The first half of the 2005 24 Hrs of Summer Solstice race had gone surprisingly according to plan. My Seven Ti singlespeed, which was built for durability and reliability, was proving itself yet again (it's been through hell and back): no crashes, mechanicals, etc. A few stops for some quick bites-to-eat, bars, gels, change of clothes, etc....all, pretty much routine stuff after 12 hours in the saddle. I was jostling back and forth with a good buddy of mine, Matt Klymson (plate #8), for first. I'd pass him, he'd pass me. We'd ride together, I'd take-off, he'd take-off. It was nice to have a distraction.
The course itself was about 17km long and had some amazing, flowing, grin-on-your-face, singletrack that you could just rail and let the bike work it's magic in and out of alternating left and right corners, between shoulder-width pines, etc....just like a roller-coaster! The sweet singletrack also included a lot of tight, greasy climbs which made you dig-deep into your reserves to keep the pedals moving over the greasy roots. As a singlespeeder, I don't have any choice in gearing, etc....I just go! And sometimes, it hurts just to keep the tires rolling. But, what choice did I have?
The course also had some long, suck-the-life-out-of-you climbs that were made worse by the slick and greasy conditions. The week prior to the race, conditions at Albion Hills were bone-dry. But, Mother Nature thought she'd throw her wrench into-the-mix and added a few torrential storms leading up to the race. On my drive down my Ottawa through Toronto, it rained heavily for 3+ hrs, then, stopped as we neared the venue....that was a huge relief. But, how much damage had been done? Trail reports from local-area riders streamed-in and the prognosis wasn't good...it was going to be wet. Ah well, nothing I can do about it except race!
Unlike previous years, in which I had support, I would have no support this year. It's very tough for my wife to not only look after me, but our 2 young Kidz (Tyler and Kiley). Also, the race coincided with a big street party back home, one that I didn't want the Kidz to miss. So, my wife stayed home and I went alone. But, oddly enough, I was actually looking forward to the challenge. Most, if not all, solos have a crew with them. Some of these crews are highly efficient machines that keep their riders moving. When racing solo for 24-hrs, you don't want to sweat the details...you just wanna do what you do best: Ride!
I've been racing 24-hr races for 12-yrs (10-yrs as the Captain of an excellent 5-man team and with 2 solos under my belt), so I'm pretty versed in the ins-and-outs of 24-hr racing. But, when you race for 24-hrs, anything can (and usually does) happen. Leading up to the race, I did as much of the prep-work I could knowing that I wouldn't have the time (or energy) to do it during the race. This meant, organizing all of my food, clothing, spare bike parts, spare bikes, lights, etc. before-hand so everything would be quickly accessible. Also, any mechanicals or serious issues would need to be handled by me...and only me.
Albion Hills is the anti-Huntmar (where I ride and train). My local riding consists of very rocky, rooty and demanding (physically and mentally) trails. Riding locally, because of it's nature, is slow and methodical at Huntmar...not so at Albion -- it's rippin' fast! Not to discount Albion, but there is not really much technical (that is, rocks, drops, etc.) there...or, at least compared to Ottawa. But, what it lacks for in rocks (I did see a few), it made-up for in technical singletrack and greasy, off-camber roots. These will take you down in a fraction of a second...there's no warning. And when you go, you go hard.
It's now after mid-night and it's during these hours that stuff happens...the witching hours. Since I hadn't crashed yet, I was getting anxious to get the first one done and over with. It was inevitable.
And then, it happened....I went down hard around 1am. A guy in front of me slipped-out on those nasty, greasy, wet roots and went down hard. The singletrack was very slick thanks to heavy rains and roots that had been stripped bare of their protective coating....think: "Slick as snot!".
I had no option and went down with him. I took a hard blow to my chest and left knee, but I got back-on. Getting back-on hurts, but it's something that needs to be done sooner than later. Every second off the bike fills muscles with toxins. Also, having bashed my knee-up, I needed to keep it warm and moving, or risk having it tighten-up and seize.
I had planned to do another lap and then sleep for a 1-hr, but when I came by the tents, I knew I was done. I hit the sack at 2am, put my ear plugs in and didn't wake-up until 5:30am....I was out for nearly 3.5 hrs! Ooops! [no support = no wake-up call] At that point, I was well behind Bart Wellisley (plate #5) and Jay Rothenburg (plate #1), but there was still 6+ hrs. Time to turn it on! And, out I went!
Lap 14....look down at my clock and it's getting close to 10am. Finally, getting close to the end. I can see the light and it feels great! But, still a lot to go and anything can go wrong (and, usually does).
I'm behind Bart in 6th. He's hurting, but he actually stopped to grab a burrito in the morning at Woo Wu -- a nice singletrack section which is preceded by a slow, sticky climb. I passed him right at the burrito stand, but then like the wind, he was gone! He yelled back to me: "Mike, you shoulda grabbed a burrito...I feel like a million bucks!" He flew by me and was out-of-sight. "Great, maybe I should have stopped for a burrito!"...I was hungry and now I was feeling the pit in my stomach even more. But, I didn't want to chance a burrito with my stomach. Also, there was still enough time for that burrito to come back to haunt Bart. So, I was patiently waited. Waiting for the ticking time bomb to explode. But, would it be in time?
Lap 15 and I'm back up with Bart. He still looks strong and we just start to ride-up the long gradual climb near the transition area. I've been walking this hill since the 5th lap. The amount of energy expended to ride the hill is too great and there is minimal time lost walking. Plus, I use the hill to replenish on my gels and Cyto. I clip-out and much to my surprise, so does Bart. "Hmmm, didn't quite expect that." I guess he heard me clip-out and figured we'd walk-up together. "Not so, I'm going-it alone!", I think to myself. I pick-up the walking pace and make it just below the crest and hop-on my bike. I wanted to be the first into the right-hand turn into the singletrack. I got him and never saw him again!
Now, I'm plugging along on my 15th lap. Legs are feeling really tired....how much juice do I have left? Enough? Looking down at my clock, it's just after 11am and I'm about 30 minutes from the finish. By my calculations, this means 1 more lap! Damn! I just wanted it to be over so I could curl-up and die. But, I wanted to be in control of the finish. If I'd have left Bart in front and we both crossed the line together, I'm sure we could have convinced each other enough was enough. But, since I was now in front, I controlled the race. And, I went out again. I found-out after the race that Bart packed-it in after that lap...he was done!
I go through the Start/Finish and head-out for my last, 16th lap! I've waited a long time for this lap and it's finally here. "Last time for this climb" and "last time for that climb" were routinely spoken in my mind. As I knocked-off each climb and got closer to the end, I got more and more rejuvenated...I was getting closer!
At this point, I have no idea where I am in the standings. Going without a support crew meant not knowing anyone's positions, etc. I knew Jay was out front, but how far? After my extended snooze, he had 2 laps on me. "Could I catch him? What about Perron, etc?" I was completely-out of the loop, which I guess really didn't matter because this was my own race.
Then, as I exit a wicked set of high-speed singletrack near the mid-way point, followed by a dirt road, I see #1. "There's Jay! Wow, I've caught him! But, what lap is he on? 16 or 17?" He hops off his bike just at the base of the climb, whips his right foot over the saddle and has a stunned, dazed look in his eyes as he looks back to see me right there on his heels. It was great! And, off I went. Dropped the hammer and I was gone!
So, at this point, I figured I had only gotten back 1 of my 2 laps to Jay. Which, to me, was a small accomplishment. I knew I'd blown it at night by sleeping way too long, but I obviously needed it. But, could I make it up?
The remainder of the last lap went as planned....just stayed-out of trouble....hammered when I could....didn't do anything stupid, etc.
"1km to go!" Man, I love that sign! Finally, after 24+ hrs, nearly 16 laps (~275km), it's all come down to 1km! Out-of-the-saddle, I'm off! Sprint down through the last high speed section, then out of the saddle through a slow, greasy, grassy section right near the end (I hated that section...it just sucked the life right out of you), did the 3 rock steps and dismounted. I'm done!
Finally, got across the line....16 laps!
Wow, what a race!
In speaking with my buddy Karl after, he was speaking with Helena (Jay's wife) and she was really concerned about my morning times. I guess she figured Jay had built-up enough of a lead over me at night (he had 2 laps), that he could just coast. No way, bud! With each morning lap, I was taking huge chunks of time out my deficit...apparently, 20+ minutes per lap. Helena knew on the last lap that it was inevitable...that I would take over 4th! And, I did.
The morning was a highlight for me because I knew I had time to make-up and time was quickly running-out. I had only planned to do 3 more laps, but managed to get-in 4 laps. So, that in itself, was a huge accomplishment and allowed me to cinch 4th place....1-up from last year's 5th place.
Now, time to recover!
Hat's-off to the guys-n-gals at Seven Cycles who built my custom Ti Singlespeed over 4-yrs ago and it is still going strong...despite 3 solo 24-hrs, lots of O-Cups, Q-Cups, C-Cups and W-Cups! I'm constantly amazed at how telepathic my bike is...it feels like a glove! Also, the compliance of the Ti frame, Ti Moots post and Ti-railed SLR saddle really help to take the edge-off trail debris. Over the roots and small studders, the bike just sucked it up. Nice.
Similarly, props to Magura for those wicked Marta SLs. Over the course of the 24, they didn't squeal, howl, peep, chirp, etc. Just smooth, consistent, well modulated, perfect braking. In fact, I barely even noticed them...it was only when I was going heavy into tight singletrack, a little tug with my middle fingers is all it took to bring the bike down to speed. Amazing!
Looking for some race pics? Click here!