words by Michele Smith
Not really on purpose, it seems this summer has been all about trying to see just how much I can overdo it on the bike. The first big test was the Ronde de Unreasonable, a 107-mile ride on pretty much every single trail I know in the northwest suburban area, on CX bikes. I made the route by putting three CX routes I’d created into one big ride. Ed and I used pretty much every minute of daylight to get it done.
Then came team camp with the Ride Studio Cafe Expedition team. My kids had been sick the week before and while they had recovered, they were still contagious and we didn’t want to expose the babysitter we had originally booked to watch the kids while I was away at the second day of camp. So I woke up super early one Saturday morning, made it to the parking lot at Kingdom Trails by 8:30 am, mountain-biked with my teammate Julie, met the rest of the team to ride the Rasputitsa course, headed back to KT for another hour with Julie, had dinner, then drove home in a rainstorm. I got home 5 hours before Ed had to leave for his Xterra.
Then we went on vacation and spent 5 days riding at KT and then did the JAM Grand Fundo. And I topped it off with the Rapha Women’s 100 for the biggest week of riding in my whole life at 28 hours. (I think my previous record was something like 17.)
(My best events are in the 12-second to 30-minute range, so it’s kind of funny that I’ve started hauling all this fast-twitch muscle-fiber uphill and through the woods for hours and hours and hours.)
When I signed up to ride 12 Hours of Great Glen as a co-ed pair with my Hup United co-DS Chip Baker, I didn’t see that it was part of the pattern. It would be around 6 hours of riding, and I’ve done plenty of 5- and 6-hour rides this year. No big deal.
This ended up being the hardest race I’ve ever done.
Chip took one for the team and did the LeMans start. He turned out to be the perfect partner for this adventure (of course Ed was my first choice, but we couldn’t figure out the childcare angle). Chip and I couldn’t be any more different, personality-wise, but we get along very well and trust each other implicitly. I definitely saw a new side of him at this race: 12 hours of 100% bizniz Chip.
After the start, I went back to the tent to eat some of the great treats from the Skratch cookbook that Jon had made for us. There were 8 other teams in our field, including two teams of moms racing with their teenage sons.
We had a smooth exchange and I went out on my first lap. I hadn’t had a chance to pre-ride the course so this would all be a big surprise. And it was – I haven’t done very many mountain bike races and this was definitely quite different from southern New England. It was hilly, something like 1200 ft per 9-mile lap, and there were a lot of fire roads and downhill turns at speed (big weakness). Near the end of the lap, I came upon the bumpy wood-stair descent known as “the Plunge.” I hadn’t seen it before and rode about a third before I got off and walked. Then I decided to skip the floating bridge as well. I probably should have tried to ride those before the race.
Chip and I kept taking turns. He was riding all out and soundly beating my lap times on every lap. When I heard some of the expert womens’ lap times (10-15 minutes faster than me), I started to seriously reconsider my plan to upgrade this season. I was doing my best but never quite feeling like I was racing. I did manage to ride the Plunge on laps 2 and 3, but it was terrifying and I opted to walk on subsequent laps.
While Chip was racing, I would go back to the tent to eat and get ready for the next lap. It was nice to have Chip’s awesome family to hang out with. We passed info through Pam, and Syd did her first bike race (24 Minutes of Great Glen) on my hardtail, which I had brought as a spare. She kept thanking me and said it was life-changing!
I got to ride much of my 4th lap with Jon, which was awesome and was key for the later laps. I checked after that lap and found out that Chip and I were in 5th place, pretty close to 4th, but hopelessly behind 3rd. I was pretty happy actually – no pressure.
It was dark by the time I started my 5th lap, and my helmet light failed (probably user error and I couldn’t fix it while fumbling and tired) after about a mile. This made the rest of the lap difficult, though I still had my handlebar light. My night vision is not so great though. I was getting super tired and having trouble staying on the trail. I decided I was going to quit. I heard Colin cheering for me as he passed in another direction in the Blueberry Hill section near the end of the lap, which made me briefly reconsider. But I was just done. I told Chip in the timing tent as we made the exchange. He was totally supportive of course. He said he would do his 6th lap and then we would be finished. I turned in my RFID and started to walk out of the tent so I could go feel sorry for myself.
Then someone called me over. It was Jim, a friend of Chip’s, and (I realized later) on the team in second place in our category. He pointed out that Chip and I had moved up to third because the other two teams had stopped riding. I was feeling very sad about quitting so this gave me some motivation to change my mind. I went to the volunteers and got my RFID back. As Colin said during one of his many advice-dispensing moments during the race, "Nothing is slower than stopping."
I went back to the Hup tent and read some hilarious motivational texts that Ed had sent to me and Chip, coincidentally at the moment I was feeling the worst on lap 5. I headed back out for my 6th lap in a much better frame of mind (and with new lights) and had a good, though slow ride. And remembering some of the spots I had gone through earlier with Jon (and his good lines) helped keep me smiling and focused.
After that I chatted with and helped out Jon for a bit, then headed back to my tent to try to get some sleep. At that point it was probably 1:30 am. Around 6 am, a bagpiper started playing. I kept thinking that it would stop, and then I started to wonder if it had stopped and if my brain was just filling in the sound. But finally I got up to enjoy the performance in person.
I hung out with Jon, Legend, as he was heading out for some more laps in the morning.
He was remarkably cheerful considering how many laps he had ridden. That's why he's Hup's Most Valuable Camper, in perpetuity. Jon wanted to know how he was doing in his mini-competition with Uri, so I left him a note after I filled up his bottles. (Jon later prevailed, by two laps.)
Finally, this happened. I’m told it was Chip’s first podium!
Would I do this again? No. Maybe. But this was the last year of 24 Hours of Great Glen, so I don’t ever have to decide.