Saturday, February 10, 2018

Dirty Dozen 2018

It was Halloween when I had enough. I looked in the mirror and said “It’s time to get yourself out of this rut you’ve been in, write down a race and commit to getting healthy.” I was scared to do that because it had been 5 years since I last raced. I was worried about how I would perform, but mostly worried I would not be able to stick to a plan and stop doing all the self-sabotaging things I’d been doing the last few years. I dusted off my bike, hooked it up to my trainer and started my journey to a healthier happier me. Here we go…..

I LOVE the Dirty Dozen 12 hour mountain bike race. It’s at the perfect time of the year. When I was racing before, I always used it as my motivation to stay healthy through the holidays, and after the New Year it helped me stay focused on a goal. This race is held the first week of February and the venue is always Warda. Terra Firma Racing puts on incredible races. They are well-organized and run smoothly. The course is always well marked too. Once the race is over, they are prompt about getting to the awards and recognition. To me, Terra Firma races feel like a family affair. The people who participate in them are some of the best in cycling. Every time I walk away from an endurance race, I also walk away with new friends. This year was to be no exception.

I was able to really stick to my training during the months of November, December and January. This was not only my first race in 5 years but it was my first race since 2009 without a coach, so I took it seriously. I self-coached myself for this race using all the knowledge I gained from years of being coached by one of the best in the industry. I knew where I was fitness wise and on Feb 3rd I lined up with approximately 200 other crazy folks to race the Dirty Dozen!

After the le mans run I jumped on my bike and started smiling. The first lap was a pretty hot pace and it had been raining. The roots were slick and a bit dangerous, but I was having a blast! I normally get nervous and worry about where I am in the race vs. my competitors, but that did not happen this year. I had a few goals for the race. Number 1 goal was to have fun. I also had a goal of making this race about me and vs. the distance rather than me vs. someone else. Riding your bike as fast as you can for 12 hours is super hard. I think when you start making it out as a race with you vs. someone, it gets even harder. I set out to ride my race and give my best effort for the daunting time of 12 hours.
I started ticking off laps at a pretty quick pace. On hour 3 I was feeling pretty worn out. I remember thinking man… I have 9 hours to go and I am already hurting. But I have done this enough to know you have tough times, then happy times and these “up and down” feelings can occur many times during 12 hours. So, I just relaxed and started leaning on the folks around me to take my mind off what I was feeling. I continued smiling to make myself feel better. I started talking to all the racers on the course I was riding with. That was a ton of fun for me! Once I did that, it relaxed me and I was actually able to ride faster with what felt like less effort.
The most fun I had during the race was coming through the barn and seeing my pit crew. Before getting there though, I would see my Bicycle Sport Shop Teammates. Each time I passed, they gave me support with cheers! They were all doing this on a team and it was awe-inspiring to be out there with them sharing the day. I am new to the Bicycle Sport Shop Team and I am very proud to represent such an amazing bike shop with supportive, fun teammates! Bicycle Sport Shop even had neutral support there helping anyone that needed it during the race.

Once I got to my pit I was greeted by my sweet lady, Laura Neighbors. She was simply the best, but anyone that knows her already knows that. She would stand there smiling giving me encouragement. Laura was in the pit with my buddy Shawn Hutcherson. He was amazing also, staying the entire race helping Laura support me. I had two caring people in my corner and a new team to race for. I felt blessed.
I really enjoy the feeling you get when riding in the woods. It’s truly one of the only times in my life I am 100% in the moment. I am not thinking of anything other than what I am doing at that very second, and boy is that nice. About 6 hours in I started seeing the racers that were competing in the 6-hour portion of the race finish. I was smelling food and beer every time I came through the pit area. I was jealous they were able to enjoy that, but I knew riding another 6 hours would make the food and beer taste even sweeter. It was then I decided to not slow down and stay strong and steady for the next 6 hours.

For this race I mentioned I had a new team, but I also had a new bike - a Santa Cruz Tallboy! Man, I am in love with that thing!  It’s one of those bikes you just feel like you’ve had forever. It fits perfect. I can honestly say I have never been so comfortable in a race before. Going into the race, I had a few nagging injuries I was concerned about. However, I never experienced any hand pain, knee pain or pain anywhere!  This bike also has a dropper post. There is nothing technical at Warda to need this, but over the course of 12 hours it was really nice to hit the button and micro lower my saddle here and there to change things up a bit. I feel like it really helped keep my legs fresh and I was happy to have it.

My favorite part of the race is when it gets dark. I love riding in the woods at night. I like the tunnel vision the light creates and the way my peripheral vision is blacked out. I focus only on what is directly in front of me. It’s kind of relaxing. Once it was fully dark I kept seeing something out of the corner of my eye in the same spot every lap. It was cracking me up, but what I thought I kept seeing was a 30-foot tall nutcracker figure…. You know the kind that the mouth opens up and you crack nuts with? I usually only see them around Christmas time. When I started seeing this every lap I knew I might be getting tired but I was having fun. I still don’t know what I was seeing to make me think it was a giant nutcracker.
Another thing I enjoy are the shorter laps at this race. Each time I came into the pits it would regenerate energy and keep me motivated. With Laura and Shawn being there, folks were coming by to visit them and I could talk to them when I came through too. My fellow teammate Antonio Garza (who got second place in Solo Sport Male) was pitting with me. I would see him from time to time along with his family. It was a really great experience. It felt like a big family gathering out there, I loved it.

The last few laps were fun and when the clock struck 8.30 PM. I had just completed my 17th lap. I had been riding for 11 hours and 30 minutes. I thought I was going to do another one but I could not finish in time so that was the end of my race. It was such a great time doing this. My final tally was 17 laps, 120+ miles of dirt and lucky for me a 1st place finish in the Solo Open Male category. I had so much happiness come over me when I realized how the race went and how much fun I had the entire time I was riding. It feels great when a plan comes together. All the training I did mentally and physically paid off and it was time for my first beer of 2018!

I’ve raced the Dirty Dozen a number of times but this one was special for me. As I reflect back over the race, it feels like I have a weeks’ worth of memories all made in 1 day. Coming back after a five-year layoff was hard, but that time away made me realize how much I love this sport and the people that play in it. I came into this race excited and I left it with even more excitement. I had my lady in my corner for this one, some of the best friends a guy can have and support from the greatest bike shop in the country. What more could you ask for? I made a ton of new friends out there and hopefully I can keep this momentum up for the rest of the year. Till next time!!!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Dark Clouds filled with Gold

Normally my blog covers racing and simple things like turning the pedals and flowing down single track in the woods…but this post will be a bit different. 

For the last year things in my personal life have become a little fragile if not bordering on insane.  I have not said anything on facebook or my blog, but I think it is time to vent and share.   Everything started a year back when a man I consider my god father chose to leave the earth with little warning and way too soon.  He is my best friend’s father and this devastated my family and friends.  If you know me then you know my best friend is my family, just like blood and has been since day one.  Weeks after this event I almost lost my father to emphysema.   During my father’s recovery we discovered a lump in my mother’s lungs that was diagnosed as lung cancer.  The hits continued to come when I found out my brother had an issue with his heart and had to have open heart surgery to correct some life threatening issues.  My family is my rock, my true north and I almost lost everyone in a matter of months.  This sent me into a downward spiral, but I always told myself I would be strong and face this shit without fear and deal with it.  I have always had my family to lean on and with that support I could handle anything.  For the first time in my life I am scared.  I am only saying this for two reasons.  Number 1, so I can read the words myself and Number 2 so I can tell you what I have learned from this chapter in my life.

Fast-forward to two weeks ago.  I hit rock bottom with stress and feeling sorry for myself and I want to tell you about it.   The funny thing is when I was younger, or really up until this point in my life I never really understood what it was like to feel unhappy.  Sure, I had days of sadness and days of stress but I was always happy at my core.  Why?  I could never tell you why until now and it is all because of the people around me that love me and the people I love back.  My family, my friends, my dogs and if you are reading this most likely you.  Back to my pity party for a second.  For the last two weeks I can honestly tell you that I have been in a low, dark place.  I have not called my friends back.  I have not answered text messages and returning email was out of the question.  I have never felt so low in my entire life and for the first time I wanted to feel this sadness if that makes any sense.  I took it all in.  I have not been on my bike in almost two weeks and if you know me that means business. 

During this time of funk my sweet mother could tell something was wrong with me.  I tried to be strong, hide everything from her but she knows her son.  My Mother would text me every day, call me and was actually supporting ME every day… all while she was battling cancer, having chemo and getting radiation shot into her head without a single complaint.  I can’t tell you what it feels like to have your mother go through something like this, but I am sure you can imagine.   If you know me then you know my Mom.  It is that simple.  That is how close I am to her and how important she and my father are to me.  

Back to my pitty party....  I have been stressed, not eating, not riding and not being good to anyone in my life and feeling so sorry for myself.  How could this be happening to me?  Who did I piss off? Bla bla bla.

I got a call from my Mom a day ago with nothing in her voice but concern.  She was worried about me.  We talked for a while and I realized a few things.  They hit me like a bolt of lightning.  First thing,  My Mom is my hero . If I could live a million years I hope I can be half the person she is.  This lady is so selfless and so strong it blows me away.  She said point blank I WILL NOT  LOSE THIS FIGHT, IT WILL NOT GET ME DOWN AND I AM GOING TO LIVE MY LIFE.  I WILL WIN.  I listened to her talk for 30 minutes.   She amazed me and defined to me right then and there what human spirit was all about.  By example she showed me how I want to be.   Screw everything I have learned about honor, valor and the fabled stories I have read in books about heroes.  I am watching it happen in front of me and I see a true hero.   She shook me to my core and I was so proud to not only be her son, but just to know her.  It was one of those moments I am sure this blog and my words can’t express but it changed my life forever. For the better.

Back to my pity party…..

I woke  up this morning with my Mother on my mind.  I walked outside thinking about her and looked at the sun.  It was amazing how pretty everything looked, how good everything smelled and how good everything felt.  It was a familiar happy feeling but I didn’t know where it was coming from until I realized what was going on….The pity party had ended.  I was done feeling sorry for myself.  It is really strange, almost unexplainable but everything I did felt like it was new and fresh…. Like a do-over.  I am a changed man with a second chance.

I smiled.  I listened to music, I danced and I thought about my Mom and danced again.  She does not let the things she can’t control get her down.  She fights, that is what she does.   She understands the importance of the moment, she understands how important NOW is.  She loves her family and I love her.

So… As I face tomorrow I am excited about what i have learned.  I am excited to not let things I can’t control get me down.  I am excited to live in the moment, and I mean really LIVE.  I am excited to truly understand how important NOW is and most importantly I am ready to FIGHT.  Fight the day, just like my hero Sandra K Russell does.   Because of her I know everything will be all right.  My guard is down, my heart is open, and so far everything I see is really really beautiful.

I love you Mom.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Big Bend Desert Fest 2012

I just returned from a long weekend of mountain bike riding in the Big Bend State Park.  It was a fun filled weekend all centered around a the Chihuahuan Desert Fest put on by Desert Sports.  I traveled down with my good buddies Lonnie and Thad (both fellow 24hr racers) for some riding, relaxing and lie telling.  They are some great company and I was lucky to tag along with them.  I had such a great time visiting with the locals, eating the food and drinking large amounts of well earned beer.    I not only had a chance to ride some seriously beautiful trails, but I got to help sweep the course with Mike Long and Lonnie who gave me a locals view of what I was looking at on the ride.  That was just a fantastic time.  This will now be a yearly trip for me.  If you are ever down in Terlingua, go visit Desert Sports, grab a beer and wild boar burger at the Starlight Theater and a pizza at Long Draw.  The desert is amazing, but it truly was the people there that made it such a memorable trip for me.  Till next time.....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

2012 Race bike is here.

Today I am very excited.  I am having coffee right now and will be going on a nice solo ride in a few hours.  After that I am going to drop by Cycle Progression and pick up my new frame and a few parts.  I have been waiting for this bike for half the year and I am very excited to get a chance to try it out.  I am also getting a new race wheel set that will be here the middle of next week.  So stoked!  Here is a little sneak of what is coming…

24 hour race machine
New Ride!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

24 Hours of Rocky Hill 2011

Wow.  It is really hard to believe that the 24 Hours of Rocky Hill is already over.  This was the fourth year for me to compete in this event and I absolutely love everything about it.  I love the smell out there in the woods at Rocky Hill, I love that it is close to my home and I love the fact I know I will have my hands full each year with high quality competition.  I also enjoy my Texas MTB family and friends.  It’s the one event that I really look forward to competing in.  I started planning for this race specifically about 2 months ago but I knew my base was good coming off all the serious training I did for my race up in Canmore just three months earlier.   This year I was worried about a number of things before the race.  My main concern was my 24 HR nemesis Greg “I will rip your legs off and eat them raw like a Caveman” Parham.  I knew he was driving back from his new home in Durango and he was motivated.  I saw him before the race and he looked calm, cool and collected as always.  I was also worried about this crazy Canadian coming all the way down from Calgary to throw his hand in the mix, Dave Franks. You can read his account of the race HERE.   He was fresh off a fifth place at Canmore and I know he had been hitting the training HARD since that race (we have the same coach and he was staying at my house this past week).  He had a 36 hour drive just to get to this race so there was extra motivation for him to crush everyone.   Ray Porter was also another guy I knew would be here and be strong coming off the Great Divide race he had completed this year (Congrats on that one Ray, simply amazing).  The last thing on my mind was the heat.  I know how fast this race starts and in this heat it can really crush you early.  I had to control myself on those first six hours so I could make it through the night and finish. 

It was already hot when we lined up for the run.  I was very excited and knew I had to run the start quickly and try to get out early from the start.  When the gun went off, everyone took off.  There are some fast runners out there!  I just kept my eye on Greg and trailed him around the pond and back to where our bikes were laying.  The run left me a little winded honestly but I settled into the bike quick and just kept my eye on Greg who was a couple bikes ahead of me starting the first climb.  I knew Dave, Ray and a few other guys were just on my tail but I also know how Greg starts his races and I needed to focus on keeping him closer than the two years past.  The first lap’s pace was really quick but I was handling it okay.  I kept Greg in sight most of the lap but I knew it was just a little too hot outside and the pace a little fast for me to handle for 24 hours.  With about two miles to go I decided to ease back and let Greg go.  I lost sight of him immediately.  I knew I couldn’t keep that pace up and survive and figured if he could then he deserves to win.  I relaxed and settled into what would be a long day. 

The second lap was almost as fast as the first and I was settling into the pace and feeling better.  That lap and lap three went off without a hitch.  I didn’t get off my bike in the pits, Dave’s wife Coralee was helping me with my nutrition handing me my bottles.  I really appreciated that because I knew her helping me was a conflict of interest since I was competing against Dave.  She was a rock star the and helped both of us the entire 24 hours we were racing.   By lap 4 I had settled into a pace I was comfortable with and I could maintain that effort level for the next 11 hours or so.  I was really happy with how I felt on the course and the fact that I was able to keep my lap times within a few minutes of each other up until this point.  I  knew there was trouble for Greg when I saw him again up ahead of me going up a switchback.  This was around lap 5 I think.  When I caught up to him, he was hurting and had stopped at the top of a climb early on the lap.  I stopped and spoke to him for a sec and he said the heat was just killing him and his body was shutting down.  I asked him to get on his bike and ride with me but the heat made him take a small break to catch his breath.  He told me to go, so I listened and just pushed on.  I felt bad for him, but as I have learned anything can happen in a 24 and I fully expected he would be passing me later in the race when it cooled off.  At this point I knew I was in first place, but was not certain where Dave, Ray or anyone else was.   

The next few hours were fun.  Things were flowing for me and I was feeling good.  I was cramping quite a bit, but I am used to this and knew if I could make it to night time I would be okay.  I was killing the electrolyte pills each lap and doing two 20oz bottles of liquid per hour.  I was in a zone, just disconnecting my head from my body and living in the moment of the race.  I truly love riding my bicycle because it is the one time I am truly living in the moment.  I don’t care about the past, I don’t think about the future, I am just living in the now and I really love that.  Everyone on the course was having fun also.  I was seeing  some of the guys on teams just cooking off some fast laps, and they were all super friendly when blowing by me.  The Texas mountain bike community is just amazing.  Everyone was having a blast and this race is really done well by the Terra firmacrew, first class for sure.

I get excited in every 24 when it starts to get dark.  That is my favorite time to ride my bike.  I had my lights up on my bike by 5pm, and they were burning by 7ish.  The night laps were awesome and my new light & motion lights I got at Cycle Progression were great.  I felt like I was driving a car out there it was so bright.  Once it cooled off the cramping went away and I started to feel even better.  Around this time I ran back into Greg and he seemed to still be struggling with the heat and just not feeling good.  I had heard reports of him stopping on the course and felt really bad for him because I know he is considered the King of this race.  He is a crazy tough competitor and I know he will be back next year, my hat is off to him and I have nothing but crazy respect.   Laps 11,12 and 13 went by with no issues and I was still feeling good, borderline great.  By this time I knew I had a lead over second and I also knew my buddy Dave was in second, Ray in third.  With Greg being out I had to focus on where the other racers were and be smart not to do anything to give the race away.  I continued to ride at the same pace, keeping steady and riding what my coach calls “lazy fast”.  I was giving the least amount of effort I could by laying off the brakes and using more momentum to get me up the punchy steep climbs out there.  To this point I was averaging  around 1 hour laps since the start of the race and I was starting my 15th lap.  On this lap I caught up to Dave in second place.  We finished my 15th lap together, his 14th.   At this point  I felt secure in the spot I was sitting in the race.  I decided to ride with Dave on my 16th lap and had a blast.  We were riding together, just talking and enjoying being outside in the woods on our bikes.  I had a small scare on the 17th lap with a mechanical.  We were about 2 miles into the course when my rear shifter cable broke and my bike was stuck in the 11 tooth cog in the rear.  I didn’t have time to do anything but stand up and grind it out.  It doesn’t sound like a big gear, but the 26/11 gearing 18-19 hours into a ride is difficult.  I had to ride the remainder of the lap standing up, but I found it kind of refreshing in a way.  Lucky for me there was a neutral support set up in the pits and the guys from Bicycles Plus were there to help.  They fixed my bike with no questions and got me on my way in a hurry.  If you live in the DFW area and need service or a bike, go see them.  They give back to the community and are super classy folks.  They even came over a few hours later to check if the cable had stretched and adjusted my bike again.

Dave and I rode together for the next 2 laps riding at a good pace and keeping each other company in the worst time of a 24 hour race, the dreaded 3am – 6am Zombie zone.  I was super excited to have the chance to ride what I call the money lap with Dave.  It’s the lap that starts off dark, but as you wind through the trees and singletrack the sun comes up.  It is really hard to explain if you have not had a chance to experience it but  It’s my favorite lap of the race and I felt very lucky to have had the chance to ride this with my buddy from Canada eh?  When we got back to the pits I was checking on the times and I was calculating that Dave had about a 45 min lead over Ray in third and we could just chill and take it easy.  Just when I said that we saw Ray ride by and go into his pit.  Dave looked at me with a sad face and said very calmly “That’s him, I gotta go”.  He got on his bike and I knew he was about to crack off a fast lap and dig super deep to put some time on Ray.  As he was riding off, I said to him “Dave, Don’t blow up”.  He just smiled and took off.  That was the last time I saw Dave in this race.  I was in a strange place at this point.  I was sitting securely in first, but I was super tense for my buddy Dave who was sitting in second.  I know what it’s like to race a 24 to the end, and it is tough.  I was lucky enough to not be in that spot, but poor Dave wasn’t so lucky.  I watched him dig deep, and I loved every second of it.  It was inspirational.  Dave cracked off a lap so fast he put 14 minutes into third place, I think his lap time was around  1 hour 7 minutes.  When he came back into the pits he kept on going and pulled off another  1 hour 7 minute lap and sealed the deal.  What we didn’t know at this time was the timing had a delay and Dave was actually a whole lap up on Ray when we thought they were so close.  Dave dug deep yet again and knocked off another final lap for himself, totaling 21 laps tying last year’s winning distance.  What a performance!

When this was going on I was able to take some time for myself and enjoy my last few laps and just reflect on the last 20+ hours and all the training hours leading up to this moment.   I was all smiles on the last few hours, proud of what I had done and proud of what all my friends had done also.  At the end of the day I finished my race in 24 hours 14 minutes and completed 22 laps on the course.   I was also surprised to have been awarded the fastest solo lap of the race, I am still happy about that one.  This race and every other race I do is not a solo effort.   I have a support team and I could not do races like this without them.  I wouldn’t want to.  It all starts with my family and close friends.  They know my schedule and call every day to check on me and keep me motivated even when they are having a rough day.  I really love them and they give me confidence.  I also have my girlfriend Mena and her son Zeke who always come to my races and support me with big smiles.  She knows best of all how hectic my training schedule is and I truly appreciate that she puts up with me and how often I am gone.   I also have my coach Shaun Taylor of ForwardMomentum Coaching.  I can’t say enough about his coaching, philosophy on life and riding and the amazing leadership he provides me.  I am lucky to have him not only as a coach but as a friend.  I want to thank Cycle Progression for taking care all my cycling needs.  They are an amazing group of guys so if you ever need a new bike, service or anything cycling related go see them at the new location.  If you go, call me and I will meet you there.  I also wanted to thank Bobcat 13 Photography for always taking amazing shots of the race and letting every racer who participates in events like this relive them through the photos.

Well, that’s about it.  The 2011 24 hours of Rocky Hill is in the books and I am happy to say it was the best one yet.  Scott and Kathy of Terra Firma Promo always do such a fantastic job on this race, thank you both.   I also want to congratulate every person that signed up for this race and met some goals, had some fun and created some memories that will last for years.

Here is the official link to the results of the race

and here is a really cool article that Breathe Magazine did on the race this year. 

Until next time my friends.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

24 Hours of Adrenalin, Canmore Canada Race Recap

Last year I decided to start training for a big race in Canada. The race was part of the 24 hours of adrenalin series, and the race would be held in Canmore, Canada. The race is not like races around Texas, it is a big production and has a ton of people attending. My coach and friend Shaun Taylor lived in Calgary (about 1 hour from the race site) and invited me to come stay with him for a week and play with the big boys of the 24 hour race scene (he has since moved to Rossland B.C.). For the entire past year all the races I have done and all the riding I have done were in preparation for this race. I laid all the cards on the table for this one. I packed up my car and drove up to Canada not knowing what to expect…..

When I left, I thought the trip would be simple, only about racing. I had simple thoughts, simple plans and wanted to do nothing but eat, sleep, train and race. I had visions about the movie Rocky 4, when Sylvester went to Russia and got ready for battle in some rudimentary way, lifting logs and running through snow. Mentally, I was ready to do battle and I had a year of hard training to back me up. I left on a Saturday morning and drove through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho and Washington before crossing over into Canada. It took me about 35 hours to get there. When I arrived I saw my coach sitting in front of a coffee shop reading a paper and smiling some kind of devilish smile. I didn’t know him other than our email exchanges. Up until this moment my two+ year relationship with him was completely virtual. I did not know what to expect from him, but I knew I liked him. I looked to him as almost a father figure, a giant walking among men. I knew something good would come of our meeting.

The day I settled in Rossland, I was shell shocked from 3 days of travel but excited to get to know my coach, his family and the Canadian way of life. I went riding. That is when it all changed. I was blown away with the trails. Straight up, straight down, no middle ground. Not like Texas. The dirt was amazing, fibrous as a friend of mine put it. It was loam from heaven meant to stick to tires like almond butter on sprouted bread. My first ride had me worried because it was about 15 minutes long and it had me hurting. The next day we did not get to ride. We talked about race strategy, nutrition, bike setup, etc. I learned so many things about what I was doing wrong I could not believe it. I also learned what not to eat before a race, and saw the crazy level of preparation he puts in before a race. I won’t get into here, but let’s just say all bases are covered and all situations are controlled.

On the third day Shaun and I went riding on some of the trails around Rossland. I felt better this day and was very excited to play. Riding in those trails was amazing. It had been raining the entire day before, but the dirt was perfect. The trails were just amazing, and the views even better. It was about a 2 hour ride, and I think we covered some pretty cool trails along the way. Shaun wore his GoPro camera and did some filming as we tore around the trails. We were taking it pretty easy because it was just days before the 24 hour race in Canmore. We didn’t want to risk injury so close to race day. The clip here shows a little of what it is like there, but the camera really does not do the trails justice. This stuff is steep, and the penalty for a mistake is big.

I was in Rossland hanging with Shaun, Doreen, Evan and Keegan Monday – Friday. It was an amazing experience for me, like I was part of the family. We had breakfast, lunch and dinner together and any spare time not spent eating, talking, lounging and laughing was spent riding those trails or if you know me adjusting my saddle and stem (I do that a ton). The boys were kind enough to offer me a bed in their room. I would wake up every morning with Keegan standing over me smiling, excited to start his day of pure awesomeness.

Evan and Keegan
Keegan and Evan turned out to be a highlight of the trip for me. Being around them reminded me of how awesome it is to be a kid and play. Shaun and Doreen are awesome hosts, but even better parents and these boys will be growing up in an outdoor playground like no other.

Friday morning we packed up our car and started our 7-8 hour drive to Calgary for the race. On the trip I had the chance to see the Canadian countryside. I was shocked at how green everything was and how nice everyone was to each other. We stopped at a cherry farm and loaded up on some rainier cherries and of all things a garlic sausage from a butcher shop in some small town we passed. Shaun and I ate and talked the entire trip and shared music. I had a blast that day and I will never forget it.

Saturday morning is when the business end of the trip started. We woke up early and drove over to Canmore. I was blown away by the mountains there. It was surreal to roll up on that. This pic is from the highway leading to the race.

I was very nervous, but I also knew I was ready to do this. I had no chance to ride the course before the race so the first lap of the race would be the first time I would experience the trail. The weatherman gave us a good forecast for race day, sunny and cool during the day and pretty cold for this Texas boy at night. He got it wrong. At the start of the race it was raining and I saw some guys come off the trails and it looked like they were spray painted with dirt. It was about to get sloppy. The race organization was amazing. There were thousands of people out there, and the spectators were loud and friendly. Before the race they announced and asked the crowd to give extra cheer to the folks who had numbers starting at 50 or lower because we were all solo riders. It was all surreal to me at the start with the music, the crowd and the mountains. I always love standing at the start line of a race, but this race was different. I had traveled across America by myself to get here. I had come a long way and it was finally happening. When the gun went off, the only thing I could do was smile.

The first lap of the race shocked me. The course was all climbing for the first 30+ minutes. I remember saying to myself, this is going to be impossible do to for 24 hours. The first 30 minutes would be like riding the hill of life here in Austin over and over. To make matters worse, it was mud soup poured out over wet roots. After the first 30 minutes of constant climbing it started to get fun with some descents and punchy climbs thrown in. I was learning the course on the first lap and realized it was going to be a long day. I was having fun, settling in and enjoying myself. I had the chance to ride a while with my coach and I was just loving every second of being on the bike. I was not stopping in the pits and Doreen would hand me my bottles between each lap with a calm smile to keep me going. I had to share a pit with Shaun because I didn’t have a cover for my stuff and it was raining. The first 8 hours passed and I was still feeling good, but started making a few mistakes in the pit area, losing some time. Every person I rode by or that rode by me would say “way to go solo”. The racers were all super nice and supportive. I could not believe the crowd support and the shared respect everyone on the course had for each other. I have not experienced this in a race before.

During the day the trails got better and the riding was fun. Some places were still a little muddy but the roots were dry and descents were fast. When it started to get dark outside, the trails started to change. It got muddy and super slick again. At times it was just dangerous with all the wet roots and low visibility of it being night. Somewhere around the 9.5 hour mark Shaun had a fall and hurt his wrist. He was ahead of me when this happened and when I came into the pits I saw him standing there with a splint covering his arm. I was sad because I knew he was about to start crushing everyone with his Viking battle axe as he puts it. He was racing on a single speed, and this course is not super single speed friendly if you know what I mean.

Shaun Taylor
 He is a super strong rider and I was feeling terrible that he had to sit this one out. He told me a thousand times “It’s a 24, anything can happen” and already he was right. I kept on going with a little help from Doreen. It was getting close to midnight and I was getting tired and having cramps. I remember crossing the start line for another lap feeling wasted and the guy said to me “only 12.5 hours to go solo!”. I wanted to punch him when I heard that…

The late night/early morning of the race is the tough part. The first 12 hours are hard, but everything turns dark 16 hours into a race this hard. I was feeling bad, no energy and cramping all over, especially in my arms from all the gnarly wet rooty descents. I was looking for a way to get out, almost hoping lighting would strike me or something and take me out of my misery. Shaun turned into coach mode now that he was no longer racing was helping me, along with some of the other athletes he had racing. I came in late at night dying and looking terrible and before I could even talk he said no, no no, I see your face and you are doing good. I need you to drink this, go back out there and don’t stop riding until the sun comes up….we can reassess you once the sun is up. I needed to hear that, and that is what I did. I clipped in and would not stop again until the morning.

I never knew where I really stood in the race. I never look at 24’s as a race against someone, I look at it as a race against myself and how far I can push it. This has worked for me up until now, but this race in Canada was coming down to the wire and there were three of us fighting for the podium. I was riding my 14th lap and doing the math in my head. I calculated I could finish the 14th and the 15th lap would be my last. It’s funny what your mind will do to you when u think the end is near. The 15th lap was the hardest lap of the race for me. I knew it was my last lap and I was ready to be done. As I came into the pit, I learned I had the time wrong and it was only 11:30 am. As I rolled up, Shaun ran out with a bottle and a plan. I thought I was done, but he said you are possibly in third and I need you to drink this, dig deep and ride the fastest lap you can, much faster than the lap you just did. I started to revolt and he said, clip in, ride and dig deep. You didn’t come this far to stop now and you will be very disappointed if you do. I don’t really remember what I said, but it was something like Yes sir…. I hopped on my bike, talked to my Mom and Dad in my head for a bit and took off. I felt pressure. I had never had to race the final lap of a 24 hour race, much less a race I had so much on the line for. I shut my mind off and started riding and something magical happened. My cramps went away, my legs felt fresh and my mind became 100% positive. I kept thinking of my Mother and the battle she is fighting and telling myself if Sandy CAN , dammit I can. I came rolling into the pits and had to sprint for the finish line knowing I was done. I had no clue where I stood, but I know I left nothing on the course and my last lap was the second fastest lap of the race for me. I felt awesome and I earned the “atta boy” from my coach (he doesn’t give them out to just anyone:))  Here is a pic snapped at the finish, 24 hours later.

I learned that I ended up placing second overall in the Solo division at Canmore which is one of the largest 24 hour races around. This blew my mind, and I was super excited my trip was a success. I had a chance to stand on the podium with two other amazing riders and hear the cheer of the crowd as they announced the results. My coach, Doreen and the boys were there and took this photo.

Here are the official results, with lap times.

Results with Laptimes

This trip for me was a game changer. I thought it would be about the race, but it was really about the journey. I left Texas with an open mind, all alone looking for a solo trip to race a solo race. I left Canada with some new lifelong friends, a head full of amazing memories and a satisfied feeling of accomplishment. I was humbled by how amazing folks are around this world, and I have a new found love for Canada, bikes, living, beer, coffee, kids, family and friendship. I can’t explain how it is possible that a bike can change your life, but It has changed mine in so many ways and I feel so lucky.

This was not a solo trip by any stretch of the imagination, and the race was not a solo effort. I had a team of amazing people and it would not have been possible to do this without them. I am deeply thankful to have had this amazing opportunity and I want to thank you Shaun, Doreen (and your father), Evan and Keegan for letting me come to your country and stay in your home and be part of your family for one of the best weeks of my life.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A few things I learned while in Canada

Canadians are super cool people, eh
The Taylors have a ton of info to teach the world, not just cyclists and not just about cycling
Canadian “loam” has special pixie dust in it that grabs hold of your tires
Sprouted bread can change your life
Rossland trails go to a 13 on a 10 point scale…trust me
Almond butter, not Peanut butter
Buy local
Pour over coffee is good
Sugar is white death
I love muffins and cherries
24 hours is a long time to ride uphill in the mud
Having your legs, arms and private region go numb and spit up bloody lung butter is totally “normal” dude
Beer is expensive in Canada, but worth every penny
Patchouli still smells good to me and I love Vans slippers
I want to live in Rossland
I don’t want to move to Okotoks
Shaun Taylor is an intense competitor
I love noodles
You can learn a ton from 6 and 7 year old boys
Sometimes Dead goats move really fast… no joke
Dirt don’t hurt cuz god made dirt…..