Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Cold Wet Desert

A lengthy blog covering many days.

Thursday, February 14th.
Up at 5am and off to Phoenix. Of course there was a weather advisory for the (normally) two hour drive to the airport. I actually felt all four wheels drift in the Nissan Titan this morning on an overpass. About ten cars apparently did not realize that black ice was covering the roads and ended up in the ditch. I love the Upper Midwest!

The forecast for Oracle, AZ was a mixed bag leading to last minute changes in the suitcase. Snow as far down as 3000 ft, rain and cold for Thursday and Friday. Saturday and Sunday are supposed to clear and warm up. Let’s hope so because night laps at 35 degrees and rain/snow is just a bit frustrating. I can get that at home.

Saying goodbye to my family on Valentine’s Day is not fun. My son is feeling better and actually went to school today, just for the Valentines Party. Hopefully he will give cross-country skiing a try after school to get ready for the Barnebirkie. My daughter is supposedly good at skiing, practicing at her school, but I have not seen her do it and so I always tell her that I don’t believe she can ski, just to make her want to prove how good she is. When I get back, I will be ringing the cowbell and cheering them on.

If all goes well, we should be able to set up camp at 24 Town around sundown. I meet Scope in Phoenix and we get shuttled to pick up the RV. Then it is off to pick up the Superfly, buy groceries, drive two more hours to the race site and set up camp. Busy day!
Scope arrived just before me and was waiting at baggage claim. It was good to see one of my best friends, Uncle Scope as my kids call him. This blog is no place for a detailed explanation of my history with Scope, but as a high school classmate, college roommate and close friend, let's just say there is history there. The same can be said for Uke, who we should meet tomorrow afternoon. The three of us are not often together anymore as work and life has separated us, but I am looking forward to the three amigos being together again.
Off we go in a shuttle to pick up the RV. Our driver was nice enough to swing by the UPS Store allowing me to get the Superfly before arriving at the RV pick up point. The RV was truly a welcomed site that would serve us well. The sun was shining and we were off to the race site. Peoria to Phoenix to Coolidge to Florence to Oracle. We stopped at a Wal-Mart Supercenter to buy groceries and beer before hitting the long chattering road into the race site. It seemed that 24 Town was just around the next corner for around 20 minutes before we finally arrived. Finding a level site to put the RV was difficult in the dark but Scope found a suitable spot and camp was made.
A late dinner, a few beers and we immediately opened the bike boxes and got to work. It didn't take long to have them ready for a nice ride in the morning after breakfast. Unfortunately that never happened. Clear skies changed to grey and the predicted rain started to fall. It was quite heavy at times making us think that the rocks we used to prop up one wheel might wash out. Fortunately we were too tired to care.
Friday, February 15th.

The morning brought little change. No, I take that back. The rain changed to heavy wet snow which actually started to accumulate. This was not the desert that I expected, or experienced in 2006. All day it fell, changing back to rain later in the day. As Uke and Clay arrived, we heard reports of the road being quite challenging for some vehicles, others even turning back. This news was not met well considering our time frame to exit the venue once it was over. Our exit road (No Tubes Rd.) was turned into a sloppy mud bog because of traffic, rain and snow. Even worse was a truck pulling a travel trailer that was stuck in the puddle for about ten minutes, making any chance of getting an RV out very slim indeed. So much for treading lightly.
The idea of getting in two pre-ride laps was ambitious, and based on better weather. Getting my warm clothes sweaty on the inside and full of wet mud on the outside didn't seem like a good idea. Even worse, the weather had taken all the desire to ride out of us. So we decided to eat and drink well. The weather was unrelenting all evening as well. The firepit outside the RV door was where most of the team gathered and drank beer, but I saw no reason to exit the camper that was warm and dry. As the sun went down, we all watched 24 Solo in an effort to get excited to ride.
Saturday, Race Day

Temps made it down to about 30 degrees that night. 45 degrees warmer than home, but of little conciliation. Morning showed signs of eventually clearing and by the Captain's Meeting the sky was actually breaking up. Clay nominated himself for the Le Mans style start, a 400 meter dash to his bike with a few hundred others. I would follow Clay, then Scope and Uke would be clean up. It always seems like a long time until your turn to ride when you think about it, but when you are actually IN rotation, there is a lot to do. My turn would happen at lunch time, so I needed to put a little something in my stomach. Then mix up bottles of Hammer Heed for the lap, check the tire pressure and decide the proper attire for a quickly warming day. The sun was out now, doing its part to dry the earth. Nice.

The exchange tent was a zoo. Riders waiting for their team numbers to be called, then rushing up to the officials to exchange the baton and get out the other side of the tent to the bike. As I started the lap, I quickly remembered the course from 2006. It was fast and smooth even though it was a bit damp. Not muddy, few puddles and a bit of soft clay-like sections that slowed my momentum. For a midwestern guy, it is always interesting to see bits of Cholla cactus laying in the middle of the trail. I would assume running over it would cause a flat, but then I don't know how sturdy the spikes are. I always take evasive action when I see them, but just trying to avoid them can divert your attention just enough to cause disaster. The course is lined with all types of Cacti, reaching out at your shoes, knees and elbows as you weave the singletrack. It is quite exciting.

I felt good about a 1:20 lap time since the fastest lap was 1 hour, nine seconds. It was somewhat depressing doing the math and realizing that my next lap would be in the dark cold night. As excited as I was to ride at night, one day lap was not enough to start things out. As our rotation progressed, Scope finally got to ride in the desert. All I could communicate to him in the exchange tent was "watch out for cactus". The temperatures started to fall early and getting food in your stomach at odd times when you are cold is not easy.

Uke and Clay continued the rotation and it was my turn soon enough. Seeing the course under the power of Light & Motion was beautiful and a bit more dangerous. I had a few twitches in the left leg that I was able to hold off. It prompted me to drink more during the ride which is easy to forget about when it is cold. The clothing choice was typically me, more than I needed, but I like being warm so fluids needed to be replaced. The second lap was a bit slower at 1:25.
As the night progressed and sleep deprivation set in, our excitement dwindled. Temps got down to 28 degrees by my watch, Clay's knee started to swell, and it was increasingly difficult to get out of bed for rotation. Clay decided he would try his turn, ignoring the advice of his teammates. Remember, this is for fun. A blown knee could mean that earning a living after the race is more difficult. He took Uke's bike (full suspension) for a more plush ride and ended up blowing two tires, and losing a light battery. Half way out, he abandoned the lap and walked back in. That must have been a cold dark walk Clay. Two hours after he left he made it back to the RV. The Two-way radios that I brought had failed miserably for unknown reasons, so there was little need to wait in the exchange tent for unspecified periods of time. Abandonment in a 24 hour race lap is not exactly kosher, but the officials said the time would have to be added to my lap, which I knew.
1:29 minutes later I had completed the most enjoyable lap ever. Just before sunrise, the mountain range was back lit by the sun showing a beautiful skyline, stars and a warm glow in the coldest part of the day. 24 Town was coming alive and the sound of music caught my ear at the His/Her Trail. By the time I got to the Highpoint Singletrack I could turn off my lights and put the hammer down knowing it would be my last lap. Scope was not in the exchange tent, somewhat expected, and I found him in the RV sleeping. He was beat, but I knew he would regret not getting to do the sunrise ride. Twenty minutes later he was on the trail. When he returned, he was smiling again. Uke would ride the last lap while Scope and I packed the bikes for the return trip. The sun was out, the weather was unbelievable, and we were leaving.

Getting the RV out turned out to be easy. One moved car and we took a different camp road out to avoid the mud puddle. Willow Springs Road was tore up, but dry. Large potholes and chatter ruts shook the RV to its core. We made it to our drop off point in time, slept like stones in the La Quinta hotel and had breakfast in the Sky Harbor Airport at Starbucks. Finally walking in the door at 7pm on Sunday, February 18th. Straight to bed. Team 3 O'clock Shadow: 11 laps, 168 miles.

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