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Epic 24hr Old Pueblo Mountain Bike Race in Tucson

This weekend, I rode in the Kona Epic 24hr Old Pueblo mountain bike race in Tucson. Chris, who I work with at Target, rode in it the last couple years and invited me to ride on his team this year. We were a team of four riding it as a relay team handing off a baton after riding each lap of the 16 mile course for the entire 24hrs. Anne and I drove out with Chris (and Astro/Orion) getting there Friday night before the race, getting there just after dark.
The course is just north of Tucson on the south face of the Tortilita Mountains. There is a “24hr Town” set up at the start/finish line where everyone was camping and vendors had tents set up. I was surprised to see how many people were there - my guess is around 300 RVs/trailers, maybe more and over 3,000 racers. The weather couldn’t have been better - 70’s for the high and 40’s at night with clear and sunny skies. It had just rained a few days earlier so the trails were in great shape and the dust was down. Each lap starts and ends inside a big tent where the baton hand off takes place as a rider comes through the finish line and into the tent, a race official calls out the team number signaling the next rider to come into the tent, take the baton, and run out the other side (start side) to grab their bike and head out. The team with the most laps after 24hrs was the winner. The race started at 12pm on Saturday and ended at 12pm on Sunday. The race started with the first rider from each team running a 500 year foot race down a dirt road to their bike. Adam was our first rider, followed by me, Chris, and then Dave.

LAP 1: start at 1:13pm end at 2:43pm   Here we go!
Adam came into the tent at a pretty quick time of 1hr 13min. The official was calling out numbers quickly and I don’t know if I was just too excited and didn’t hear ours, or if the official didn’t call it but I did hear Adam calling my name and when I saw him, I grabbed the baton and ran out of the tent to my bike where I found Anne holding it for me, ready to go. I took off down the course, riding as fast as I could but kind of freaking out because this was the first time I’ve ever been in a bike race and the first time I had ever ridden this trail! The course started off as a single track trail with some quick turns here and there that eventually opened up into a 4wd road, but shortly after starting, I noticed a rubbing sound coming from my back hydraulic disc brake which I could tell was slightly dragging. I had no idea how this could have happened as I tuned my bike up just before the race and the problem wasn’t there. Hoping it would go away, I kept riding on to the next part of the trail called “the Bitches”, a series 6 of steep climbs followed by downhills. It was here that I realized how many good riders there were in the race - I’ve always considered myself a pretty strong climber, but there were some guys passing me like I was standing still! As I got to the top of the last Bitch, I had to stop to see what was going on with my back brake. I jumped off my bike and spun my back wheel but couldn’t get it to rub and couldn’t figure out what the problem was so I got back on and started riding. The damn noise and rubbing started again. Oh well, I figured there was no fixing it on the trail and I’d just have to finish this lap then figure it out. The trail changed back to single track going south, then east winding around prickly pear and cholla cactus patches and bobbing in and out of desert washes. At several points along the way, the trail would be following along the top edge of a wash making abrupt turns which if you weren’t ready for them, you could fly right over the edge and down into the wash. This was making me nervous as I wanted to go faster but really didn’t want to get hurt or crash into a cactus along the way. I was happy to see that several points along the way there were volunteers who were ready to help in the event something bad happened. As the course go to the furthest point east and south, the trail turned north heading slowly up hill and around mile 11, I started to notice I was getting tired, but I was exctied at the same time as I only had 5 more miles to go. The last couple miles climbed up a windy trail and behind a small mountain, cresting the top of the valley pass for the last mile to the finish line that was a quick downhill ride. Getting closer to the finish line, the course rode right past and literally through some people’s camps which added a little confusion for my first time down the course. Just short of the finish line, the trail splits with two options: left being shorter going up, and through a big rock pile with a quick drop down the rock face (maybe 15 feet high) OR right being a little longer and much less technical both meeting back up just before the finish. I went left, up and over the rock pile (see the video) and cruised into the finish line tent, tired and relieved that I finished this lap of the course without getting hurt but excited after my first lap! I handed the baton off to Chris who was waiting in the tent and off he went leaving me almost a 4 hour break to rest, eat, and fix my bike (which ended up being the hydraulic fluid was low).

LAP 2: started at 6:41pm ended at 8:26pm    #2 I can do it!
I was in the tent waiting for Adam to come in about 10 min early. Surprisingly, there were some riders who came in and their team mate was no where to be found, man what a pisser to have just ridden a lap and lose time due to no one there to take the next lap! The solo riders (riding the entire race by themselves) were amazing, something I probably could never do - but man did all of them have some great attitudes! As Adam came into the tent, I was waiting to take the baton and headed out for lap # 2. It started up just at the end of sunset but the darkness was not a problem because I had a really bright NiteRider lamp mounted on my handlebars and a smaller one mounted on my helmet. Even though it was dark, I felt much more comfortable on this lap than #1 since I had been around the course once before. Now that I wasn’t having that brake problem, I was feeling much better and actually enjoyed riding in the dark. Getting futrher out in the course, it started to get errie since it was new moon (so really dark, night picture by JoeyDurango) and you’d come around a sharp turn to find yourself face on with a big cactus to weave around. About halfway through (8-9 miles), I could start to tell that I didn’t eat enough calories during my break and started to bonk - not real bad, but just noticeable. The weather was still pretty warm and the entire ride was pretty enjoyable. Just about two miles from the finish line, I came across another rider who’s headlight had died and he asked if he could follow me to use my light. He jumped right in behind me and rode my ass for the last two miles as we cruised into the finish line and I handed the baton off to Chris for a second time. Anne met me at the finish line and before we walked back to our camp, we stopped by the NiteRider trailer (the company that made my headlamps) where I was able to drop off my batteries to have them charged for free during my break. COOL! This time, I was sure to get enough food, eating a Mountain House dehydrated meal then getting into my tent to get a couple hours of sleep.
LAP 3: started at 1am ended at 3am  Oh, not again!
It was good to get a little sleep, but hard to really rest as you don’t want to oversleep and be the A-hole who isn’t there waiting for your teammate to cross the finish line and take the baton. I stopped by the NiteRider trailer and picked up my fully charged batteries (AWESOME), then on to meet Adam as he crossed the finish line. As I ran out of the tent, Anne was happily there again to hand me my bike (at 1am remember!) and I was off! This one was a little tougher to get going in the middle of the night, but by the first mile, it really wasn’t that bad. As I headed up the Bitches for the third time I was feeling pretty good and was making pretty good time. Then around mile 6, some guy tried to pass me on an area of the trail that was too narrow and he changed his mind at the last second, cutting back in and clipping my back tire in the process which sent me skidding off the trail and down a drop off into a prickly pear cactus the size of a small sofa!!! My front tire slammed into the cactus and I went over the handlebars - I don’t know how I got my feet off the pedals and over the handlebars but it was like I hurdled my bike preventing myself from going face first into the cactus but rather I sat right into it. Standing up, my ass and back of my legs were full of cactus spines. Realizing I was unhurt, I pulled out the biggest bunches of needles and jumped back on my bike to ride again. I didn’t get far before I heard my front tire HISSSSSSS and went flat - damn! I got off my bike again and started to change my tire in the dark. It was now that I realized how dark it was, around 2am and hearing the coyotes yelping near by. I also started to realize how many little cactus needles I had stuck in me. There was no getting them out and once I got my tire changed, I had to finish the last 10 miles with the spines pushing their way in further and deeper with each pedal stroke. This made the last few miles almost unbearable and I was really happy to cruise across the finish line and luckily my tires held for the lap. Anne was waiting for me (really happy to see her!) and we walked back to camp. Getting to the light, I could see the entire back of my left leg and and my ass were filled with cactus spines. I spent the next 45min (3:30am now!) bending over so Anne could pull each one out (there had to be more than a hundred!) with a pair of tweezers. All I wanted to do was go to sleep, man that was tough. Looking out into the desert, you could see all the riders with the headlamps cruising along the course way out there. I was happy to be done.
LAP 4: started at 7:40am ended at 9:28am  LAST LAP!!!
I woke up feeling energized because the sun was up and knowing it was my last lap of the race. I ate a couple PopTarts and grabbed my bike to head to the starting line, then realizing that my front tire was flat again. I pumped it up thinking that the Slime in the tube would seal the puncture(s) and grabbed a spare tube from Chris’s toolbox in the back of the Hummer then walked down to the starting line. Getting there, my tire was flat again, so I had to replace it before Adam got there. I pulled the tire and tube out and started to put in the replacement when I realized that the tube I grabbed from Chris had the wrong valve type for my rims. SHIT!, I had to run back to camp and grad a new tube with the right valve, and get back to change my tire before it was my turn. Luckily I made it just in time, grabbed the baton from Adam and headed out for my last lap. This lap went smooth and seemed to go by quickly with no wipe outs or close encounters with cacti. I cruised into the finish line, handed the baton to Chris for the last time and happily headed out of the tent. Overall, our team came in 63rd out of 139 teams but considering that there were many teams that were probably either professional, or really experienced racers, I thought we did well considering we were mostly injury free. It was a really good time and I was happy to have ridden in it with a great team!


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