SINGLE FOR 24 HOURS

There have been a handful of races on my Bucket List that I've been waiting years to try, and the 24 Hours Of Old Pueblo, put on by Epic Rides, outside of Tucson, AZ has been up at the top. I had been excited to try to break into the 24 hour solo racing scene, and do so on my Single Speed. So last Halloween, at 12:04am, having just set my alarm and registered in the Solo Female Single Speed Cat, I uttered a slightly excited, slightly sleepy "I'm IN!" to myself, and promptly went back to bed.

Fast forward to Feb. 12, 2016. "Woah, they weren't kidding. This really is like the 'Burning Man of mountain biking'." After a long drive on random dirt roads in the middle of the desert, we were just pulling into "24 Hour Town." A bright, shiny cluster of hundreds of RVs, tents, and even named dirt roads like "24 Hour Expressway." Every campsite had music blaring, kids running around, dogs barking, and tents being erected. If it hadn't been for thousands of bikes lying around, and quality IPA being consumed vs Bud Light, I would've thought I had made a wrong turn. The energy was making me giddy. The fear in my gut of having to race a bike for 24 hours was being replaced by excited butterflies that I got to be a part of such an exciting, fun event. 

Race Day, at 11:55am, found me running with fellow confused stragglers, one of which was a man in a hot pink ballet tutu, (which had become a normal sight at this point around 24 Hour Town), to get to the La Mans starting line, for what was assured to be the hardest, longest, most adventurous day on a bike I'd ever had. I'm sure, given more time, I would've been more nervous, scared, frightened even, as training the past 7 weeks had come to a painful halt when I took a big crash that landed me with a broken collarbone, and a badly sprained wrist at the end of Dec. Being a stubborn, spitfire redhead, I was determined to go out there and give it all I had anyhow, and train the one thing I could to the best of my ability for the pain that was about to ensue: the mental aspect. But at that moment, there was no time to think about my nerves, about my personal goals, about making a good showing at my first big race for my new team, Troupe Racing Co., I just had to go.

After a run that felt like it lasted forever, and being put to shame running-wise by hot-pink-tutu-man, my pit crew handed off my bike and off I went. My strategy was to break the 24 hours into manageable chunks. So the first chunk was 3 laps. Each lap was 16.5 miles, 1K ft of climbing, and 70% windy, fun, cactus-flanked desert singletrack. So much cactus, in fact, that Epic Rides puts an Afro pick in the registration bags to help pick out the inevitable cactus quills.

My first 3 laps were exhilarating. There was so much energy out there. Crowds of people cheering you on, costumes, music, and even an old tree with whiskey bottles dangling from it mid-lap, where a party was always going off! I was holding a slower-than-my-legs-wanted-to-go pace, and averaging 90min lap times. Our pit was erected in a couple of Troupe's sponsors' tents, and both Carbo Rocket and Tasco MTB owners were a big part of the day, along with Troupe's team captain, Tim, and one of my closest friends that works at The Path Bike Shop, Greg. This day would not have ended the way that it did without these guys. The energy in the pits, the encouragement I received, and the overall support were enough to bring tears to my eyes every time I pulled in. These guys helped me tackle chunk after chunk of this race, helped uplift my spirits, made me laugh in the wee hours of the night when I didn't think I could muster a smile, rode laps alongside me to offer support (spoken and unspoken), and made me want to keep going. I could never put into words my gratitude.

Unfortunately towards the end of lap 6, around 12:30am, my sprained wrist failed me. I hit the pain-cave hard. I rolled into the pit, and took a few moments to contain the anger, the tears, and the pain of having to stop when I wanted nothing more than to keep laying laps down. I allowed myself to take a nap, and would reassess the situation when I awoke. After what felt like 30 seconds of sleep, Greg woke me up from a very comfortable sleep curled up with a stranger's Golden Retriever in her doggie bed in the dirt. I asked "Crap. What time is it?" 

"It's 2:45. What do you want to do, Babe?"

"Get me coffee. I need to ride."

And ride I did. Hours later, I found myself overcome with beauty as the sky started to change into the brightest oranges and reds I'd ever seen. And another bucket list item I never knew I had was checked off the list: experiencing the sunset and the sunrise in the same ride. There really aren't any words to describe it. But at that very moment, I knew that 24 hour racing was going to be a big part of my life from that point forward.
The last 2 laps were excruciating. The sun was getting warm, my stomach was taking a turn for the worst, and my lack of training hours was showing. Mile 160 on my single speed found me a mere 4 miles from the finish, dry-heaving, crying, and slightly delirious. I allowed myself to feel miserable and have a good cry, as long as I kept pedaling the bike forward and up the final hill, even if that meant at the pace of a snail.

I rounded the final downhill and dropped down a rock drop to a huge crowd of spectators cheering and screaming for me. I couldn't wipe the smile off my face, couldn't stop sobbing after crossing through the timing tent and turning in the baton taped to my handlebars, and couldn't even begin to mentally grasp all of the emotions I was feeling having finished my first 24 hour race. I had done 165 miles, 10K ft of elevation gain, in 24 hours, 31mins, on a bike with one gear, which was enough to lock down a 5th Place podium finish in the Solo Singlespeed Female Cat.

I had smiled, hooted, hollered, and sobbed. I had been cheered for, lifted up, shared a nap with Jasmine the Golden Retriever, seen a tattooed man in a denim punk-rock vest playing the banjo in the middle of the night (Greg), been offered countless alcoholic beverages (which I politely declined, but laughed about every time), and had been supported non-stop by the most amazing group of friends I've ever had. I had seen men in skirts, chaps, and cowboy boots, and even seen a Big Foot at 11pm standing eerily on the side of the trail. But the one thing I experienced most at 24 Hour of Old Pueblo was uncontainable laughter. I've never had so much joy fill my heart, never had so much to smile about for 24 hours straight, and I've never had so much fun at a mtb race.

Until next year's Old Pueblo, Cheers!

Tim VanGilder

mission viejo