By Keith Payne — It is quiet in the desert. It’s the sort of quiet that forces your mind into deep contemplation since there’s not much to distract you. While the scenery is beautiful, it is the lack of much external noise that allows one to focus. And the one thing most of us focus on while here is riding as fast as we can.
It has been eighteen years that mountain bikers have been coming to this little valley Behind the Rocks outside of Moab, Utah to race the 24 Hours of Moab. I have attended for the last twelve years and they have all been memorable experiences. This was the final year that Laird Knight and Granny Gear productions are organizing this event. After many great years, and recently some lean ones, they are calling it quits. That’s right, no more 24 Hours of Moab, this was the last one….at least for now.
Many riders may not care if this event goes away, or they may just be indifferent and figure there are always other events to take its place. I, however, feel it will be a great loss to mountain bike racing and to Utah. Some may suggest that the format is past its prime and that other cycling events are “the new thing.” I disagree, 24 Hour racing has all the elements for an amazing race experience. On a 24 Hour team you get to be both spectator and racer. The anticipation and anxiety for the race are not confined to one starting gun and a finish line, but are renewed as you complete each lap, hope the best for your teammate, and anxiously await their arrival so you can head out again to do your best. Support crews are critical and allow for friends and family to share in the experience and success of the event. Weather conditions and course conditions can vary in two days and adaptable riders with the right equipment can excel. Night riding is challenging, for everyone! Finally, effective rest and recovery are as important as racing fast because you have more than one lap.
In all, 24 Hour racing, whether solo or on a team is a challenging and rewarding experience that is hard to duplicate. The need to rely on teammates and your support crew creates bonds between cyclists and friends in a way that is not commonly achieved in normal Cross Country racing. The opportunity to race the same course, at the same time, as the elite cyclists is also not to be overlooked. It’s a learning/humbling experience to be riding your best only to be passed by a faster more adept rider who seems to float over the rocks and sand. This can happen every lap and you learn from observing the lines they take and the aggressiveness they exhibit. The opportunity to communicate with fellow racers seems different as well. Everyone is trying their best and suffering, yet the compliments, encouragement and general concern for fellow racers is evident as I hear words of encouragement and as racers ensure those stopped are “O.K.”
There are of course challenges to such an event. It’s quite a production and requires a bit more commitment, equipment and time then a typical one day race. But the memories and friendships you make during a 24 Hour race feel more permanent. I remember racing Moab in torrential rain, shivering in 20 degree temperatures, and crashing at night and injuring my wrist. I remember foods I ate that tasted so good because I had just completed a lap and my body craved food. I recall a fire pit jump, the Pleasure Dome (our borrowed inflatable Saturn dome tent) and Sumo wrestling suits. I remember a certain Gibson running out in front of hundreds of starting line hopefuls in a Speedo and cape and the crowd erupting in cheers and hoots. I remember penguins on helmets, a Mad Max style duo team who changed costumes after each lap, tutus, and tiaras. I remember the Cannondale team building their own private honey bucket hut under a pop up tent surrounded by tarps. I remember the lines I like to take through each obstacle and riding so fast I felt I was flying. I remember night skies so filled with stars that I would stare in amazement and I remember feeling so physically destroyed that I thought there was no way I could do another lap, but somehow I did. Perhaps you have some of these same memories and likely many others if you’ve been Behind the Rocks!
So what made this final year so memorable? Well that will be different for each racer or support person who was there. But here are my observations and high points for the 2012 race.
Josh Tostado led the race from the start and did so for 12 laps, riding solo, how can you not be impressed by that!? He won the solo division and closed out this chapter of 24 Hour racing with style and grace. I marvel at people with such determination and physical ability. Curt Wilhelm of MTBCoach.com took 2nd and local Revolution rider Richard Abbott finished 3rd with 14 laps.
There were only two solo women. Kerry White – Team Type 1 took 1st with 11 laps and Sho-Air’s Kristen Keteles finished 2nd.
The battle for the overall came down to my own team, the 4Life/Mad Dog Cycles #2 – Lap Traffic and the World Cup Dreams 1 (5 person coed team with 3 Utah based riders). The final six laps had five lead changes between these two teams. Chris Holley from the 4Life team went out on Sunday morning and laid down a 1:10 lap and closed the gap to three and a half minutes. Then Ty Hopkins of Highland, UT road his best lap of the race in 1:11 to catch Mark Longfield of Jackson Hole. After 24 hours of racing our margin of victory was a mere 1 minute 2 seconds. It was an exciting finish to witness and a hard fought race by these teams. Both teams won their respective divisions with Men’s Expert Team Bike N Hike (Colorado) finishing 3rd overall and 2nd in the Men’s expert division. (The World Cup Dreams teams (3 in all) were racing to raise money for their foundation to help injured National Ski team athletes. You can learn more about them and donate at www.worldcupdreams.org.
Finally, the 4Life/Mad Dog Cycles #1 Gray Dogs, who have won the Grand Masters division for many years, invited race director Laird Knight to race on their team and he graciously accepted. Laird had time to complete one lap during the final running of this iconic race. He was grateful for the experience and it was cool to see him be both director and participant in his own race.
Now that its over and I’m not longer sitting in the tranquil desert, I reflect back on the feelings and emotions of this race. Not just from this year but from the many years I and my friends and acquaintances have participated. I will miss this great opportunity to escape to the desert and ride and race with friends and make new ones. I will miss the music and madness. I will miss the costumes and craziness. I will miss grit of sand in my shoes and in my food and the extra effort everything takes after riding my hardest for fifteen miles at a time over a very technical and grueling course. Most of all I will miss the quiet of the desert. While racing here, day or night, I only hear my breathing and the sound of tires gripping the sandstone. It’s the sound of racing, teamwork, determination and effort and when I hear it I know I’m in Moab and my mind clears and I can focus on only one thing – riding as fast as I can.