2004 24 Hours of Snowshoe|
Brian Kemler, Team CityBikes / Gwadzilla
Friday, July 09, 2004
I competed in 24 Hours of Snowshoe and its past incarnation, 24 Hours of Canaan for seven years running. But, like most of my fellow 24 hour racers, I've done so reluctantly despit being the most original, fun and best organized events in mountain biking. Why? For a simple reason; the course.
Team Gwadzilla on Podium
From L to R:
Brian Kemler, Joel Gwadz,
Marc Gwadz, Dave Wotton.
The problem with the Snowshoe course is that while it's a great venue for skiing, it's a lousy one for mountain biking -- despite the efforts of Granny Gear Productions, the promoter, to improve it. Parts of the course go through a rocky stream that doesn't drain, others are impossible to ride rendering the most technically adept racers hikers all dressed up with no where to ride.
While one expects to encounter obstacles in mountain biking, there is simply far too much walking and far too little riding here. By the looks of things, other racers agree and are doing more with their feet than running the course; they're voting with them.
It used to be that there was a waiting list for the 500 team slots in January, this year fewer than 170 entered and they've decided to move next year's race to another, yet to be named, venue.
This year, I heard they improved the course through trail maintenance and the removal of the fiercest sections. Through the persuasion of City-Bikes teammate Marc Gwadz, I decided to stare down my old nemesis and compete with him and his brother Joel as well as Dave Wotton on a men's veteran team.
The race is the brainchild of Granny Gear Productions promoter and founder, Laird Knight who styled it after the famed 24 hour LeMans car race in which drivers have to run to their cars at the start.
In our case, we ran straight up Snowshoe's black diamond slope with nearly 200 other competitors kicking, gnawing and grappling for pole position. Don't ask me why, but I volunteered to do this portion of the race for our team, Gwadzilla.
I intentionally went out at slightly less than an all-out pace. Racers are so nervous at this point; they usually blow up before they reach the top of the run. Then they slow down as though they're running through thigh-high molasses. The run gives way to a walk and they've blown their wad before they are even riding their bikes. Let's just say I might have learned about this through experience.
The great thing about the first lap is the crowd. It is one of the few mountain bike races in which there are more spectators than racers. And they cheer you on and on and if you're lucky they'll do so by name. I had people routing me on by name on several sections of the course and it made me feel momentarily like I was a celebrity.
At the end of the run, I grabbed and mounted my bike in one swift movement and proceeded to ride straight up the mountain along the route that I had taken in my hard plastic soled cycling shoes. Some racers brought running shoes for the running portion and opted to change into their cycling shoes for the ride. I couldn't be bothered; after all, this was not a triathlon.
"As I jog along, the 'dinosaur dung' as Joel puts it, is turning my wheels into two 26" chocolate Krispy Kremes..."
At the top, the course hits a rocky, root-ridden run that most of the people who excelled at the running portion of the start can't ride. Those of us who can ride it are invariably caught behind them - slowing us to the point of annoyance.
I make my way around the hiker-bikers and glean a line with such focus that I can't see or hear the spectators and you would think I was figuring out a calculus equation. At the bottom the technical section segues into a fire road. Having the satisfaction of having cleaned such a gnarly section, I turn off the mute button in my brain and I am once again aware of the crowd cheering me on.
The P.A. system is stabbing my ears with music that ostensibly appeals to the crowd. The worst were Peter Gabriel and Bruce Springsteen. Who the hell programs their MP3 player? Trying to get "In your eyes" out of my head was harder than cleaning the cement-like mud out of my drive train.
Occasionally, they played '70's soul and disco. Every now and again they'd play a cheesy techno song like Daft Punk's "One More Time" but even that was so much better than enduring the Boss's "Glory Days." I said a prayer of thanksgiving.
The first fire road is short, rutted and filled with puddles big enough to eat a mountain bike. By the time I make the 90-degree right turn in to the next technical section, my bike and me are encased in mud. It only gets worse.
This section is soaked. The mud is knee deep in places and if you hit root at anything other than a square angle, you're going down so fast you won't know what hit you. This won't happen to me until the night laps but when it does I am stunned, momentarily lame, and left with golf ball sized lumps on my knees and a patchwork of cuts, scrapes and bruises.
Where I can't ride, I walk, but the respite is temporary. As I jog along, the "dinosaur dung" as Joel puts it, is turning my wheels into two 26" chocolate Krispy Kremes. So I try to carry the bike, but it's now 30 pounds heavier than it was without the mud. I stop and claw off the flith with my hands, and get to a section where I can ride once again.
Now I am fresh, the course, while extremely demanding isn't as bad as I had made it out to be in my mind. I hit another ski slope, ascend back up to the lodge, recover on a quick flat section through a camping area, where there are racers bbq'ing marshmallows, and I hit the power lines.
The course drops sharply at the lines and sadistic spectators line them to watch us clean them or be cleaned by them. During the six laps I rode those 24 hours, I cleaned the power lines all but twice; once on one of the two night laps, the other time on my first lap. Then, I was unable to tune out the spectators giving me unsolicited advice on which lines to take and I had to walk in front of them making me feel like a chump.
It was back into the woods for one of the few mostly ride-able sections and then briefly on a flat for a quick recovery. Then began the last and steepest section of the course; Airport Road. Most of the nearly 1,300 feet on this short seven-mile course will be gained here. Presumably the road is named without irony.
The climb is deceptive. At first it's a mild pitch and fairly comfortable to just sit in and ride. Out of nowhere, the pitch spikes. Most racers walk here, I barely ride in my easiest gear. It relents slightly before turning into single track that gets even steeper forcing nearly every rider (including the author) off his or her bike.
Looking over my shoulder, I can see mountains and valleys so vast they resemble Colorado. I can only take in the view for a moment, but the most memorable was on the dawn lap when the valley floor below was filled with little clouds like a dish containing a small amount of cream. At the top there is some riding and some more walking. Suddenly it turns into a mostly ride-able descent punctuated by a few sections that would kill any would-be riders.
I head through the gates to the start / finish area, pass the baton to Marc, scan my RF card for the electronic timing and start the post lap ritual that I will repeat five more times. This year we have no support crew to clean and tune our bikes, which they require après every lap.
I am hungry, filthy, wet and cold. It's now time to clean and fix my bike. I thought this would be a hassle but it's actually more reassuring working on my own bike than handing it to a pit crew. I know I will fix everything correctly and get my ride completely dialed. The extra effort expended is better than dealing with a malingering pit crew, the displeasure and anxiety of which I have had to deal with in races past.
It's now back to the condo to chow, shower and maybe catch an hour's nap. I have only three hours to do all this and each one of us will repeat this process four to five times during the race.
By the end of the race the course is dryer and more ride-able. Our team is fairing better than expected. Everyone's pulling solid, consistent laps and we're making our baton hand-offs seamlessly.
We're in third place in our category and 18th place of 170 teams overall. At this point the fastest two teams in the race are ahead of us and in our category. We have no chance of catching them but we want to make sure we have third place locked up. The fourth place team is less consistent than we are, but they have one fast rider who makes up 10 minutes on us every time he goes out.
Coming into the last few laps we have as much as a 15-minute lead, but we're worried they're going to send him out on back-to-back laps to make up for their slower teammates potentially nabbing the third place slot from us.
"Near the top of the climb where I have to walk the only rider on that lap will pass me...Is it the fast Fat and Happy rider..."
I am the last rider going out. Marc asks me if I want to know where they're at time-wise. I say no. I'd rather not have that stress on me while I am racing. I dose up on all the carbs and Gatorade I can, tune my bike and get myself psyched. I tell Marc I can do a 70-minute lap and I feel good. I don't think I will do much better than that.
Dave comes in at 11am and I bolt for my bike, having gone over the course again mentally again and again. I feel strong and I've taken a warm-up ride so I don't have to warm up on the course. It's a warm, beautiful day in contrast to the on again, off again rain, fog and cold of the day before.
I am riding more confidently than I did at night. Knowing this is my sixth and last lap I don't have to worry about holding back. I do have to worry about going out too hard on one of the technical sections and hurting myself. I make it to Airport Road - no one has passed me thus far.
I am worried the fourth place team, Fat and Happy, is going to catch up. I hope they are more fat and less happy. Near the top of the climb where I have to walk the only rider on that lap will pass me... Is it the fast Fat and Happy rider or someone else? I won't know till I finish.
I run the technical sections at the top, pass DT from CityBikes team Sweetcheeks and find my way to the bottom of the mountain. There are two riders creeping up on me and I wonder if they are our competitors. I am determined not to let them pass. On the last steep downhill straightaway, I am going all out as one of the guys in back of me tries recklessly to pass before the sharp left into the staging area at the finish.
If I can get in there, I can lock up third for our team, but this could be the Fat and Happy rider if he hasn't passed me already. Immediately - and wisely - he aborts his flanking maneuver. I enter the finish area cheered on my teammates having thwarted all would-be passers save one. Apparently, the dude who passed me on the climb was neither Fat nor Happy.
Gwadzilla locks up third!
Our team functioned flawlessly, we got on well, had no spats, we mopped upon the competition - the team that won our category - won the race over all. My last lap was tied with my second lap as my fastest - a full five minutes ahead of what I told Marc I would pull at 65 minutes. Each one of us pulled exceptional and consistent lap times and put our best effort into the team. We came in 16th of 170 teams overall and I am already looking forward to racing with these guys again!