Tree Hugger

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Go ahead. You know you want to.  Ask me about the Tour. C'mon ask me.  

"So James, you watchin' the tour? How 'bout that Lance guy!"  

"Lance? Lance who?  Have you been following that crazy chick on the fixie? Or how about Plesko on the single speed?" 

My "Tour" is, of course, the Tour Divide. Almost 2800 miles of unsupported mountain bike racing. The top guys will do it in a little under twenty days.  Crazy, crazy stuff.  And good inspiration for more bad decisions on my part. Like my decision to do Twelve Hours of Potluck solo.   Hey, if those Tour Divide racers can pull 100+ mile days on dirt for weeks on end, I should be able to survive 12 hours in the saddle of a mountain bike.   My goal for this race was simple: 100 miles, or 12 hours, whichever came first.  

Unfortunately, I recently acquired a single speed mountain bike which I've been just dying to get out and race.  I figured I'd start out on that and see how long I could keep pushing it and then switch to my good old geared bike later. 

A quick note on endurance racing for the uninitiated: It takes a metric shit load of calories.  I started off the night before with a pizza.  Followed up the next morning with a giant stack of my famous apple cinnamon walnut pancakes, threw in a breakfast burrito on the way down to Marquette, and spent most of the day subsisting off of "Ensure", "Honey Stinger" energy gels, and the occasional ham sandwich, bagel, and handful of nuts.   I nailed it just about perfect, only occasionally did I dip into the red, and I don't feel like I ate too much.  Coming back around to the cooler every 5.5 miles makes it easy to fine tune this sort of thing.

The race features a LeMans style start with everybody running about 50 yards to their bikes before they start riding. My teammate Tammi and I were both doing 12 hours solo and felt no real need to rush into this, so we literally skipped our way over. This actually proved fast enough to get us a midpack start.  I had that "Zippity-Do-Da" song playing in my head for the first couple laps.  

The trail had lots of nice wide spots, and everybody kept a pretty mellow pace, so there was lots of time for conversation on the trail. It became readily apparent that my desire to try for all 12 hours on a single speed earned me a certain bad ass status.  It also became obvious that I'd need one hell of a good excuse to bail for gears. (This, kids, is what we call foreshadowing)  

On lap number four, I started feeling it.  32x17 was getting hard to push up the hills, but the rooty downhill section was just killing my arms.  I found that if I kept a loose grip on the bars, I could still keep a decent pace up without too much pain.  This kind of left me at the mercy of the roots on the trail- with no front suspension they'd easily knock me off course.  Most of the time, I could recover, until.... 

On lap 5, I hit one root pretty good that took a little bit of wrestling to recover from, once I looked up from the trail, I was looking pretty much straight at a tree, coming my way fast. Target acquired, captain- proceed to fixate.  BLAM!


Honestly, I'm kind of glad the bike took the hit like that. Had I veered just a little bit, that could have been my collar bone.  And those don't bend real well. Had myself a nice 2 mile walk of shame back to the pits, but hey- I think I had a legitimate excuse to bail for gears and a suspension fork at this point.

Since I took a pretty good whack on the face just above my eye and hit hard enough to crack the foam in my helmet, I took a nice long break for lunch to make sure everything still functioned like it was supposed to and tell stories about what an amazingly skilled mountain bicyclist I was.   Obviously, I must have taken a harder knock to the head than I thought because I decided to get back out there and finish the race. 

I had a revised goal of 16 laps for the event now.  I'll spare you the details of endurance racing a 33lb. hard tail on 2.4" tires, but yes- it hurt.  The only real mistake I made during the event after that was convincing my teammate Brett to go out for another lap or two before calling it quits.  He was at 16 laps and sounded kind of iffy about it.  Nonetheless, it game me the motivation to stick it out until the end- I figured if I could get 16 in, I could at least match Brett. 16 laps- almost 90 miles, with 35 minutes left to spare- not quite enough time for me to get a last lap in. My little pep talk worked though, he snuck out for a 17th lap.

In retrospect- that was a fun event. Lots more variables to contend with than your usual 3 hour race.  And dealing with the unknown is what makes mountain bike racing fun for me.  Next year, they're going to a 24 hour format.   An extra 12 hours to make bad decisions, I'll be back.     

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