24 Hours of Big Bear (a race report)
The Knights of Sir Bikes-a-lot on the podium with a third place win. From left: Daniel, Steve, Erol, Adam
June 22, 2005 -- So this year we decided to do the 24 Hour race, now being held in Big Bear, WV. This is the one that used to take place in Snowshoe, WV, but due to terrible trail conditions and a resulting drop-off in the number of participating teams, was moved to Big Bear Lake campground.
Thursday June 16 -- We shipped off around 7am from Wilmington, NC - a long nine hour drive lay ahead of us. About two hours into our journey, in Raleigh, the pop-up camper we were towing blew a tire, and thus began a chain of events that would extend our trip to 12 hours, leaving us wondering what were we thinking doing this.
We unsuccessfully tried to find a replacement spare tire at several tire centers, each time getting a "no, we don't carry that size but this place will have it" answer. We passed several RV/camper places along I-40, too late to turn around. Trying not to retrace our steps, we actually ended up going back to one of the places we had passed.
Things went smoothly for a while. Then somewhere in the middle of West Virginia, apparently two semis crashed into each other and caught on fire. The entire highway had to be shut down and diverted. We sat in traffic for at least two hours, and after moving only two miles finally reached the detour. The detour took us through a small town where the locals stared at all the passing vehicles like they had never seen so much traffic before, which was probably true. Another hour and we got back to the interstate.
Arriving at the campground, it was cold and had rained pretty hard. There were puddles and it was very muddy. Coming up the road, an SUV lie overturned in a ditch off the side of the road. "Oh, no", I thought, "another repeat of Snowshoe."
I checked out the trail and conditions were not good from what I could see. We pitched camp, ate dinner, and turned in for the night. I was freezing and I didn't bring any long clothing.
Our campsite. Note the mud in the foreground.
Friday June 17 -- The next morning as more people arrived, we had another hot meal courtesy of Steve's microwave and generator. Having a generator kicks ass. Then we drove back to Morgantown to look for a Wal-Mart so I could get some long pants and Steve could buy a fender to keep the mud off. I also bought some toilet paper. The Port-O-Lets at the camp sucked bad and there weren't enough of them. I hate port-o-potties. Yuck. You'd think in this day and age of wireless communication, iPods and flat screen TVs they'd have improved the disposal end of things by now. But no, the best we can do is a fiberglass box with a hole in it.
After we got back to the venue we pre-rode the course. Too muddy for my liking, but definitely rideable. Better than Snowshoe, I concluded. We'd have to see how well the trail would hold up to the hundreds of riders pounding it over the next 24 hours.
Saturday June 18 -- Race day. Adam arrived with his parents and we got our bikes ready to go. I switched out my rear wheel after I broke two spokes the day before on my lighter wheel. I knew that wheel would not hold up to the punishment the technical course would be dishing out.
We had the lineup - Adam, Steve, Daniel, and myself. We all pulled a good first lap. Daniel got a flat tire but it happened when he slipped while carrying his bike over a rock garden. He also had a run-in with another racer. Daniel tried to pass this guy and he wouldn't let him. The rules state that when someone calls out to pass you're supposed to let them. Daniel finally got tired of this guy and literally jumped in front of him at the next opportunity. They guy started calling him names. Later the guy passed him back when he got the flat. But Daniel caught up to him again at the end and the dude starts elbowing him! Daniel would also run into him again on a later lap but by that point Daniel was on fire and the guy could only watch him pull away and disappear.
There were a few other minor incidences with racers I overheard or our team experienced. I don't know, seems like some folks were taking it a little too seriously. We went there to have fun, and if you're having fun, you're going to do well. We can definitely attest to that.
When my turn came I wore the video camera. I was planning on taking it off after the downhill around mile six, and even brought an extra helmet, but I ended up wearing it for the entire 13 mile loop. Didn't seem to effect my lap time as I was consistent for all four laps.
Daniel preparing to pass.
On Adam's next lap he lost his water bottle early in the lap and had to suffer miserably the rest of the way. He managed to borrow some water from another racer but before he could drink enough the guy snatched it away.
The real turning point came at night after we pulled fairly strong night laps. We moved from 10th to 5th place. We were steadily moving up and I didn't even realize it until Adam told me we were in 5th place. By morning we had moved into 4th place behind the team that was actually camped right next to us!
Now we had a battle on our hands for 3rd. Honestly we never expected to be doing so well. We were now only 30 seconds behind. After Steve's lap started Adam and Daniel ran over to where the trail crossed the campsite to tell him the news.
Steve put in a good lap but we were now 9 minutes behind. It was Daniel's turn. I waited at our camp alone while Daniel was out until it was time to head down to the start/finish area. I followed behind our third place neighbors. They would be sending their fastest rider out again. We all waited and watched to see who would come in first. I expected the other team rider to show up first, and then I would have to try to catch him. There was also the possibility we wouldn't make the cutoff. We had about five minutes before noon when Daniel came flying around the corner first. I couldn't believe it. He had ridden like a man possessed, turning in his fastest lap time on his last lap. He passed the other guy who was having a mechanical way back on the downhill.
I took the baton and took off. Daniel said to me "Victory lap. Take your time. He's not behind us," but all I heard was, "Don't take your time. He's right behind us." I wasn't taking any chances. I rode as fast as I could, on par with my prior lap times. He could have come in right behind Daniel and was now chasing me. How would we know? I didn't want to take the chance and mosy along and all of a sudden have him right behind me.
But it turns out that their rider missed the cutoff time by just seconds. So noone was behind me, and we had won third place. So it must have been a heartbreaking defeat for those guys, because they thought they had 3rd place in the bag. By the time the award ceremony was over, they had already left.
Check out the Granny Gear website for more details.
A few other race observations:
- We had the heaviest bikes - 5" travel trail bikes including my Turner 5-spot and two Trek Liquids.
- There were a lot of leg shavers, and a lot of them looked serious.
- There were a lot of singlespeeders, some with painful-looking rigid bikes.
- The funniest thing I saw during the race was approaching a guy on a 29" rigid ss bike with the back tire completely off the rim and rolling around with the wheel (video clip). Only this guy wasn't stopping. He just kept on going.
- There were a lot of hot women. I was pleasantly surprised, because I didn’t expect this. I’m not the only one who noticed this of course. Daniel also overheard two women watching the racers exclaiming “there’s nothing sexier than guys in tight clothing riding mountain bikes” and “here comes a hottie” and similar stuff. Ah, mtb groupies.
- Daniel and I tried to give the spectators (and racers but I think we scared them more than anything) their money's worth by launching, jumping and dropping off anything we could. Daniel really did some good launches, including off of the large ramp at the end which goes over the road.
- The course was very technical and had a great downhill that helped us a lot. It was so funny to bomb downhill and watch racers scatter like roaches when the lights are turned on. Daniel and I also started saying "The pain train is coming" and "Get ready for the pain" as we were riding, especially on the downhill. This was in reference to the greatest Superbowl commercial ever made. Check it out.
- We worked great as a team. Everyone knew what to do and it was like clockwork. Most importantly, we had a lot of fun.
Full video coming soon. In the meantime, check out these clips.