Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Where the F**k is Howard?

The following words relate my most immediate impressions left over from racing a mountain bike for 24 hours on a team of 5 people. They do not give the whole picture, but hopefully leave you with a feel for the essence of that type of madness. To dedicate 24 straight hours to any activity takes focus and dedication. 115 teams came to Great Glen, NH this past weekend. They came to test that focus and dedication. My experience is but one of hundreds of different twists on the same theme. Riding a bicycle in the woods for 24 hours.

"Howard! Howard! Where the fuck is Howard!"

These words floated up the valley to me as I plunged down "The Chute" at dark-thirty in the morning during my second night lap at Great Glen. I remember this plaintive cry only because of the overwhelming silence that comes with that time of night. I smiled as I hit that last bit of singletrack to the finish/lap area. I knew what was up. Howard wasn't up and some poor slob was finishing with no Howard there to take the baton.

I sit here days later and remember the anxiety I felt this year. I remember not wanting to go. I remember the 3 weeks of next to no riding because of stomach issues. I remember the last minute decision to not bail and leave my team in a lurch. I remember resignation to some fate worse than death. I was not ready by any stretch of the imagination. Ride 40 to 50 miles off road? Hell, I would be lucky to make it one lap, let alone the 5 planned for me. I dwelled on the fact that I was not happy to go but was now pleased that I did. I rose to the occaision and carried my weight. Not pride so much as self-satisfaction.

It's been three days and I can still feel the torn and bruised muscles. I close my eyes and I can see every turn and transition in the 7 plus mile loop. I remember every dab, every success and the bone deep weariness as I rode that first daylight lap. I remember odd things. A smile from one of the course monkeys as I cleaned a section barely in control. The look of concern the lap folks showed as I stiff-legged my way to the table to check in after a lap. I remember this one empty gel packet I saw on my first lap and every lap thereafter. But most of all, I remember the massage. That manipulation of my tortured muscles that gave me new life and the willingness to go one more time.

We brought two teams with us. "Recycled CRUM's" and CRUM's Dirty Bums". The recycled guys were our serious contenders. In the 4 man master class, they were determined and focused on re-living the glory of last year. They were machines. 32 laps later, they would finish on top and once again bask in the spotlight. The Dirty Bums raced the 5 person co-ed class. We just wanted to finish better than last year. Lis, my daughter was the star. Her 3 out of 5 laps of under 50 minutes balanced out my 5 laps of over an hour. We ended up 5 places better than last year.

Great Glen once again re-inforced the feeling of tribal goodwill in the mountain bike world. I came away having re-visited some off road friends from my past and I made a couple for the future. I ran into Maurice again. He did not remember our first encounter. Nor was I clear at which bike show we had met, just that we had met. I was politely straightened out by Thanita on how to pronounce her name. Their laid back ways and comping me a Two Fish strap-on bottle holder took me back to the days of earlier races in the 80's.

So it goes at a 24 hour race. Pounding out lap after lap, hoping the next one is your last one. And sometimes the last lap is your last, even if your team mates don't think so. I now have two of these odd events under my belt. I am not sure why I love it, but I do.

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