Everyone who is anyone was at Riverside State Park in Spokane on Memorial Day weekend for the 17th running of Round and Round’s legendary 24 hour mountain bike race. If you missed it you’re a chump plain and simple and there’s little anyone can do to help. You are condemned to wear the dunce hat until the race rolls around again next year.
Due to my foreign education I know a good thing when I see it and immediately signed on to race on a 5 man team comprised mainly of Mafia brethren. There is a multitude of categories to accommodate all manner of ages, genders, numbers, and of course one for those oddball single speed folk too so finding an appropriate class is a snap. And because all of my team mates are of advanced ages we qualified for the 250+ category, even though I’m personally only 19 years old emotionally, according to my ex-wife anyway. The only thing left was to name our team because, let’s face it “Mafia” hardly has sex appeal and we were 5 seriously sexy guys. Plus there is a prize for best named team. I thought our “Out on a WIM” moniker was diabolically clever for its quadruple wordplay pun but Gino just stared at it blankly so no Best Team Name prize for us.
The basic tenets of the weekend are get your campsite set up, sacrifice your weakest team member as the volunteer, the gun goes off at noon on Saturday and then again at noon on Sunday. In between you, or you + team mate(s) ride as many laps around a 15 mile rocky course as possible after sacrificing another team member to run the opening 600 yard mini lap. Not much else. You must sign in before going out on your next lap (except solos) and must swipe your team’s timing chip over the sensor on the table in the tent upon finishing your lap before handing it to your next rider. Pretty simple. Pretty freaking simple all right – unless your names are Christopher Fast or Joe Martin, not coincidentally, my team mates. On his very first lap whilst still allegedly lucid and in possession of his full mental powers Chris forgot to sign in! Oh gross and miserable incompetence! Even more remarkable he then proceeded to answer his phone when we called him back. Who the hell answers their phone in the middle of a race!? But on account of this he was able to recover quite nicely so we reduced his punishment from 10 lashes to 6. Then on his very next lap another flub. We exchanged the timing chip by carrying it in our jersey pockets, the arriving rider shoving it in the pocket of the departing rider. Sometimes an extraneous team mate would be present to execute this exchange in the misguided belief that it may save a few seconds. Enter Joe Martin. He shoves his hand in Doug Graver’s pocket and pulls out whatever he finds there and then immediately stashes it in Christopher’s pocket without even looking at it! And because a banana apparently feels exactly the same as a timing chip to Joe’s tender hands Chris rode merrily away with a delicious snack while the timing chip remained in Doug’s pocket. Praise Allah that Chris was already in the habit of answering his phone while racing.
One of the drawbacks of being on a team comprised of doddering old folk, besides the episodes of senility mentioned above, is that no one really wants to run so it fell to me as the token 19 year old to take the first lap which included the Le Mans start. Because I’m kind of gimpy myself I elected to run in actual running shoes to save my poor Achilles and ankles the undue punishment that loping up and down rocky inclines would entail. And because the run portion is a robust 600 yards and includes a sizable (and very rocky) hill climb I figured the time I would gain in running shoes would far outweigh the time it would take for me to change into bike shoes upon reaching my bike. It would be the first of many miscalculations of the weekend. I lined up in about the 2nd row just behind a passel of rail thin Rad Racers who looked not to be trifled with. But what a crazy ass run! As soon as Gino fired his howitzer of a pistol the entire field sprinted for all they were worth while throwing elbows as if there were free donuts to be had in the Mafia tent at the end of the 80 yard start straight. In the 14 seconds or so it took us to get there I got demoted to mid-pack. I had to pick my lines carefully going up the hill weaving in and out of groups of people who had already popped 200 yards into a 24 hour event. Managed to get back inside the top 10 before the finish but then fumbled with my shoes for so long that I was mid-pack again by the time I actually got going on my bike. This necessitated some bold maneuvers and high caloric burn in the initial bike portion in order to get back into the top 10 without getting hopelessly boxed in before the single track started.
It’s kind of hard to get your heartbeat under control if you’ve just run 600 yards all out and then gone straight into the red for 20 minutes on your bike to get into the position you feel you belong. But then around the first checkpoint I became aware of someone reeling me in from behind. I never looked back but I could sense their evil presence coming ever closer, closer. Some vile lamprey beast was upon me! Soon I could practically feel the icy exhale of their morbid breath on my neck. We reached the only technical climb on the course with me still holding the hellhound barely at bay when I heard a chirpy female voice chime out encouragingly, “Keep going!” I had gotten out of shape and she was right on my wheel and wanted to stay clipped in. I think it may have been one of those foxy Zuster chicks but I was so intent on hitting each and every rock on Devil’s Up that I didn’t dare steal a glance back to confirm. We caught up to someone else just at the crest of Devil’s Down and I just dropped in behind him, not having pre-ridden the course. By the time we emerged on Strawberry Fields Forever the Phantom Phemale was gone off the back, either having crashed or taken the detour on Devil’s Down and my soul relaxed having rid myself of that faceless fiend.
The rest of the lap was uneventful as was my baton exchange to Joe just past the timing tent. The course was exactly the same as last year and while I certainly didn’t remember it precisely it at least seemed familiar and I generally knew where I was going. A very good course too by the way, good flow with no impassable obstacles or ridiculous climbs. But not a walk in the park either. There are rock gardens and short punchy climbs and some loose and sandy sections. My favorite section was Little Vietnam, especially at night. Which is somewhat ironic because that is the only place and time I crashed, clipped a rock with my pedal on the exit to the tight single track along the river and crash landed. If you do fall on this course I can pretty much guarantee you will land on rocks. The hardest section in my opinion is Devil’s Up. It’s short but steep and rocky and I can’t imagine having to negotiate it every lap as a solo rider. The only semi-prolonged suffering you’ll face, assuming you don’t crash like a common bungler, is on 5 Minute Hill which was loose and sandy this year as well as rutted from the torrential rains the previous weekend.
No report on the 2016 24 Hours of Spokane would be complete without a mention of the 60+ solo category. Yes, you read that right, geezers who by all rights should get winded playing shuffleboard on cruise ships, committing to racing for 24 hours by themselves over rugged rocky terrain. It says something about the sadistic nature of Round and Round Productions that such a class even exists. Maybe some old guy did Wendy a grievous wrong at some point and she’s exacting revenge on the entire demographic. Only 2 intrepid souls had sufficiently massive fortitude to take the bait; Frank Benish and Hank Greer. Since the conclusion of this race one has since been sedated, tagged, and released back into custody of the infinitely compassionate Phyllis Benish. The other, I regret to say, is still dangerously at liberty in the community.
Over the duration of the 24 hours Frank managed to biff it away heavily on Devil’s Down not once but twice and somehow managing to avoid being medivacced out after splaying himself over those formidable rocks. Soldiering on he relentlessly pounded out lap after painful lap in sorely abused condition but there was no quit in him. I personally witnessed him riding up the steep fire road hill after Little Vietnam in the 22nd hour when even some of the 10 person corporate team members were walking it at that point. As a final flourish, with loose bits of torn flesh flapping in the breeze like a ripped jersey, on the last lap he crashed spectacularly on Wicked Witch removing what little skin remained on his elbows and knees and ringing his bell so soundly he instinctively started reciting the pledge of allegiance. Again he picked himself up and completed his 14th solo lap! He was an ugly, chewed up piece of raw hamburger upon crossing the line – and believe me when I say he wasn’t exactly Tom Selleck to start with – but still standing! I escorted him to the medical tent to get his wounds dressed where he proceeded to assail the poor nurse on duty in a booming voice with all manner of hallucinogenic babble, “Blaaarrr! By God lassie you’re a fine looking wench! Pluto! Put me back on my bike! I don’t need no stinkin’ medicalness attention. Bah, I can hardly concentrate barely, zzzzzz.” I was convinced that he was going to request me to smash him in the face with a crowbar right then and there in the medical tent just to reinforce to all in the vicinity how utterly bad ass he is. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Frank Benish!
Even if you don’t race solo a 24 hour event is challenging because you’ll be doing about 5 hours total in 5 all out 1 hour stints. And then cooling down or getting cleaned up or eating or taking a cat nap and having to get up and go full out again. It might be cold or rainy and at some point it will definitely be dark and your body will take a bit to adjust. But that is part of the novelty too; it is part race, part party, part camping trip. And your entry fee covers your camping, a dinner on Saturday night, Sunday morning pancake breakfast, a lasagna feed after the finish on Sunday in addition to the goody bag and T shirt as well as bottles of wine for all podium finishers! If that wasn’t enough all class winners get custom 24 Hour race jerseys! Not bad for less money than it costs to run a standard big city marathon. And I’d be remiss to not mention the bonanza of raffle goodness to be had during the awards ceremony because some lucky dog, ahem, won a complete FSA wheel set. Thank you FSA!
You’re no doubt wondering how you can get in on this action for next year. Whoa, slow down there Gonzales. Registration for 2017 won’t open for at least 6 months so you must sit and stew until then. It’s your own damn fault of course but I’m sorry for you anyway. To avoid being a 2 time chump send an email to Wendy at firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line of “I want in for 2017!” and she will alert you as soon as registration opens.
~ Contributed by Brig Seidl~