Blistering Days and Freezing Nights in Moab What do you do for fun? When's the last time you spent more than a typical eight-hour workday at your favorite activity? When's the last time you did anything for 24 hours straight? Now bring this reality to the desert along with your mountain bike. Combine your freakiest friends and some food you think you can keep down, and process while still spinning in the saddle, and you might get a hint of what went on in Moab this weekend.
These are the factors that kept me baffled as I witnessed another 24 Hours of Moab race unfold. With blistering desert days, with no shade in sight, and near freezing temperatures at night, this course transforms under nightfall to something almost unrecognizable.
The brutal reality of riding from noon 'til noon is, even as a witness, hard to comprehend. But wait, there's more! It's actually 25 hours because you can check in five minutes before noon and go out for one last burning 14-mile lap! Each one complete with technical, petrified sand dunes, ever-present Navajo sandstone dust clogging your lungs, eyes and nose, and, of course, the fun-loving, bottomless beach sand that turns your wheels without warning!
This year's race was a heroic battle with the usual soloists taking the spotlight and why shouldn't they inspiring the 350 teams of two-to-five freaks each. They all transformed this barren place, Behind the Rocks, just south of Moab, Utah, into some sort of Grateful Dead-circus-meets-a-never-ending-all-night- mountain-bike-fiesta. Carumba!
Nat Ross, who had spanked out several insanely fast laps off the start (1:13; 1:14), managed to hold onto second place only a minute off the leader. Last year's winner, Rishi Grewal, retired this summer after claiming the World Solo title in Canmore and then iced his status with a win the following weekend at Montezuma's Revenge.
Last year's runner-up, John "Stamina" Stamstad, had trouble keeping his food down during the night and several times lost valuable time dispelling his unprocessed grub courseside. Come sunrise he was back on his French toast, Red Bull, and Gummi Bear diet, but it was too late for his complex sugars to take him back to the podium. "It's good to get your ass kicked every once in a while, it makes winning all the sweeter. Funny, still haven't beaten Brett Wolfe on a per-leg basis yet," John said after the race.
Brett "The Three Legged" Wolfe was on another lone experiment with his one leg solo effort. Inspiring all he passed, few realized Brett's mission was a solo one until they were still seeing him on course when the sun came up. Then when the final bell rang at noon, Brett had completed 10 full laps with one crank, one pedal, one shoe, and one leg. So if you want to get technical, on a per-leg basis, Brett threw down some hurt on all that attempted this masochistic solo effort.
The teams were really fun to watch. Unlike the soloists who go through various dramatic transformations as the race unfolds, the bigger teams and the pro classes look like they're in a stage race sprinting these 14-mile laps in just over an hour. It's a strange juxtaposition, with some soloists on course cross-eyed and completely unaware, with fired-up sprinters flying by them in their big rings. You see them spinning on trainers just waiting for their teammate to skid in so they can hammer out a quick lap. They rotate fast, eat fast and never look around to enjoy the scenery. Most of the night they were the only source of wind on this dry, dusty course.
So the endurance community packs up another season of punishment. The dazed delirium is prevalent in the exhausted faces contorted to smiles on the podium. The red dust is everywhere, from your nostrils to your food, but at this point no one seems to care. Grannygear passed out the swag and trophies, and warned everyone to make sure they had a designated driver who got some sleep. Now it's time for some pedaling of my own, I get to put down the laptop and try to put some of this inspiration to work. The scary part is I'm still with the "Three Legged Wolfe," and even after his 140+ miles I know I won't keep up.
The inspiration in this sport just never seems to stop.
Hans Prosl, Snorting Red Dust for MountainZone.com