By Scott Stanger — I’ve been dreading this: El Doce 12 Hour Mountain Bike Race. I had big plans for training and racing this year, but life decided to change all of that for me. So, no training, and I’m about to attempt to ride my mountain bike for 12 hours, for the first time. There’s no way this can go smoothly …
Upon arrival, I’m greeted by a friendly volunteer, and given parking directions. I throw my cooler, snacks, and a chair out alongside the road just before the finish line and start prepping myself. Bib – check, jersey – check, shoes – check, snacks – check (and lots of them), tires – rear tire has lost air overnight. If I take that tire off, I’ll never get the bead to seat without an air compressor, so I overfill it a bit, grab a couple extra CO2 cartridges, and head off to the riders’ meeting. I doubt this is even possible for me.
At the meeting, the solo riders were asked to raise their hands, so I did. The gentleman with the bullhorn explains that solo riders were given a ribbon, what the ribbons are all about, and praises us as “bad-asses” for taking this on, solo.
I thought “Great, now I’ll look like a real idiot with my ribbon when I can’t make it more than a few hours”. Nobody likes to feel that way.
As I’m leaving the meeting, I overhear someone saying that a fellow rider had forgotten his riding shoes. I just happen to have an extra pair in the car (you can never be too prepared), so I track the guy down. Turns out, my shoes are the correct size, and have the proper cleats on them. It’s a person I have met on the trail, but don’t really know, but I trust him with my shoes. That’s some incredibly good luck, and at least he’s going to have a better day, which brightens my mood a bit. Maybe my shoes will do better than I do today!
It’s time to start. I’m going to have to really watch my pace today, and I don’t want to hold anybody else back, so I settle in toward the back of the group. The energy is high, with lots of excitement, kudos, high fives, and wishes of “good luck”. Heart rate monitor battery apparently dies … great. At least my tire still seems to be holding air.
And off we go …
A crowd has gathered along the base camp area, some in costumes, with cowbells, pots and pans, and anything else they could find to make noise. It’s exciting, and the enthusiasm rubs off on me a bit. At this point, they all believe in me more than I do, because they don’t know any better, and I realized how silly my thoughts had been this morning. Nobody is watching for me to fail, and these strangers seem genuinely excited to see me do my best, without expectations. So, that’s just what I’ll do — the best I can on this particular day. I feel a sense of relief, as I make the first left turn onto single-track.
It takes a while for the crowd on the trail to thin out, and to find my pace for the day, but so far, so good. Despite my earlier doubts, I’m feeling surprisingly good! It’s been a while since I’ve ridden these trails, and I’m quickly reminded why so many people love them. Powder Mountain is a beautiful place to ride, and I’m going slow enough to actually enjoy the scenery. Regardless of how I finish, I’m riding a mountain bike in Utah, in the cool morning air, and it doesn’t get much better than this. One lap down … that was quick!
As I roll along slowly, fresh riders from the 12-hour teams start to pass me. There are so many compliments from riders who spotted my ribbon. Athletes who are much more fit than I am, young riders with tons of energy, nearly everyone takes the time to acknowledge me as a solo rider. It was truly uplifting. Suddenly, I’m glad I raised my hand in that meeting, and for that guy with the bullhorn. I AM a bad-ass, just for trying. It’s going to be a wonderful day…
As the hours roll by, I am perfectly executing my plan for eating, drinking, and holding my pace. I take a couple long breaks that I didn’t necessarily “need”, but which I knew would help in the long run. I make a couple new friends during those breaks at base camp, and enjoy that time as part of the overall experience. I love making friends on bikes. You can’t go wrong making friends. Then, I start into lap #4.
I’m tired. My shoulders are starting to ache a bit, and I have no power left in my legs. Even the descents are tough. My gut has had enough trail food and wants no part of anything I put down my throat … not even water. A new friend who I have been pacing with has left me behind, and the bonk is coming. Doubt creeps back in, and the “fun” is gone. I just need to gut out this one last lap. Even though I still have hours left on the clock, I’m fairly sure I’m done, but I keep pedaling, and as I approach base camp, I hear the cowbells and cheers, and more compliments. These people still think I’m incredible, despite the way I feel (and probably look), and I find motivation in that. I need a break, but I’m not done yet.
I’ve matched the mileage from my longest mountain bike race previously (Wasatch 50), so I can’t stop now. I’ve done all the work to get this far, so why not go one more lap and completely crush that personal best? It would be a shame not to! Even if I have to walk a few sections, I’m doing it…
Part way up that nasty road climb near Hidden Lake, a rider points out that my rear tire is looking a little “squishy”. I’m so zoned out, that I had no idea … and the tire is almost completely out of air. This could end my day, and what a shame that would be. A couple deep breaths to clear my mind, and a little air from a CO2 cartridge, and all is well. Nowhere near the disaster my mind had made it into. I roll on. At the 7-mile aid station, I stop to get a kiss from my wife, who was volunteering at the station. I’m so happy to see her, and once again, I am invigorated. 6 1/2 miles to go, and I can call it a day. The mile marker signs along the trail become my prizes … 5 1/2 miles to go, then 4 1/2, 3 1/2, 2 1/2….CRAMP!!! It’s not my quads or calves giving up on me…it’s my finger. My third finger on my left hand goes straight as a board and cocks all the way to the right. It’s a cramp, and it hurts, but it looks so silly, that I find it entertaining. If I’m going to cramp up, this is the way to do it! I can still grip and put a finger on the brake lever, so no harm done. In fact, the laughter does me good. The end is in sight.
As I finish that fifth lap (just over 66 miles and almost 7200′ elevation gained), the crowd is still there, cowbells clanging, cheering, and I can hear the announcer call my name. “12 Hour solo rider, Scott Stanger … looking strong as he goes out for another lap”. I am amazed at how I feel, and the level of boost I am given by the enthusiasm of everyone around me. I have another lap in me. As I roll toward the single-track, I’m doing the math in my head, and come to grips with the fact that even though I made the cut-off time, it doesn’t make sense to attempt this 6th lap. I know I’m spent, and the price I will pay for the added miles will be heavy. It’s time to call it a day, so I head back to base camp.
I didn’t earn a podium spot, but I certainly won my race. Total strangers helped me win. I cannot imagine a better race day. THIS is why I compete.
Oh, and my shoes? They beat me by 20 minutes.