The wee morning hours of camp:
Tom checked in after 2 more solid laps hovering in the 50 minute range. He mentioned the 2nd lap being pretty tough on the legs and he was ready for some rest. As I sped off into the darkness, I reminded myself that I needed to pace just a bit to make sure I wasn't playing damage control on lap 2. The 4th lap was pretty uneventful with few people out on the trail and everyone I came upon graciously pulling off to the side as I zipped by. At this point I really couldn't tell the difference between teams and solo racers. I was feeling ok by this point, but even that was enough zip to put a pretty big difference in my pace and those I was passing. My mantra was to take it fast, but safe, and make sure I didn't get passed. I did have my single fall of the event on one of these laps. Coming into the 180 downhill switchback known as "187" I made the turn, but slowed enough that I basically came to a stop with my tire switched up. Over I went toppling into the center of the trail. I was right back up and brushing myself off with only a few seconds lost, but it was enough to reinforce the fact that this trail can bite you anywhere and anytime it wants. My first of the double laps went by in a respectable 45:50 which was still just 3 minutes off my best day lap.
Along in lap 2 (I think) I came across the sight of Charlie Farrow standing with another gentleman at the back end of the big G-drop. They were well above the lower turn off line that has been burned in this year. It appeared they were stopped and engaging in a conversation of sorts. Later, I found out the Charlie had actually been stopped and napping at that same location. As this lap wore on, my legs began to rebel from the effort and I could feel the faint tinges of cramps coming on. I'd been smart every lap and made sure to hydrate whenever the trail flattened out or become non-technical enough that I could steal a drink. Fortified with Accelerade and a shot of elite in each bottle, I managed to keep the cramps at bay, but I knew the wolves were starting to circle. My second lap suffered a bit from going back to back, but I still squeaked a 47:40 which was to be my slowest lap of the race.
During these laps, it must be noted that the fog setting in the valley aka campground, was absolutely shrouding everything. As I descended to the grass switchbacks before the timing stand, I could scarcely see more than a few feet in front of me as my lights would bounce off the near rain cloud we were enveloped in. I sprinted through the time station for my second lap and went to hand the reigns back to Jason for his turn at the wheel. I wasn't quite sure that the timers had my number and check in info right, so I went to double check and was relieved to find out all was good. As a side note to any aspiring racers, if there's ever a doubt on whether or not you've been scored for a lap, always double check as it is the racers responsibility to make sure they're counted correctly. I know one solo entrant rode by Sunday morning and was lamenting that he was missing a lap at scoring and wasn't sure they were going to give it back to him.
I was a bit wound up after my laps even though my body was tired. I knew I needed some fuel and rest. I was also worried about someone possibly missing their rotation and also to see if my laps had helped to work our lead back out to any safer margin. I ended up snacking on a few things, and dragging a chair up next to the fire. I spent the next hour or two in a mental fog as I rested by the fire and tried to keep track of Jason's laps and when Nate might need to be up. Our lead was back on the rise as we kept the burn up on our laps. By this time we'd gained back to over 20 minutes, but we were still a single mechanical from falling right back into the other teams clutches.
At the prescribed time I roused Nate from his sleep. I was making sure we weren't going to lose any time from a slow transition. The handoff occurred and I was back to resting in the chair. I'm dreaming of my next couple laps and figured that I would be racing in the light for both of them. As the clock wound closer to my lift off, I realized I would again be riding at least in partial darkness and fog. I wasn't quite enthusiastic about this prospect, but I figured to make the most of it. As Tom rolled in from his lap for the handoff, I headed off for my 6th lap. The fog was still blanketing the valley and though you could see the sun tinting the edges of the sky, it was still dark.
I rolled through the first section of the course trying to get my legs back under me. This scene tended to repeat itself with each passing lap. My legs would protest against the effort required to hump the bike up the first set of switchbacks before they'd get some respite on the downhill. About 5-10 minutes into the lap, they'd wake up and realize I was serious about keeping them moving along. The one major climb up to the top of the powerline by Dead Mans Curve was going to be the challenge again. The baby ring was the gear of choice up front as I didn't have the power to maintain my standing pedal stroke in the middle ring on this section of steep climb any longer. As I started the climb, I again found Charlie napping by the side of the trail. All was still well in his world as I checked in on my way by.
Aside from the increasing light bringing some renewed energy to my legs, the lap was seemingly like most of the others. As I neared the end, I caught sight of Keith riding just ahead on the trail. I put a goal in my head of catching him by the time we got to the check in station. There's nothing quite like a rabbit to catch to motivate tired legs. Off I went and started the chase. Finally catching him as we came across the pond dam and headed back down to the bottom of the hill, I sat on his wheel as we came through to the check in. I turned another respectable lap at 46:24. Nate seemed pretty amazed that I was still running that fast with half my lap in the dark.
Counting down until the final lap:
I felt like a well done roast after that lap. I was stringy, tough, and probably not very tasty. However, the sun was up, people were starting to rouse from their slumber, and I decided to just stay up for my next lap. As you can see below, I was starting to feel my oats a bit by now.
I went to check on the other teams that were still doing laps. By our calculations we were sitting a shade over 30 minutes up on 2nd place at this point with 24 laps in the books. We knew that without a full lap up, we'd have trouble convincing any of the teams to agree to a truce, so we kept the pressure on full bore. Jason, then Nate, and Tom all headed out for there next rounds as I sat and waited. I nibbled on a little food and drink trying to keep myself in shape for one more round. However, it was mostly the thought of only one more trip around the trail that had me pumped. By the time Tom rolled in for the exchange I was ready to pour out all I had left on that lap and leave nothing in the tank. I knew that no matter what, unless we drew straws for another round, I would be done with 7 laps as there wasn't enough time to go through another full rotation.
Off for the final lap:
As I hit the lap, fatigue was getting me on the hills. I kept the pressure on the pedals as high as I could stand it and powered through. My lines started getting a little sloppy and I had to do a few mental slaps to the face to clear the fog out of my brain. I don't remember much of the final lap beyond making sure I continually felt like I didn't have any more left to give at any point on the course. I felt like I was rolling pretty well and a quick check of my computer as I rounded the campground area confirmed I was still rolling decently. I floored it through the final upper sections and let it rip without caution on the downhills. As I powered my way through, I saw a few more people out hiking the trails to catch glimpses and shots of us crazies still out riding.
Keep your focus, no getting snake bit this far in:
Last lap is hurting:
Smile for the camera, you're almost done:
Finally, I was done. The timer stand loomed large as I worked through the grass switchbacks for a final time. I sprinted through and handed over to Jason with a well deserved 44:54 lap time. Still being able to rip out a sub 45 minute lap felt good, but I also knew I was done unless catastrophe struck. My body and legs were done. I needed to be off the bike and just chill for a bit. Before that could be done, I needed to find out how long we still needed to race. I wanted to check on a rule with Ron about the overall placing. It would seem that while each team (2, 3, or 4 man) race against each other for class ranking, the overall is open to any number team. Being that we were shooting for overall and there were some strong 3 man teams in the race, I had to make sure we could call it done soon.
I sought out the 4 man Peoria team first. They were packing it up and calling it a day. There had been discussion about chasing us for another lap, but when they saw Jason shoot off looking fresh for a 29th lap, they knew that there really wasn't much chance left to catch us barring some major malfunction as we had edged close to 40 minutes up by this point. They conceded and we congratulated each other on pushing a great race pace for the full 24 hours. My plan was to only have Nate go off on a lap if I thought we really needed it. I had to find the single 3 man team that we hadn't lapped as of 7 am and find out for sure they were done racing as the scorers didn't have anything listed for them beyond that lap. I tracked them down and indeed they were back out for a lap, but had planned on quiting at 7 until they got wind of the 2nd place 3 man team (Keith's team) continuing on with laps and wanted only to cement their win in the 3 man category.
Before I could get back to tell the guys we were indeed done, Nate shot out for what I like to think of as a victory lap. We firmly stamped the Rassy name on this year's 24 hour race with a total of 30 laps completed before noon. For a 4th year in a row, we had secured the top overall position for the shop! I think we were all pretty happy to be done and felt a bit of euphoria creeping in as we began the task of packing and waiting for the final results.
A happy group of winners (from l to r- Tom, Jason, me, and Nate):
With the winners check firmly in hand, our weekend was over. I headed the truck back south as the other guys worked their way home. Tired, sore, and happy, it was definitely an experience to remember and one I'll be taking part of again.