since i didn't start riding until a couple of years ago i missed the 'good old days' of the 24 hours of canaan. last year i rode my first 24 at the last 24 hours of snowshoe, and even if it hadn't been the last it would have been my last. the venue seemed good but the course was a disaster. in spite of granny's efforts, snowshoe seemed more like a 24 hour death march through foot deep peanut butter mud than a bike race. sitting around the campfire a couple of weeks ago in stokesville i listened to a couple of veterans of the old canaan race talk about those good old days, without much hope that big bear would revive the race, but after this weekend i think this event might be on the rebound.
spent thursday night up at my parents so that my brother and i could hit the road early to make sure that we got a good spot to camp. he came along to help us --a team with no name -- out at the race. the drive was easy, a bit under 3 hours from upper montgomery county, even with a quick detour around frederick to avoid a backup on 70. rather than the disjointed camping arrangements on the side of a hill at snowshoe, all of the camping was in together along an old unused airstrip, nice an flat, and most importantly, pretty dry considering that the area had gotten some rain in the couple of days before the race. we found an area to camp fairly close to start/finish that looked like it would hold us and the "ten pound monkeys" who were planning to camp with us and started setting up. the rest of friday afternoon was spent waiting for teammates, riding around the venue, enjoying some refreshments, and catching up with friends on other teams.
the sunlight got us up early, earlier than you really want to before an event like this but a couple cups of good coffee (serious props to the coffee vendor for some good product) and a bowl of instant oatmeal always make for a good start to the day. spent a bit of time watching the trials competition that was going on around the venue and listened to the normal pre-race talk from laird. mike was nominated for the run and first lap and talked my way into the 2nd position, having done a bit of research and figuring out that it was the position most likely to have only 1 full night lap. jon bruck took the 3rd spot, tris 4th, and jon wheaton (who hadn't arrived untill 3 am) got the 5th position. darren, a friend who offered to come down and wrench for us, showed up and we all watched the start.
waiting for mike to come in from the first lap it became clear that this course was riding a bit longer than expected. lap times had been expected to be under an hour for pros and around 1:20 for sport but the first rider (from a duo/pro team) came through the transition tent at 1:08 and the first sport riders started coming though at about 1:20. ezra (from the ten pound monkeys) came through around 1:30 and said that he'd broken his chain, and mike had broken his twice. mike was in 5 minutes later and i was off.
and then within the first 200 yards of singletrack i was on the ground looking at a bike with a broken chain. the first section of course looked like it had just been cut and was pretty rough. i'm not sure exactly what happened... i remember holding a nose-wheelie for a while and then knowing that something was wrong with the bike before i even looked at it, and then seeing the end of the chain hanging from the cassette. since i was just inside the woods next to the campground a couple of spectators offered to go get someone from my team to help and soon my brother and wheaton were both there. i found the power-link that i keep in my camelbak and managed to get the chain fixed myself in a couple of minutes, even though i was fumbling around a lot thanks to all of the adrenaline rushing through my blood.
i was back up a riding after losing seven or eight minutes and finally getting the lap started for real. the first half of the lap was rolling singletrack and overgrown fireroads with a couple of short rocky power climbs thrown in. pretty slick from the rain and previous riders but all rideable. thanks to my broken chain and mike's twice broken chain we were a little way back in the field, so i was passing riders pretty consistently. i was trying to keep a steady pace to make sure that i didn't blow up or make another stupid mistake, but the constant supply of targets to catch made sure that i didn't take it too easy. after the first rolling section you hit a fireroad for a 1/4 mile or so, a great place to eat and drink, or just put the gas on, depending on what you need, then turns into an area that was planted as a tree farm and the trail snakes through the pines on beautiful bermed turns.
after the berms the trail starts to get a bit more rocky, rolling for a while, then hitting the longest downhill of the course, a fun, fast, and loose rocky descent down into and then through a creek. having seen the course profile i knew that this was lowest point of the course and that you climb back to the top in 3 sections, with more up & down singletrack between them. the first climb was on an old fireroad and very muddy, but the mud was wet enough that it didn't slow you down. the 2nd was on singletrack, and the last and biggest on a combination of the two. nothing really long and all rideable except for a couple stretches of the last one that were about 50/50, depending on how fresh you were.
in between the climbs the 2nd half of the course was more rocky than on the first half of the course with short technical climbs and descents thrown in. at the bottom of the last climb was large boulder field that i only saw 1 rider even attempt to ride on any of my laps. once you hit the top of the last climb there was a gentle descent back to the camprgound on slick & rocky trails. then across the bridge into the start/finish tent to meet our next rider. 1:35 for my first lap with almost ten minutes lost to my broken chain.
by this point it was becoming pretty clear that we weren't going to be doing 4 laps a peice as i'd assumed and 3 each seemed more likely. the long lap, plus the 5 person team meant that we had plenty of recovery time, so i made some dinner and spent some time watching the race in the woods by the campground. darren swapped my chain out for a new one and fixed some strange cable routing heading to the rear derailler that was making shifting harder than it needed to be.
went out just before 10 and made it out of the campground without breaking my chain. the first half of this lap felt really fast. marc vettori passed me on the first section, flying up a climb on his rigid singlespeed. i tried in vain to keep up but there was no hope. a few minutes later i hit a downhill fireroad section i saw a rider up ahead and thinking it may be him i put the bike in a big gear turned on the juice to try to chase him down. coming into the bermed pine forest section the rider i'd reduced the gap and was still closing in. three turns ahead, then 2, 1, and i'd caught him. turned out it wasn't vettori though. as the rider moved over to let me past him, i looked over and it was gary fisher pro solo rider cam chambers. sure he was on his 8th lap and pacing himself for a long night, but it was pretty cool to have a pro solo rider let me by and then hang onto my wheel.
a couple minutes later i passed a speedgoat rider, and while i didn't get a good look at him or his number i thought it might be the sologoat. flew down the long downhill to mile 6 with at least one of the two behind me. felt like i rode the downhill twice as fast as i did durning the day, but it was probably just the darkness making it feel like that. after a while the sologoat came by me and it didn't seem like chamber was back there any more. i managed to hang onto his wheel for a little while. cam chambers came by in the boulder section - he was the only rider i saw try to ride it. my quads and vmo's were pretty close to cramping near the end of the lap but i managed to keep them moving and made it to the end without cramping. finished the lap in 1:35, same as my first lap.
i had a bit of a headache after my lap, so i was worried that i wasn't hydrating well. took a little while to cool off and made a cup of instant soup. it really hit the spot and by the time i finished the soup my headache was gone. too amped up after my lap to sleep so i waited around for the next transition then hit the sack for a bit of rest before my next lap. didn't really get much sleep, but at least i was lying down.
people had been saying for weeks that the course was a good one for singlespeeds and since my other geared bike was in need of work i brought mine along for the weekend as a backup bike, but made sure to take enough parts to make it into a geared bike. reports from us postal, the big meats, and hunter thomson experience were good too, so by the 2nd half of my 2nd lap (after getting passed by vettori) i was thinking i'd ride it on my last lap. i was a bit worried that my lap would be slower than normal and i didn't want to deprive anyone on the team of a third lap, so i ran it past them and they were all ok with it. wheaton and tris had already decided to switch laps on the last rotation since jon would be more likely to get in before 12 if it came down to the wire.
had another cup of soup when i got up and started to get my bike ready for my lap. dug out a set of cane creek bar-ends that i had in my parts box and put them on the IF, and added a bottle cage - my back had been hurting, so i decided to go out without a camelbak on this lap to see if it would help.
the first section of the course felt good, up out of the saddle on the short climbs. my legs where pretty much gone by the top but there was enough recovery time and i was really digging the new bar ends. still managed to pass geared riders, but figured i was running behind my pace from my first 2 laps, and at this point i was hoping to come in at 1:45 or 1:50.
coming off the long downhill into the first of the 3 climbs back to the top i was feeling pretty good, getting warmed up and into the rythym of the singlespeed. there were a few sections in the singletrack climbs where i just ran out of power and had to walk, but not many more than when i was riding the geared bike. coming into the boulder section and looking at the time it started to dawn on me that i might be able to finish in about the same time as my first 2 laps, or even faster. walked most of the first section of the last climb and then started riding again once the climb switched to doubletrack. i was riding with an expert rider (on a singlespeed) and checking my time constantly, trying to make sure i beat my time. passed crashmore on the the climb then saw darren out in the woods playing his banjo. got caught up in some traffic on the final singletrack section, but managed to stay upright through some rocky sections and get around most of the slower riders. one last time over the bridge and around one last rider into the transition tent to hand off to jon bruck and clock out at 1:32.... my fastest lap of the race.
bruck turned in his fastest lap of the race and then wheaton went out to try and get back in before 12 so that tris could get in a third lap. we all waited at the finish line as the clock ticked down, but it wasn't to be. jon made it into the tent at 12:02, just too late to get that extra lap in. we ended up with 14 laps for 8th of 21 teams in the 5-person/open class and 41st overall, right behind the boys from US Postal (joe, ricky, erin, and jason).
this was a great race, mostly because of a great course. the course was wet and in places very muddy but unlike snowshoe it was 99% rideable. it was technical enough to keep you on your toes but not so technical as to put less skilled riders off their bikes and the climbs were varied and well paced. there were plenty of sections to pass as a lot of the singletrack was on overgrown doubletrack.
the condensed venue also made for a more intimate feel for the event, although this may not last if it rebounds and they have to develop more camping areas - the 144 teams in attendance this year just about filled the existing camping area.
thanks to jj & darren for helping around the camp, all the ten pound monkeys for being great company (and bringing the monkey bike), and of course to the rest of "a team with no name" - mike, tris, jon, & jon - for being great teamates and making this a great race.