Sunday, August 5, 2007
A Personal Race Recap of the National 24 Hours Championships
Lamentations, juxtapositions, but ultimately hard-won jubilations:
A Personal Race Recap of the National 24 Hour Championship @ 9 Mile
Part I: A futile act?
…fu·til·i·ty (fyōō-til'i-tē) n. pl. fu·til·i·ties
1. The quality of having no useful result; uselessness. 2. Lack of importance or purpose; frivolousness. A futile act. [Source: Charlie’s old college Webster’s Dictionary]
With The War on Terror, global-warming, overpopulation, Paris Hilton’s legal problems and a myriad of other pressing issues facing us earthlings, for a guy like me to train long hours and spend lots & lots of money to race a mountain bike for 24 hours may seem rather outlandish or excessively obscure or maybe even somewhat crazy, but NOT futile. Futile is the worst. Futile means that it don’t mean nothing. In other words, futile means “in vain” or “valueless” and for those of us that love the sport of bike racing any time one can line up against the best in the nation and have a brief shinning moment [right before the gun goes off] to pretend that he or she has a chance against the likes of Chris Eatough and Nate Ross or Pua Sawicki and Rebecca Rusch , the experience is the antithesis of futility. Quixotic perhaps, but such is the opportunity of the most fanciful of dreamers. Can you imagine any other sport where an old guy from Duluth can line up right next to some really top notch professional athletes and do the race thing?
Reality…Fast forward about seventeen hours…Itz approximately 3 a.m. on Sunday, somewhere along the course on Lap #13 or #14, I am curled up in the fetal position along the course-a pitifully defeated shell of a man. A few minutes before I had taken yet another fall, but itz not the sudden impact with the ground that has damaged me. I am use to falling, itz what I do, itz a strength of mine, in fact I am an expert at falling off my bike. Itz the terrible discovery that I make upon hitting the floor that causes me to stay down and curl up…The Velcro-wrap that contains the timing chip is missing from my left ankle. The revelation hits me like a ton of bricks.
Several hours before at the primo TEAM SKI HUT pit area, just as I embarked on lap #11 or #12, I had taken a moment to change socks in an effort to bring some semblance of respite to my burning feet.... Laying there in the grass and dirt, I realize that in an apparent state of hallucinatory fatigue coupled with my haste to “keep it going Baby“,those hours ago, I had forgot to re-attach the computer thingy to my ankle during that sock change…As I now lay on the trail, my harried mind picturing that ingrate computer-chip thingy laying peacefully along side the rest of the coolers and support gear, I am struck by the sheer futility of it all…My demented brain sees the Brutus-like computer-chip thingy in peaceful repose during the last three laps while I was doing battle with both real and perceived demons. Oh the betrayal, the horror, the absurdity of man’s existence, THE MARCH OF FOLLY!!! …The grim revelation was crystal clear: essentially the last three or four hours of hard-core night racing had all been an excruciating exercise in FUTILITY!!!! For without the computer chip it was all in vain. I groveled in self-pity for a few minutes totally absorbed in the acrimony of the moment. Finally, it occurred to me that I should at least move my sorry-self to some place off the trail to avoid getting smoked by another rider. So I stood up and walked down off the single-track and onto a cross-country ski trail where in dramatic fashion I raised my arms to the moon and cursed loudly… Then I noticed a bike laying on the trail not far from my own. “Thatz odd,” I thought out loud, and then inexplicably a female voice sez, “Hey how ya doing?” I look around, but I don’t see anybody. “Down here, taking a break.” There on the grass laying on her stomach was a cute young woman. I say, “that’s a good idea.” She shakes her head in agreement. I sit down next to her and start to rant and rave on and on about my computer-chip thingy being back at the support area and about the futility of man’s [and woman’s] existence and about the march of folly, etc., etc., and she sez pleasantly, “Well I better be going…” And with that she hurriedly gets up and rides away leaving me there to ponder my own demise. [Note: I later learned that her name was Danielle Musto and that she was a pro and had ultimately finished in 3rd place, so it goes...I'd like to think that I had something to do with her outstanding effort, in a weird creepy kind of way]
In any event, I’m like, “get a hold of yourself man!" as I jump back on my bike and ride on formulating a plan that involves getting back to the pit area, waking up Rosscoe and begging him to go see if he can clear up the computer-chip thingy mess for me with the race directors. I start to feel like there is hope and the bike begins to pedal easier and I start to feel like maybe itz not all just an exercise in folly…
Part II: Roscoe & Ekimov: a case involving an ironic juxtaposition?
jux·ta·po·si·tion /ən/ -[juhk-stuh-puh-zish-uhn] –noun
1. an act or instance of placing close together or side by side, esp. for comparison or contrast. 2. the state of being close together or side by side. [Source: Charlie’s old college Webster’s Dictionary]
In Part I, we learn how dementia exacerbated by the onset of fatigue manifests itself in causing the writer to leave behind his vital computer chip thingy on lap #11 or #12. We also learn of the immaturity and tantrum-throwing exploits that the writer resorts to when he discoveries the screw-up several hours [and laps] later. Upon recognition of this major mess, the writer rants and raves about the futility and absurdity of our existence, scares off a talented young female racer and yet ultimately gets back on the bike and pedals on into the darkness…in quest of his self-wrought destiny. But before the narrative continues forward, lets take a step backward and contemplate how this aging desperate amateur bike racer came to such a funk.
The early morning of the start of the race brought forth a grand sunrise with the eternal promise of optimism and hope. Entombed in my trusty Bibler Alpine tent, I was surrounding by friends and like minded-people [people that agonize over buying a lawn mower, but think nothing of spending well over $500 for a good wheel-set]; such moments are what gives us the spice of life! I was far too excited and fired-up to sleep in, so I jumped up and out of the tent and headed over on my trusty Gunnar to the coffee trailer, where I was treated to an excellent dark roasted brew. All about were friends and acquaintances that I have raced with over the last decade or so…we joked, compared bikes and in general enjoyed that special hard-to-describe energetic anticipatory period that exists just before one goes for a big climb or a big race. Once back at the camp/pit area, Rosscoe, Mike, Michelle, Amy & Eki, Dave, and our neighbors were all busily putting the final touches on the prelude to the race.
Now a man needs a plan and I had one. It was based on the simple premise that Tim Ek [Eki] would win the 12 hour event and in doing so he would, by pulling me along, put me at the half-way point in a great position to vie for a top ten finish in the National Championship 24 hour event. In this rosy best case scenario, I would assist Eki in the first couple of laps allowing him to create a lengthy gap on Eric Peterson. Eric is a local guy endowed with an amicable character along with a tough-as-nails resolve. He had won the 12 hour event the last three years and I knew he wanted another win. Last year, he and I had battled for the whole twelve hours. Accordingly, the initial lap went exactly as planned. I went out pretty fast, with Eki in tow. The second, third, and fourth laps were perfect with Eki and I leading and pulling at regular intervals, and we took very quick efficient breaks at the Team Ski Hut pit stop. Any experienced rider will tell you that riding together as team is very advantageous both physically and psychologically, especially in long distance events.
So it was as we were three-fourths through the fifth lap [or about six hours into it]. I was pumped for Eki as it seemed from what we could ascertain Eric was way back and that barring any mechanical problems, Eki was gonna win. With this pleasant notion in mind, I had started to do my draft thing, purposefully letting Eki do much of the work up front figuring he was over halfway home while I was still looking at a long long night. During this time we were treated to opportunities of riding with among many others; David Meyer, a talented youth from the Hudson, Wisconsin area with tremendous potential, Scott Cole, the wily tough endurance veteran with the heart of gold, and Paddy Humenny who is a master at riding single speeds and one of the inspirational leaders of a very cool group of cyclists from Winnipeg, including Dallas Sigurdur. In any event, these guyz would come and go, but Eki and I stayed together, if one of us crashed the other would slow down and wait for the other to catch up. I was feeling pretty good with the exception of very sore feet [I knew this would pass], a slightly tumultuous stomach [nothing a few Tums wouldn’t solve], and the scourge of the rigid fork, a worrisome continual digression regarding my hands [which I knew could very well prove to be my demise]. My mind, as it often does, started to drift; I envisioned Eki winning the 12 hour event and in his Team Ski Hut race recap offering me tons of kudos, “I couldn‘t have done it without the old man‘s help.” Fancifully, I saw myself standing on the podium for the National 24 Hours may be like in sixth place…I was, of course, modest in my miraculous achievement thanking all the little people, “I would like to thank all the little people, too numerous to mention, this too is their victory, and so on & so on.”…So there I was riding along, livin’ the dream, smiling and commending myself for such a bold and successful plan when suddenly out of nowhere the youthful Rosscoe, my other teammate from Ski Hut, came blasting up from behind. The youth had been biding his time riding a smart race and with 5 hours to go he was making his move. I was somewhat surprised, while Eki was to put it mildly “disconcerted!”
Young Ross Fraboni, the son I never had, a very talented up and coming mtb racer had been sort of in a state of limbo for the last two seasons as he was finishing up his college degree, but now he had apparently found his form and he was riding with vindication. This new dynamic threw a wrench into my plan of having Eki maintain a nice pace for the remainder of the first half of my race. More importantly to Eki, it meant that the race was on and that the win would cost much more than he had bargained for. The whole scene was that of a classic juxtaposition…The new youthful rider with something to prove versus the tough minded Eki, almost grim with determination. Youth & finesse compared to brawn & mule-like stubbornness. I could see right away that this was a battle for which I had no role, purpose, or benefit. So without remorse, only gratitude and best wishes for both of my teammates, I paternally cut them loose to wage war against one another and took up the task of dealing with my own pressing circumstances, the main one being the rapid devolution of my upper extremities from 21st century hands to unwieldy prehistoric claws [Note for entertaining recaps by both riders on the ensuring battle go to the Team Ski Hut website- http://www.teamskihut.com/] .
As alluded above, my hands were getting worse with each lap. My left hand was now malfunctioning to the extent that other than the basic function of holding on, it was essential useless [even now a week later, my hands and feet are still sore]. My left hand could not muster the dexterity or strength to shift gears and it would just barely allow the use of the brake lever, so to adapt I was forced to ride the rest of the race in my middle-chain ring relying completely on my right hand to shift the rear cassette and to do the majority of the braking. In an effort the give my hands a break, on the ninth lap I jumped off the Gunnar with instructions to Mike Haag, my savior, to see if he could readjust some extra-padding I had taped onto the handlebar grips. Leaving behind my trusty Gunnar, I jumped on Mike‘s 2007 Sexy-black brand new Stumpy carbon HT equipped with a plush FOX front shock [see above pic of author on the ill-fitted Stumpy]. Mike’s bike is super twitchy fast, but its too small for me and while it clearly helped reinvigorate my hands I felt ill at ease on it and so about midway through the lap, I resolved to switch back to the Gunnar. On lap #10, back on the Gunnar, my hands showed their true traitorous colors by cramping up into weird rigid contortions, my hands were indeed proving to be the Achilles’ Heel of my goals and aspirations. As such, the pain and loss of function in my hands became almost unbearable on the tenth lap to the extent that I knew my only salvation lay in the generosity of Mike Haag and his willingness to allow me to ride his Stumpy. I came in HOT and crazy on the 11th lap with the plan being to jump on Mike’s bike and to get out of the pit area and back on course fast…I am pretty sure this was the lap that I switched socks and subsequently left off the computer chip. I do clearly remember that upon making the switch of bikes, I came to the realization that Mike’s bike was not set-up to affix my bright, albeit heavy light to the handlebars. Rather than take the time to switch over the light-attachment-thingy that was needed to fasten the light to the bars, I slapped the light onto my helmet and took off. Quickly it became obvious that the light was too heavy and bulky to have hanging off the front of my helmet as with every little bump in the road, the now top heavy helmet would fall down over my eyes. In hindsight this new problem was probably a good thing as it called attention away from other more pressing problems like the onset of super fatigue and the failure of my once proud hands and feet. So with the helmet obscuring my vision both literally and metaphorically, I rode on into the long forlorn night [unknowingly sans computer chip]…
Part III: The Dawn of a gloriously new day coupled with inspirational words from The Wizened One brings jubilation.
–noun 1. a feeling of or the expression of joy or exultation: Their jubilation subsided when they lost the second game. 2. a joyful or festive celebration. [Source: Charlie’s old college Webster’s Dictionary]
In Part I, we learn that the writer inadvertently leaves his timing chip at the pit area…he is inconsolable and turns to the Dark Side. In Part II, we see the initially confident amateur begin to falter badly. His plan of riding in the streamline of the stalwart Eki crumbles with the arrival of the youthful Rosscoe, the once trusty Gunnar 29er has left his hands in shambles, and in terms of energy- he’s running on empty. Now in Part III, we found out how it all plays out.
As stated earlier in the narrative, the author’s revelation of leaving the timing chip back at the pit area shakes him to the very core of his existence. Upon learning of this huge mistake, the frantic and chaotic ride back to the pit is a cacophony of negativity manifesting in multiple crashes, loud cursing, and self-loathing. Finally early early morning [probably around 4:00 am] the weary, almost defeated, rider pulls into the pit area, he is said to have called out in a desperate mourn, “Rosscoe I NEED YOU.” Thankfully the youthful newly crowned Champion of the 12 Hours @ 9 Mile [i.e. Ross Fraboni] hears the doleful cry and comes to assistance. “Rosscoe, you have to go to the race officials….You must make them understand….The Horror…the Horror!” Rosscoe, taking on the role of mature adult queries, “What the hell are you talking about?” The mindless one responds, “Rosscoe, look on the blue ground-cloth for there lies the computer-chip-thingy!” Apparently, Ross understands the significance of the computer-chip-thingy not being affixed to the raving maniac’s left ankle and with a calming voice declares, “Charlie, put that damned thing back on your ankle and don’t worry about it, I’ll go over there and talk with the race officials. You focus on the riding and I’ll talk with you again at the end of the next lap.” Tenuously, I nodded in agreement, put the damned thing back on my ankle, grabbed a couple of water bottles, ate a handful of ibupropren, Tums, and electrolyte pills and with a wobble or two headed off for lap #13 or #14...
Now itz important to note that our Team Ski Hut pit area was situated at the very end of the course…so upon leaving the pit I had to ride a few more minutes in order to cross the official start area. In my infinite wisdom, I decided that I wouldn’t tell them the truth about forgetting the computer chip for the last six+ hours, instead I reasoned that I would ask a couple of hypothetical questions to get a sense of whether or not there was any hope that they had some kind of a backup system in place for idiots, like me…So as I cross the start/finish platform area, I stop and say something stupid like, “Hey uh what would happen if a guy rode this race without a computer-chip-thingy?” The guy looks at me kinda funny and sez, “That wouldn’t be too smart, now would it?” His response buoyed my negativity and remorse. I felt the weight of the world’s problems as I pushed on thru and onto yet another lap of hopeless despair. Half of me wanted to quit, but the other half convinced the pessimistic half to get through one more lap just on the off chance that Rosscoe would have some good news to share. The lap consisted of more of the same; lots of crashes, dramatic cursing, and self-loathing combined with lots of walking breaks…In the lexicon of Rocky, I had lost “the eye of the tiger!” Finally, after what seemed like eternity I came once more onto the Team Ski Hut pit area. There Rosscoe enthusiastically informed me that all was well with the race officials. With Rosscoe’s prodding the race guyz had discovered the discrepancy between the computer operated timing and the hand entered timing. The computer chip showed that I was on lap #11 with a six hour plus lap #10, while the hand-entered option showed that I was on lap #13. To be honest, I think they may have missed a lap, but so it goes. In any event, the news bolstered my fragile ego and I resolved to continue for at least one more lap. The sun was coming up and the world once again began to appear benevolently regal, even magnanimous.
Therefore as I began my official lap #14 [I think it was lap #15] Dan Meyer [Dave‘s father], a classy racing veteran that continues to ride very fast, waved me over and offered some reassuring words…and with that I was off with the wind in my hair and a smile on my face, humming BORN FREE as free as the grass grows...born free to fall on my……ultimately I would ride two more laps for an official total of 15 laps earning a 12th place finish or only 10 spots down from Nat Ross or 11 spots down from Chris Eatough…so it goes…..not bad for the consummate amateur!
Postscript: The ride home alone.....well thatz another story of degeneration, fear and loathing! Many thanks to Mike Haag for his generosity in loaning me his new bike. Kudos to Don G from the US Navy, Dave Simmons and Rick Mangan both from North Dakota, Michelle and Mike Haag, David Meyers, Doug Swanson, Dave Pramann, Jan Rybar, Gregg Pattison, the Moore Brothers, Chris Fisher, Dave Shuenamen, Tim Ek and his lovely wife, Amy, Jerry D & Ron S [National Duo Champs!]....Special thanks to Scotty & Sara Kylander-Johnson and Mike Bushey for supplying batteries, and thanks to a bunch of other guyz and gals for outstanding and/or supportive efforts…A special thanks to J. Ross Fraboni for getting to the course on Thursday and claiming a great support area and of course for all his support during my so-called race effort!!!
Epilogue: Musings on what to do next year:
*Have the pit area better organized; perhaps by utilizing bins in which each item or related item is easily spotted and accessed. Digging through a big cardboard box at 3:00 a.m. does not work…
*Manage the liquid intake in a more forthright manner…I suspect that I was taking in way too much in the way of fluids.
*Do not race this event without a new pair of well fitted cycling shoes [Sidi would be best].
*Do not attempt this race next year on a fully rigid bicycle.
*The buffalo sticks are a top-notch food source
*Next year have super cold Boost/Slim Fast/or the like for the late night breaks
*Next time bring a revolver, one bullet, and a pack of non-filtered cigs...just in case I leave my computer thingy at the pit stop again!