buffington powering up the hill as if it were a speed bump. I was happy, because this meant Big Buff and I might be able to ride together for a while, which always makes the miles a little easier. I know he's strong, but hey, he only has one gear. I was sure I'd be able to keep up. The top of the climb known as Ho Chi Min Trail is strewn with soccer sized boulders. These wheel benders are everywhere, but a rider with an eye for the "good line" can make it through unscathed. I entered the field out of the saddle and with a good head of speed. Half way through, riding on top of the rocks I felt the rear wheel slip in between two boulders as if pulled by an unseen force. I heard the all too familiar scrape of rubber on rock and quickly made a mental note to "watch out for side wall scrapes". Not 30 seconds past before I noticed the bouncy feeling of a rear tire losing precious air. "NO, NOT AGAIN, NOT NOW!!". It was true, a flat tire. And, not just a flat tire, but a cut in the side wall, the tire was toasted! I could see the Stan's solution doing it's best to solve the problem, but rarely have I seen the stuff actually work in the field. The tire was flat! I hit it with a CO2 and proceeded to ride another mile while the rim made it's inevitable trip to the ground. Soon I was riding with my weight over the handle bar, hoping against hope that I could make it to my pit area which loomed ahead on the trail some 4 miles away. I could no longer risk damaging the rim so I stopped and whipped out my small emergency pump. Ferociously I blasted air into the tire making progress, only to lose it in the next few minutes. Ultimately, I had a choice to make, run for the pits or auger in on the side of the trail and do a FULL ON repair job to the tire, then tube it. I chose to run for it. I rode the smooth sections on the flat tire and ran the rough stuff pushing the bike, but it was taking a long time to make it "home". Finally, I saw my Salsa canopy through the trees. Once in the pit I slowed my heart rate and methodically went to work on solving the problem. I would do a complete tire swap rather than grabbing the El Mariachi and taking off, the full suspension was just too good on this trail. I figured the time delay would be worth it in the long run if I stuck with the smooth tracking Spearfish. Approximately 5-10 minutes later I was out of my pit and making forward progress once again. I needed some "hot" laps and I needed them now. Although I was careful not to ride over my head while playing the "catch up" game I still rode with intensity. It wasn't until about the 6th lap that I started recognizing riders I had been with before the "incident". I was back in the game!
|Big Buff and Eki ready to get started.|
As the laps wore on I wondered how my friend Buff was doing. Amy, my wife and pit crew for the day let me know that he was doing fine about 15 minutes ahead of me. Knowing Buff like I do told me that I wouldn't be seeing him until I came to check on him in the morning, he's just too strong to be caught. I sent him some positive thoughts and went back to my own private battle. I told myself that my season this year has been about playing catch up. I'd caught up before, I'd do it again. I knew I was back in the game, but I wanted to back into the RACE! A pause at my pit for a new camel back and a quick update from Amy reminded me that if I stayed focused I just might come out of this thing with a good day. I began to turn consistent laps and ride with purpose, I was chasing hard.
Night time began to fall and so did my energy. I was hitting that place of deep fatigue that is hard to explain. It's that place that can only be understood by someone else who's been there and then it's not really talked about, but shared through a knowing look into the eyes. I glanced at my dust blackened legs and wondered if there was any muscle left in those quads or if I was just riding on bones. My heart was in charge now, not my head. I promised myself I'd show character and fight the 'good fight'. I needed to keep the demons down and the only thing that seemed to work was this mantra over and over, "You're strong, You're strong..." I literally said those two words out loud at least 200 times while I tried to hold my pace.
Battered and broken I inched my way up a loose gravel climb on my 11th of 12 laps, determined not to get off and push my bike. A faster moving rider was approaching from behind, it was a familiar sound. Then, I heard the chipper voice of a female who had not yet experienced the kind of pain I was currently in. This voice, in a lifting tone, sang words of encouragement to me, "Dude! You're Killing It! Keep it up..." as she moved past. I glanced at my gps and noted that I was going 2 mph. I chuckled to myself as a young college age girl, appearing as if she was primped for a night out to dinner (she was very clean, I was not) moved through me like a pro cyclist moves through a club rider. I wanted to shout after her, "Do you know what I've been through?!" Instead, I wished her and her team well and put my chin back down on my handle bar, in search of the top of the climb.
|Jason completed 22 laps!|
The final lap. I knew I would only be able to complete 12 laps as I would finish shortly after 10:00 p.m.. Honestly, I wasn't too heart broken that I would miss out on lap 13. I was beat, my hands were devolved claws, the rock that was in my shoe from the first lap had carved various holes in my foot, my left knee cap was killing me, my right shoulder was also killing me from riding into a hole in Duluth, caused by the flood. I just wanted to be done! Almost there, I rode past my empty pit area which told me I had about 2 blocks to the finish. My clock on the gps said it was 10:02 p.m., but would that be the same as the timing clock? I arrived to the finishing chute to a lot of clapping and cheering. I appreciated the kindness, but I was leery of riding through the finishing chute. If it wasn't after 10:00 p.m. on the official clock I'd be obligated to do another lap, I didn't want that. I slammed on my breaks 10 yards from the finish, clipped out and turned to the spectators, "Is it past the time?", I yelled. Confused looks came back at me from all but one man who seemed to look right into me. I heard his voice stand out from the others, "Yes, it's past the time, you can go in there", my eyes met his and he smiled. Maybe he'd been where I was at that point, on a different day, at a different event ... I think he had.
|Buff and Eki relax awaiting the awards ceremony.|
I heard the comforting voice of Amy telling me "Good Job!" She snapped a picture and I asked her to hold what had become an extension of my body, a filthy Salsa Spearfish. We made are way to a lonely folding chair that sat in the back ground of the post 12 hour race party. That chair was the only place I wanted to be at that time.
Sitting in my own filth I stared into space, I could still feel myself move through the turns, rise over the bumps, shifting my weight all over the bike, causing it to move as fast as I could. I thought about the fight I'd been through, the fight my good friend was still waging. I thought about how I had given it my all. Just then Amy said that it would be really awesome if I made it onto the podium. I told her that it would be, but it didn't matter, because I had left it all out there, I couldn't have gone any faster. Whatever place I ended up in, I was happy. I had tried my hardest. I didn't need to see the results, not yet anyway. I just wanted to put my bike on the car, get cleaned up, and go out to eat with my wife. I needed a break from the roots and rocks.
The next morning I'd head back to the venue to take down the rest of my pit area and watch Big Buff finish the 24 hour event. He took it all like the champion he is as he cracked jokes with me. He shook off the fatigue and hardship like he was shaking off the cold from a winter day after walking into a warm kitchen. I marveled at his toughness. Jason Buffington won the single speed 24 hour solo and took 3rd in the overall.
|3rd Place is all right with me.|
As for my finish, I found out that morning at that venue while waiting for the conclusion of the event. It turns out I had clawed my way not only back into the mix, but all the way onto the podium finishing 3rd place overall in the 12 hour solo division. I'm not sure I was ever "Killing It!", but it was a nice reward for not giving up.