Monday, October 22

24 Hours of Redemption

Better grab some No-doze and a snack because this is going to be a long one...

2007 has been one heck of a year. You have to return full circle, to the 24 Hours of Moab 2006, to truely find the start. My very fresh endurance racing career was on the fast track and Moab was supposed to be my season ender and first 24 solo. 9 hours later we were shut down by the rain and though disappointed, I began a month off the bike as promised to Marni. Winter saw me back on the bike and with renewed focus. Months and races began to roll by. Successes and failures came just as rapidly. I was becoming well known to the headmaster at the school of hard knocks. Late spring brought more drama to our little household and after a successful TransIowa, real life began to steal my attention from it's "bike only" focus. Kokopelli and the Grand Loop came and went and they were both big time learning experiences. I was happy and disappointed at the same time, leaning heavily towards the later. Mostly I was feeling all the racing and life stresses and took a step back and some time off. My job and failure of my toenail to not get infected again nixed a CTR attempt in July which was big time depressing. To this day I still haven't read all the great CTR stories. From there, things slowly began to move again in the right direction. Marni and I were racing short XC races together and it was fun. Riding was fun focused and training began to snowball from there despite some minor setbacks due to me not keeping the rubber side down. While Moab had been on our all our minds since last year, it finally made the official calendar. Necessary training and preparations were made and the Plesko clan was going back to the desert for the 24 Hours of Moab.

Wednesday night Dad flew in and Thursday morning before the race, Dad and I hit up Centennial Cone while Marni was at work.
It was an easy ride for me but the exposure and altitude were new to my dad. He rocked my rigid singlespeed the whole ride anyway, despite me tempting him with offers to ride the Fuel. The only drama was my good gloves falling out of his pocket and I did a quick route retrace to track them down. Even the thought of losing my main gloves didn't rattle me and calm was the name of the game.
The rest of the day we picked up last minute items and packed the Element. As always it was stuffed full and we had a good laugh. Why is it that I can go for a 3 day bike ride with 1 bike and a 20lbs backpack yet for a lap solo race we had 2 bikes, 3 people and a car bursting at the seams with stuff? Sleeping in our own beds that night was nice and we woke up in no hurry to get on the road. By early afternoon I was checked in and we rolled into the Behind the Rocks area to find our pit.
My teammate from Feedback Sports and fellow solo warrior, Nick Thelen, had room in his camp and we setup next door. Marni and dad worked on the fine details of our pit while Nick and I took an afternoon preride of the course.
Home sweet home!
Our preride was smooth and easy. An hour and forty five minutes saw us rolling back into camp with plenty of time off the bike scouting technical lines and testing the radio. That's right, I finally brought the FRS radios to talk to my pit during the race. This turned out to be great for me.
The evening at camp was spent chatting with friends, friends and more friends. Plus the Ergon pusher and loads of the RATM crew were there. The Plesko clan cooked up some veggies and ate some tasty sandwiches before going to bed early. Well not before checking out...
the Gnome jump! I didn't hit it but I wanted to. I should really try one of these on a team so I can play around more.
The Hotelement was ready in fine style. For camping this is hard to beat. Quiet, comfy and warm. 12 hours later Marni and I crawled out to great the outside world.
I set out to make breakfast but we had forgot the frying pan. Whoops. I tried valiantly in the 1L ti pot but all I got were scrambled pancakes.
They did taste good.
They were not quick nor going to work however. Dad headed off and found some alternative mondo cinnamon rolls.
Last minute preparations took place but mostly we relaxed and people watched. All the details were taken care of and the calm vibe continued.
Little by little "the board" began to grow though. Marni's "Plesko Pimpmobile" was becoming famous. Who needs chainstays? :)
We mugged for the camera.
The steeds were ready.
And with a little trimming the numbers left room for the lights.
Shortly before zero hour we headed out to rack my bike.
A few more pictures.
To kill the time. Nerves were growing but still pretty under control. I did forget the radio but Dad ran back to get it in record time. Riding sans camelback is a freeing experience.
I lined up with everyone else and stuck toward the back. I wasn't headed towards the front of the race on lap 1 and I'm not as confident as Eatough and company to make my way to the front with 1 minute to the gun.
The gun went off and the stampede began. I just tried to stay the heck out of trouble and keep my feet out of holes. Marni managed to catch my awesome running though! What luck.
I got to my bike soon enough and was happy to be on it. My calves felt like cramping from running in bike shoes but I knew they would loosen up. I made my way through the crowd and it didn't take long to here the familiar voice of DH moving up through the field. I decided I'd take advantage and at least say "Hi". I stuck on his wheel up onto the first climb and said hey before getting separated by the masses. He was probably riding faster than I wanted to and my plan was to remain relaxed for the first 12 hours. Still it was nice to see a friendly face so early, even for a brief moment.
The first 3 laps went perfectly. I never even stopped, just getting bottles from Marni and Dad as I rolled though the pits. My primary focus was riding smooth and letting the team riders do their thing without wasting any energy. I knew there were a lot of laps to go and even with a stop to clean and lube a very dusty chain my first 4 laps were all around 90 minutes each. I had already moved up from the mid 20's to the low teens just with my pit speed and consistency.
The photographers were parked on the sand hill descent among other places and it was fun to pass them every lap. With just my experience last year and this year I was beating almost everyone around me on the downhills and I'd just climb consistently in the sand and ledges. Of course Nat Ross and the Monavie team did come by me after just 2.5 laps! They were moving.
Smile and ride. Smile and ride. Talk to the other riders whenever they wanted. For another event I never broke out the iPod. I always have it in the pits but I'm not sure why. I rarely listen to music when riding except maybe during interval workouts. Steady and relaxed was the name of the game. I was getting down a bottle and a half of Perpetuem a lap and trying to use my little front chain ring. Moab is a course that is basically all rideable in the middle ring but not if I was going to limit power bursts as I learned from Linda at Old Pueblo.My lights and jacket went on for lap 5. Darkness came slowly though and I didn't fire them until a downhill around 7pm. As I climbed out of the Nosedive I set my bike down on the rock above a little too hard. My rear wheel popped out of the dropouts and because I was holding the brakes for traction, my rear lever instantly went to the bar. F*&k me. I got my wheel back in the drops but the brakes were rubbing bad. I quickly tried a stick and a rock to rectify the problem with no success. My multitool was no help either so I radioed into Marni and Dad that I'd be late. I spent the rest of the lap cursing a rear wheel that stopped within one rotation due to brake drag but at least it was rideable. Still not wasting extra energy I rolled back into the pits 20 minutes later than I wanted .
My stomach was also getting really full and I was fully hydrated so I switched my two bottles of Perp to one of water and one of double strength Perp. I was also running 1 scoop of Endurolytes powder per bottles and for the first enduro ever I had zero cramping issues: legs, arms, hands, chin (yes chin!), nothing. I fixed my wheel in the pit in less than 30 seconds and went back out, clicking off a slow but steady lap. It was getting darker, windier and colder.

Lap 7 was almost my undoing, certainly the crux lap of the race. I was beginning to fuel off cookies and took a jacket to stay warm out there. Leaving at 10pm and returning just before 12:30am it was a slog. Stefan's aptly named "sleep monster" was hitting me hard. I could barely stay awake and was constantly worried I would fall asleep on the bike. The downhills were terrifying but I rode everything I normally would, just trying to keep my eyes open. Slaps to the face, food, cold air, nothing woke me up. "Just make it back to the pit," I told myself. There was soup waiting and coffee too if I must. Somewhere out there I think I saw Dan and Truesdale although certainly not on the same lap. But somehow we weren't able to ride together much to my dismay. The Feedback boys and Lisa plus Bill and Brady's clyde teammates were always cheering me on but on this lap I was mostly alone. All I needed was someone to talk to but no dice. An eternity later I radioed into the pits that I was almost there.

Marni and Dad were there waiting for me. They said I was easy to identify by my lights. I was thankful for my lights too. 1200 lumens of Dinotte power and 6 batteries kept me running with perfect vision all through the night. I think Marni and Dad also recognized this moment from Old Pueblo. I was practically asleep but I knew it would pass. They didn't even have to force me back on course this time. The chicken noodle soup was just what I needed though and I had a couple small cupfuls, saving some for the next lap. My crew also got me in warmer clothes as my slow pace wasn't doing me much to keep me warm with the coldest part of the night coming up.

As luck would have it, I heard a familiar voice just as I was ready to leave the pits. Erin Huck, a friend from engineering school and the CU Tri Team, plus Marni's old roommate in college, rolled by my sorry self and stopped. She was racing on a just for fun team and offered to ride with me a bit. I quickly accepted and got my ass moving. Starting another lap with a friend was heaven sent. Erin started off leading the way and asking me questions as I blindly followed her wheel. She made sure not to drop me and we caught up on our lives while keeping me awake at the same time. Erin happens to be a pro MTB'er so our pace gradually quickened as the climbing began in earnest. My legs came around. We climbed together for a while and eventually I popped in front somehow. I'm still not sure how that happened. With my legs feeling good, I also woke up! The rest of the circuit I was on a tear. I could hear Erin just behind me the rest of the lap but I couldn't stop.

I roared into the pits, awake again and flying high. This time Stefan was there too. I got more soup and cookies. Marni even applied my chammy butter for me because "I didn't want to take my gloves off". Yes I know I am a lucky lucky man. Stefan laughed and we joked that he would apply some for me too. Being awake was awesome. My fast lap moved me up the field and I was making my midnight move just as planned. Lots of other riders had dropped out but now I was feeling great. Motivation snowballed and I stormed out to another lap just 1 minute slower than the previous one briefly following another pro woman, Lisa from Feedback. I got more soup and cold chammy butter because apparently "I was hot down there". A third hot lap in a row was going awesome until I had another minor mechanical issue. One of my rear rotor bolts backed out and was digging into my caliper adapter, stopping my wheel. Fixing it wasn't a huge deal but it deflated my pace as I slowly dug out my tools and tightened the bolt. Fine motor skills are not so great or quick at 5am after riding for 17 hours. I radioed in my hold up and finished my lap, slower now but briefly riding with another friend, Kevin Gillest.

This time there was chicken ramen waiting for me and Dad took my lights off my helmet. It felt great to get the weight off my head, as small as it was. The sun was rising now although I was incredulous. I had expected it a few minutes earlier but Marni laughingly assured me it was coming up. I took off again and sure enough, up came the sun on the opening climb. As the lights all began to get flipped off, the cheers began to grow. "Go solo, good job solo" became nice motivation. That and the breakfast I had ordered to be awaiting my return. I like this picture because it reminds me of the morning. I'm sure it's actually still the dusk of the previous day but this picture is how dawn felt out there.
Near the end of the lap Adam rolled by me on his SS and we chatted briefly. My pace picked up and for the first time I rolled into the pits and sat down. Marni plopped some delicious sausage, eggs and hash browns in my lap. While I ate, a bigger crew (I think Jim B and Scott were there) got to work. My lights disappeared, my chain got cleaned and lubed and my clothing was pulled off me and replaced with less layers and fresh socks. I stopped short of demolishing the entire meal for fear of it not staying down and the crew sent me back out and cheered me on.

I knew was almost done now and it was almost a parade lap for me. I struggled with going out for another lap but I had pretty much decided against it. I didn't come here to place in the top 10, that was just a bonus. All I had wanted was to have a good race and not stop through the night and that I had accomplished plus more. I talked to the other solos and duos on the course. Some were going back out, others were done. I wanted to be done being a part of the living dead on course. Mile by mile the lap clicked by. I was cold. I shouldn't have taken off my knee warmers. Despite the cold I was in a good mood and enjoyed every move, attempting things I hadn't done since the first couple laps. I climbed everything I could, giving it my best effort. At 11:30am I rolled down the road to the pit. I called in that I was done. Marni said we would talk about it when I got in knowing there was time to send me on one more. Under the tent the announcer called my name and they asked if I was going out again. I said I didn't know. I waited for Dad to join me under the tent. I asked where I stood and what would happen if I went back out. He went to find out and came back quickly. With a couple racers waiting to see what I would do, the best I could realistically finish was 7th. Worst I could do was drop to 9th from 8th. That was all I needed to know and I turned in my chip. I was done. 12 laps, 180 miles, 16k+ vertical feet in 23:30. 24 sandy technical hard hours. Success.
I hugged my Dad and my eyes welled up. These things are always emotional for me although the tears that fell en mass descending to the finish of the KTR stayed put. I put my sunglasses on to walk through the crowd while my dad walked my bike. Marni and I hugged too and I happily sat back down in the chair. Parka and puffy pants on, victory Sobe in hand. The parade of friends began soon after. Bill left me lots of notes on the board and his clyde team kicked major ass to come in 2nd place.
Marni and I mugged for more pictures.
The board was complete and everyone stopped by to check it out. Along with the radio, that is a must for the future.
Soon Nick joined the camp. He did a great job in his first 24 solo completing 10 laps and coming in 23rd place. Way to go Nick! You definitely earned that chair.
Big Jim came by and then so did Doug, Lisa, Rob, Rob, Scott and Jason, all my Feedback teammates to congratulate Nick and me.
They cleaned up, coming in 3rd in Coed Pro/Am! Plus they always cheered me on when they saw me out there.
The rest is history. We packed up camp, chatted up war stories with everyone and left for the hotel. Marni got us in early and after a quick shower we ate at Pasta Jay's. Then I hobbled up the stairs and into bed. Marni scored some cake from the Denny's. Dad and I were out like lights. Like father like son. (Yes I'm wearing my jacket. My temp regulation gets all jacked up after races are over.)
After demolishing breakfast at the Diner, we had to get out of town. Sleeping in too long nixed our easy ride plans because we had to get back to pick up Turbo from the kennel. Not quite ready to leave, we made a quick stop to checkout the towers. The red sand is hard to leave behind. Very hard sometimes.
So there you have it, a successful 24 hours of Moab this go around. The third time was the charm, at least as far as me finishing a supported 24 hour solo goes. I owe a huge huge huge thanks to Marni and my dad. They were an amazing crew. The two of them never missed a beat and I certainly don't make it easy on them. Thanks also to all my family and friends who were there and those who supported me from afar. It means a ton to know you're all behind me.

Where does this leave me now? For one I know that lap races have pretty small roll for me in the future. Even with the minor mechanical incidents and sleep monster lap 7, just finishing lacked something I was searching for. Even going for lap 13 would have been formulaic and I don't regret not going at all. I wouldn't say that I'm done with them because I really do enjoy the competitive challenge of racing and learning to go faster. However I don't see racing more than 1 or 2 a year anytime in the near future. Certainly laps at Moab didn't fill the desire for exploration that I'm really longing for. This year I won't be taking the next month off.

I'm already mostly recovered, my maps are out and my eyes are green.

8 comments:

Marni said...

Congratulations wonderful Christopher. I'm very proud of your accomplishment but will also miss that month off that comes with defeat :D

Thanks for the blog!

UltraRob said...

Congratulations Chris! I really enjoyed this and it brought back a lot of memories. My first 24 hour solo race was at Moab. I've done it 4 times so I know the course pretty well although I think they've made a few changes.

Here's some random thoughts. My can't stay awake state generally doesn't come until around 2AM. I don't wear my helmet light in long races because I don't want to have neck problems. It gets really dark in the desert but I've always been on my 5th lap when it's gotten dark so I already know the lines although they keep shifting around. A U-Haul truck rented in Moab makes a great support tent even when the wind is howling. Throw in a nice propane heater and it's even better. You can even ride up the ramp into the back and then have a start ramp for your next lap. 24 hours at Moab is tougher than 40 hours on the road.

I'd really like to do it again but I've always had asthma problems there. A couple times I probably should have been in the hospital. One time I was so bad along the ridge on my final lap that I could only walk a 100 yards before I had to stop to catch my breath. I thought it was going to take me nearly 5 hours to finish the lap. I could have short cut but at least then you had to finish another lap if you crossed the finish line before noon or you'd DNF. I was just imagining walking the whole way up the back side of Prostitute Butte. Fortunately I started breathing better and actually rode pretty well up the climb.

Cellarrat said...

Nice work... wish I was there to experance it first hand!

Dave Harris said...

Jolly good ride there Chris. Sounds like you've about had enough of the Moab affair, eh? Living dead...great term.

Having raced this thing so many times and formats - 5 person, 4 person, duo, solo - I'd have to say the team racing is where it's at. Tons of fun, you get to relive laps in between laps, and recovery is much faster!

Dave Byers said...

Great job and great report Chris!

Glad to hear you are feeling good post-race and that you aren't giving up 24s altogether. Maybe we will ride one together at some point?

Geoff said...

after waiting anxiously for this post for over a week i now haven't had time to read all of it since you put it up. luckily i printed out a copy and will read it on my flight south later tonight.

all joking and sarcasm aside the 5:00am thing is going to be pretty difficult for me. my sleep tonight will be in the form of a 6 hour layover in the seattle airport and then i'll be driving ~500 miles to get up to moab tomorrow. not to mention that 5:00am mountain time translates to 3:00am alaska time. point is, you really might need to yell at me to get me up. i'll be the dead looking body somewhere near a very small rental car with nevada plates. can't wait to ride with ya. safe travels.

ryan young said...

I would say that I have never been a bikng guru like yourself, but i would say that knowing you for the past year or so I have learned alot about your sport. I know that you put in alot of time and energy, and while it doesn't always end in the winners circle, it still is awesome to hear the adventures. Keep it up and many more succeses in '08.

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