Thursday, February 26, 2015

RACE REPORT: 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo with Wolf Pack Cycling

It has been over a week since I rolled through the exchange tent for the last time at the 2015 #24HOP. And yet, every morning, I’m still blowing desert out of my nose, and coughing it out of my lungs.

A small price to pay if you ask me.

With the cost of admission, you get Arizona sunsets and sunrises, the warmth of the mountain biking community, singletrack galore on the famous course, drum circles, beer gardens, The Whisky Tree, the camaraderie of your team, and as much cholla as you, um, want.

Thanks go out to Dee who first alerted me to the idea – I hadn’t heard of the event before, but now that it’s behind me, I know I’ll never forget it. Sort of a mini Burning Man meets Mountain Bike Race, all orchestrated by the fine people of Epic Rides (who you may know from such events as the Whisky 50 or the Grand Junction Off Road).

I was very happy that the four strangers Dee put me in touch with turned out to be an awesome group of dudes, racing for Wolf Pack Cycling. For this weekend, they let a Ninja tag along, and it was truly Epic, just as advertised!

Wolf Pack + Ninja. Eric, Travis, Stan, Jimmy, and me.
So my biggest thanks go to these gentlemen—Travis, Stan, Eric, and Jimmy—for hammering out a stellar performance. We had consistent laps, we stuck to our order, helped each other stay focused and stoked, and it was all good enough to put us on the podium in third place.


A fly joins us on the Queen Mary's rearview camera
The adventure started early the Thursday before when I was introduced to our rolling palace, the Queen Mary (a.k.a. Travis’s luxurious RV). We had a mainly uneventful trip to the venue, with only a couple good blows climbing the mountains on the 8, and let’s not even get into the parking situation at 24 Hour Town. I’ll just say, 38’, pitch black, and not much room for maneuvering. Our apologies again to the cactus we smooshed. But huge kudos to Travis for wrangling all of this [while I cowered in the back].

Most amazing parking spot EVER.
When the sun rose in AZ glory the next morning, I couldn’t believe our spot. STEPS from the action. SECONDS from the exchange tent. What luck! Because lord knows we didn’t do it on purpose. We spent the day getting familiar with the layout of the temporary metropolis that was home to 4,000 people over the weekend before it changed back into its true form as a remote cattle ranch, a 25 minute, dusty drive from the nearest paved road. We spun a couple of laps to get acquainted with the course, and its “Seven Bitches”—a deceivingly difficult section punctuated with extremely high potential speeds over loose/rutted terrain, followed by punchy climbs. And repeat.


Sunset on our preride
The rest of the gang arrived that evening, and we took one last spin of the course together, enjoying those AZ sunsets before digging into a team dinner back on board the Queen Mary. We decided our race order, got to know one another, and snacked on Bliss and Baker’s delicious, custom, salted-caramel rice crispy treats. Then I got my brand spanking new super hero costume all laid out, and made plans to spend some time TLC-ing the bike with WD-40 Bike’s goodies both to help calm pre-race jitters and make sure my girl was absolutely ready to rip. Huge thanks to Eliel for the amazing kits in our respective versions. Wolf Pack’s looks ferocious, and my Ninja edition is actually the nicest kit I have seen or imagined. I love it.

Thank you WD-40!!
Later that evening, Regina and Vanessa, a.k.a. Team Va-Gina, stopped by to share in the pre-race excitement as the drum circle got going nearby. The sounds of celebrations continued long into the night, but I was passed out in queen-size glory, “roughing it” in the desert.


For the uninitiated, a 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race is exactly how it sounds, and yes, some people are nuts enough to do it solo. But for those of us slightly less masochistic, you can join a team. The object of the game is to see how many laps you can squeeze into a 24-hour period on the 17+ mile course.

The insanity in motion!!
Eric bravely volunteered to lead us out, including the #24HOP’s famous Le Mans-style start, featuring a [really long] run [if you’re wearing a helmet and MTB shoes]. He was a champ, got out in what we estimate was the top 20, and banged out one of the top lap times of the race. Our hero!

Stan was our “two-seat,” continuing our momentum. I was number three, passing the baton to Jimmy, who waved on Travis, rounding out a full rotation. By the time we all had a lap in, we were sitting pretty in fifth place, but only minutes out of fourth, which was separated from third by only 60 seconds. The Wolves were hungry.

Me and Jimmy between laps. Legs go up. GU goes down.
Through traffic, the constant threat of cholla cacti, headwinds, dust clouds, and fatigue, we battled. “I don’t know if I’ve got another one like that,” we all said after each and every lap. And then we went out and did it again anyway. I think our consistency was thanks to our dedication to good recovery and fueling, thanks to our shared sponsors at GU Energy Labs. It definitely helped us make our move. Because sometime in the three o’clock hour, I was roused from my light nap by Travis’s excited exclamation that we had slowly clawed our way up onto the podium.

When I woke up for my morning lap, I had to ask if it was real. I was so excited and proud of our team, I found the gas for my best lap time of the whole event. And I wasn’t the only one. Once we felt that momentum, there was no stopping us.

To seal the deal, we sent Stan out for the last lap of the race with just 10 minutes before the cut off. We followed him as a team, cheering him past the Whisky Tree, slapping his butt up the last climb, and screaming our heads off at the Rock Drop and home stretch.
All told, we completed 22 laps putting us at 11th place in the overall ranking, and 3rd in our category (5 person, coed, 200+). Check out our full results here. I was personally stoked to see that I had the 9th and 11th fastest female laps of the day, out of a total of 958 female laps. At night, I did a little better, claiming the 6th and 7th fastest female laps. I’ll dedicate those to the portable sunlight I was using, thanks to NiteRider.


Besides finishing with such an awesome result, there was a lot of amazing things to note about the event. First was the great support from local bike shops. Huge thanks to them because I think I wasn’t the only one who foolishly bent their derailleur right off the bat on one of the bike racks.

SRAM was also there and we had to make a few visits to their tent where they were super understanding and generous about equipment woes. Thanks to the support of 24 Hour Town, we were able to keep our mechanical troubles relegated to base camp, rather than out on course.

The Whisky Tree is also worth shouting out again. On our sunset pre-ride, we accidentally stumbled into a Drunk Cyclist(?) party that was just getting going. A gaggle of plaid shirts, beanies and MTB shorts blocked the remote section of trail. No one was allowed to pass without a drink or a solid heckling (“STRAVA!!”). With bottles tied to its branches—and the occasional creepy character waiting in the dark with additional bottles—you could be sure to get some refreshment if you wanted it every time you passed.

Minor cholla-related surgery for Eric.
One of the most famous features of the course are the thick cholla cacti everywhere. I couldn’t figure out why they included a comb in our swag bags. Then I became educated! From now on, I will carry my comb on every desert ride. It’s the only way to remove those prickles without subjecting yourself to further prickling. Just lift them off, and tweeze as necessary. I got surprised on a pass once and wound up punching a cholla pretty good. My wedding bands still don’t go on quite right due to swelling from what I suspect is one last stowaway. Do not underestimate the value of tweezers and combs in Tucson.

24 Hour Town was also an attraction in itself. Maxxis had a “tire toss” for fun and prizes. Camelbak had a “hot tub” that was creative, but a little scary if I’m being honest. There was coffee, beer, and BBQ so pretty much every need a cyclist has was met.

All in all it was a super fun event, reminding me of all the good times had back in Ontario at the Chico Racing 24s. Mountain biking is fun, and 24-Hour events do an awesome job of capturing some of the very best parts: light-hearted good times combined with lip-smacking competition, friends supporting/heckling each other, night riding, and any excuse to consume huge amounts of calories, all sorts. Will hope to be back again. 

Keep scrolling for a few more photos from the event! 

Hi from 24 Hour Town!

24 Hour Town in the other direction (taken from on top of the Queen Mary)...most hadn't even arrived yet!

our "Before" photo

If you look really close, you can see Eric on the move.
Old School Rocky Mountain spotted in the timing tent!

About to head out on Lap numero 1.

24 Hour Town Walrus

Alice the Camel[bak]

Wolf on the Rock Drop. Are you a biker? Or are you just a Belieber?

Live by the board.

Sunrise as I get ready for my final lap

Eric bringing it home just before cut off!
#ninjaspotting: Regina ... + silly string

Home Sweet Home. "Roughing it"

The proud and magnificent Queen Mary

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