By Jamon Whitehead
The Single Speed World Championships is equal parts scavenger hunt, alley cat, bar crawl, double dare, rolling pirate ship and heavy metal show…….Yes, there IS a race but it’s SO much more than that. This year’s event was held in Anchorage Alaska from July 18-20, 2014. The weekend kicked off on Thursday evening with check in at Speedway Cycles. Race packets included normal swag : Stan’s No Tubes fluid, stickers, event guide, T-shirt but also a 6 pack of beer, a card that listed 6 bars, punches at each magically turned the card into a raffle ticket and lastly a race plate….identical to every other plate in the mix. An ominously awesome sign to be sure. We were told to be ready for whatever; whenever but the extent of the actual schedule included the aforementioned check in, 2 group rides at the hilltop trails on Friday followed by an enchilada dinner at Don Jose’s. The rest was fueled by rumor and innuendo …..Lots of innuendo.
Historically the race has taken place on Saturday (at least I think it has) so when we woke up bleary eyed on Saturday “morning” anticipating a start time in the next 6-8 hours, we were mystified to learn via the facebook that the only riding we were to do that day was on our own. The only rule: be at the Carousel Lounge for last call “then we will go ride bikes after that”. This meant a lot of things to a lot of people and rumors did swirl, some thought we would kick off the race immediately after last call, some said sun rise (which of course in Anchorage is not too long after).
We headed to the Carousel lounge around 9:30 pm Saturday. Communication indicated that we should anticipate a performance by Alaska’s own, the “Black Owls”, a heavy metal band of epic proportions as well as additional race start details. We started to really fill the place up, locals had no clue what was going on. While costumes aren’t required on race day they are certainly suggested. Most didn’t wish to take chances and assuming the race DID start immediately following last call costumes abound that evening. Yours truly was sporting a grey slim and short Pee Wee Herman suit complete with red bow tie. We were a rag tag bunch of misfits to say the least. After the headlining band finished we hit last call and started to file out. By the time everyone made it outside the time was 2:30 am and the rain was falling. Rumors were confirmed when we were told to be back to the Carousel at 7 am later that morning. As we pedaled away we could hear a chorus of groans permeate through the crowd. Back at the hotel the Pee Wee suit was hung up, gear was laid out for the next day and I was unconscious within seconds.
6 am came quick! My roommates for the weekend were down for the count (Anchorage 3 – Salt Lake 0…for now) so I threw on the Pee Wee suit, slammed a granola bar and was out the door. I arrived at the carrousel at 6:55 am where maybe 5 others were waiting patiently. Most had learned that punctuality was not a desired trait for the weekend; I had apparently not. As the minutes ticked by folks started rolling in, by 7:30 there were 150 or so. At this point there were murmurs of departure in 15 minutes. We rolled out of the parking lot sometime between 7:45 and 8 but not before SLC’ers Ryan Miller, John Gilchrist and Dan Hall hit the lot. The course ended up in Kinkaid Park, the opposite side of town as rumored about 8 miles from the meet up on the far western tip of the peninsula. We headed to the spot as a group, taking our sweet time arriving about 45 minutes later. Did I mention the storm clouds were rapidly clearing? The weather was gorgeous, 65 and sunny, eat your heart out Utah in July, I thought to myself as I ascended to the top of the final hill to the most epic view of Denali hundreds (?) of miles to the North.
There were race “officials” scrambling around trying to re-mark a course that had been pounded by rain earlier that morning. Chalk paint arrows and water apparently don’t mix…weird. However justified, this led to some delays and grumblings from the steadily swelling peanut gallery. Despite some negativity surrounding the seemingly unorganized morning, the majority of the crowd was giddy with anticipation, tension was eased further when a pallet of 12 oz. cans hit the scene. The next half hour was filled with construction of new acquaintances as well as hazy recounts of the evening before.
DeeJay (captain of the pirate ship, AKA: the race organizer) finally emerged sometime after 9 pm, by this point the anticipation was at a tipping point (or was that the beer can I was holding?). Either way, he broke us up into 3 groups: pink, orange and blue. There were 3 distinct loops, each group was meant to start with the lap marked with the same colors as their group namesake. Beer cans flew, names were called and the game was on. There was no huge rush (for the most part). I hit the orange loop nearly solo. There were two riders in front of me and no one to be seen behind. I was riding my rigid Richey Break Away travel bike with a 2.1 inch mountain bike tire shoe horned between the fork and the most aggressive 35mm cyclocross tire I could find sitting behind my seat tube. This set up was less than optimal for the loose, wet rooty single track but then again neither was my tightfitting suit in that humidity or my .07 (and rising) BAC. Lap one was briefly interrupted by a mother moose and calf….ALASKA!!!!
There was a physical challenge of sorts waiting at the midpoint of each lap for us to tackle or not. Lap one presented a sling shot a steel ball and a cookie sheet. Hit the cookie sheet, take a bead and roll on. Miss the sheet and you had to slam a beer to collect the precious….er, bead and move on. Back on course and I stumble upon a shot station where you take a shot and get a “bonus point”, whatever that means (spoiler alert, that bonus point meant nothing but a free shot…which was fine). Finish the lap and as the rules went “climb the hill, bang the gong, get a mark on your bracelet and hit the next lap”. YES, there was a gong on a hill in Kinkaid Park. Apparently it has been there since the 50’s. Anyway, back on course, blue lap to be exact. This lap was unique, it had sand…lots of sand, well glacial silt to be exact but it felt acted and tasted like sand so for the sake of this story it was sand. We started pedestrianly enough on the paved multi-use trail but then descended on a hike only section that led through a shin deep water hazard that led to a deck of cards from which to pull. I ended up with the “ACE OF SPADES!” Relevant? I thought so, sorry to say the only relevant trait of the card is that it was in my pocket….Did I mention I fell earlier and lost all my beads? That WILL come into play later so pay attention. From the card deck we were sent across a soft beach with some of the most amazing views of the weekend. After a steep, unrideable accent we were back on the single-track which led to the gong, the bracelet mark and the final lap. Pink it turned out was my favorite loop of the event. It was smooth fast, an absolute riot but of course I was beyond the legal limit at this point. Half way through the lap I threw a rock into a trash can, took my Uno card and slammed a beer anyway. I arrived at the finish to a hill full or riders some had finished all 3 laps, some 2 and some were there to purely instigate. I slammed the gong one final time and took my third bracelet mark. I was done riding MY bike but the race was far from over.
The Utah crew rolled through one at a time, John, Dan, Ryan all having finished the course as well as all the physical challenges……and all having an absolute blast. After hanging out for about a few hours cheering on the riders who were filing in we were told that there was food at the pavilion. We scarfed brats, salmon burgers and more adult beverages then were told that if we had 2 cards and at least one bead we should grab someone else’s bike and head down the hill. As mentioned I had lost all my beads on course so I grabbed the nearest racer with more than one bead and convinced them it was in the best interest of competition to “loan” me one. It turns out that completion of the course qualified us for the final championship event which was to be a “foot down” or “no dab” contest (last year it was go-karts). For those who don’t know a human circle is created and participants ride laps, put a foot down and you are out. To add an additional level of difficulty the human circle slowly closed in. Sierra VanDer Meer took the win for the women.
The men’s round started neutrally enough with a few laps before the official start. It was a heated round, riders were dropping off like flies. I seemed to stay out of trouble while most of team Utah got picked off one by one. The key to staying alive in this competition was staying out of pileups (I thought to myself), just then I got tied up with a few others riders and realized I was going down. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that Ryan was alive and well at which point I decided it was time to take one for the team and as I went down I flailed as best I could and took out about 5 other riders. I hopped up and cleared my bike (which was actually John’s bike). A quick fall took down two more and it was Ryan versus a rider from Team Japan. Team Japan got hung up on the edge and managed a solid track stand for what seemed like 10 beats, Ryan spun a lap around the circle and after what looked like a quick elbow followed by a Japanese foot down, Utah resident Ryan Miller become the Single Speed World Champion. Instead of a medal, the winners receive a unique custom tattoo by a local artist so commitment was an absolute requirement.
At the 17th edition of the Single Speed World Championships I was hoping to find the cure for the common mountain bike event. What I found was more than I could ever imagine….and a buddy with a championship tattoo. I hope to see you next year in Japan.
(Editor’s Note: Ryan Miller is the second Single Speed World Champion from Utah. Heather Holmes won the event in 2011.)