2018 24 HOC

We'd signed up forever ago, back in March maybe, when I was riding my bike regularly and had the shining hope that when 24 Hours of Cumming got here I'd race it on the bike I'd been trying to buy for nearly a year. By mid-July, I had a titanium Salsa Fargo frame sitting in my living room, a few parts on order, and my lowest bike mileage since I don't know when.

One major spending spree later, I had the majority of the parts I needed and drove them all to Mickey's for assembly. The plan was for us to build it together so I could start gaining, if not some basic bike skills, at least a better understanding of them.

Several hours later it actually looked like a bike. Short on time and determined, against all advice to the contrary, to race my new bike the following weekend, on Monday or Tuesday I took it to my local shop for the rest of the work. "When do you need it?" they asked.

"Well, I'm leaving Friday morning, so...Friday morning?"

"We'll do our best."

I'm still on summer vacation, so I should have been completely packed and ready to roll Friday, but we had our dog put to sleep on Thursday and I spent the rest of that day lying around crying. Not ideal race prep, but I was well-rested.

The Cyclery hadn't actually promised to have my new bike done, but being an eternal optimist I'd done nothing to get my regular gravel bike ready. By 9:15, when I still hadn't heard from them, this was looking like a mistake. Just in case, I checked my voicemail and, sure enough, my bike had been finished since Wednesday.

Hello, beautiful!
So. Ran to the shop, picked up the (absolutely beautiful) bike (seriously, it's exactly how I pictured it in my mind), came home and took some pictures of it (because priorities), rode it around the block, tossed a bunch of food, clothes, and gear into a bag, found one loose water bottle cage and hoped to track down another before race time, and headed to pick up Mickey only one hour later than I'd planned.

After an uneventful drive, we checked in at the race and did a little visiting with some Iowa friends, then grabbed dinner. That left plenty of time to get my bike ready, take more pictures of it, hang out with our awesome hosts and other houseguests, and still get to bed reasonably early.

Our race, the 400K relay, didn't start until 11 a.m., making for a long morning. We went to the Cumming Tap (race HQ) about an hour early and snagged an impossibly good parking place right next to it. We didn't have to drag all of our gear out of the car because it was close enough to just bop over if we needed anything, which I did about 7,000 times in the time before my part of the race started.

Loop 1: Mickey ~ 62 miles, 3:47; "out of shape"


Race director Steve Cannon gave some last minute reminders about 10:50, and all of the leg 1 racers took off right about 11. In addition to the 2-person 400K relay, there were also solo and 4-person divisions, making a decent little crowd at the start. Meanwhile the 100K racers, who'd started at 8 a.m., began trickling in, led by Luke "I'm not a football player but could play one on TV" Wilson.

I spent my free time hydrating, appreciating the cloud cover, messing around on my phone, eating lunch, and making/chatting with friends. I had three main jobs to accomplish: get my water/nutrition on the bike, put on my kit, and let some air out of my rock hard tires, which were still pretty inflated from setting them up tubeless the week before.  After being plagued by text miscommunications last year we'd (and by "we" I mean Mickey) decided to call once we were about a half hour out. This worked much better, so I was ready and waiting when he crossed the finish line in 3:48.

I'm usually nervous before races, but since neither of us has had stellar training this summer we'd agreed that this was basically a training ride. For Mickey that apparently meant breezing through his loop in a time I could only equal on a motorcycle. I just hoped to not die. My long ride since Coast to Coast in May has been 30 miles; I could have worried about riding double that (studiously ignoring the fact that I would have another 64 miles coming up in my next leg of the relay), but I've learned that my body will do pretty much whatever I ask of it, just not very quickly.

Loop 2: Kate 63 miles, 5:12; comedy of errors

Within 6 pedal strokes I remembered I hadn't let air out of my tires. Too bad I'd only had three hours to make sure I was totally ready. I considered stopping to lower my tire pressure but decided to leave well-enough alone. The majority of the roads were pretty smooth, so the tire pressure turned out to mostly be a non-issue.

Next I noticed that none of the side roads were showing up on my Garmin. That's weird, I thought;  about three hours later I realized that I'd missed a crucial step in updating my base map, the end result being that I had no base map. All I could do was blindly follow the purple line on my screen. Luckily, this was another non-issue. I had one spot where we were supposed to make a left; I passed the bike trail I was supposed to turn onto and rode to a parallel road, but my Garmin chirped off-course and I turned around.

Mickey had advised strongly against racing my new bike -- "Do you know how many things could go wrong? You're going to spend 60 miles hating it if there's a problem." -- but my one-block shakedown ride had given me confidence that the fit was close enough to not cause major problems. It was actually the perfect first ride. I was so out of shape that I had no real expectations or hopes other than survival. Anything good I'd attribute to the new bike; anything bad I'd blame on myself.

Overall my first loop was pretty unremarkable. Mickey had ridden fast enough that it took an hour for the first person to pass me. I worried that I was somehow off course until Kristi Mohn rode past. A few more people came by in the next hour, but that was about it.

I saw very few people and not many cars. There were a couple of paved stretches, and while I really don't care for road riding I'm always thankful for it during a gravel race. On one highway section, a wheel escaped the bed of a truck in the opposite lane and bounced down the road towards me, across my lane, and into the field on my right as the oblivious driver continued on. It wasn't a super close call -- the wheel was more than 20 feet away from me at its closest -- but if timing was different it could have been bad.  All I could think was how pissed I'd be to die on my very first ride on my new bike and how ready I now was to get back to the gravel.

The first 30 miles were much better than I'd anticipated. From there, things went downhill, but I'd expected that and didn't worry about it. I was sad to realize I'd only brought 2 electrolyte capsules and became progressively sadder as my legs became progressively crampier. I focused on drinking a lot and spinning an easy gear; I never felt better, but the discomfort stayed at a manageable level. Manageable was basically the word for this leg: it was hot, but not as hot as I expected; windy, but not as windy as I expected; hilly, but not...you get the idea.

I always leave my Garmin set on the map screen with as little information as possible. All I want to know is where to go and how far until my next turn; that way I don't fixate on how slowly I'm going or how far I have to go. I check the mileage once an hour until I start to get tired; then I might increase my ration. By the time I got close enough to give Mickey the 30 minute warning, I was rationing water as well as Garmin checks. Even having taken a 3-liter bladder and two bottles of drink mix I was running low enough to, not worry exactly, but to be cautious.

Photo credit: Carrie Bax
I got back to the Cumming Tap about 8:00. The loop, about two miles longer than my first loop last year, had taken me about 15 minutes longer. Considering my lack of training, I was content with that. Mickey and I high fived (very cautiously on my part), and he took off into the setting sun for his next 60 miles while I wondered how in the hell I was going to ride another 60+ miles in a few hours. My Garmin helpfully chimed in "recovery time: 58 hours."

Loop 3: Mickey ~61 miles, ~4:18

My first order of business was to get out of my sweaty cycling kit and then eat the sandwich I'd brought. I spent an hour or so hanging out and talking then decided I needed a nap. Before lying down I took care of all my prep for the next loop: filling up water, restocking my electrolytes, getting food ready and batteries in my headlamp, setting out my clothes, wiping down my ridiculously dusty chain, and finally letting some air out of my tires.

60 miles of Iowa dust.
Then I went back to the van, inflated my sleeping pad, put my feet up on the back of the driver's seat, and set my alarm for an hour. I don't think I ever full-on slept, but I dozed a little and I think that having my feet up did wonders for my legs. When the alarm went off, I did some stretching, then got up and dressed, ate more, and waited for Mickey's call. It came a little later than I'd expected, but I was happy to have a longer break. "Take your time," I told him.

Loop 4: Kate 64 miles, 6:12 "just keep swimming"

Like last year, the second loop was less terrible in fact than in theory. Most of the aches from my earlier ride were gone (for the moment), and the night air was cool and comfortable. A few miles in my Garmin beeped its recovery check, a grudging "fair".  This should be easy now, I told my legs, your long ride is 63 miles. My legs were unimpressed with this logic.

I saw several raccoons, and two deer crossed the road in front of me at intervals that could have been designed to keep me as paranoid as possible for the majority of the ride, but other than worries about crashing into wildlife I enjoy riding at night. I set myself some things to look forward to: hourly mileage checks, an energy shot at two and a half hours into the ride, a bathroom stop at three hours. I had a ridiculously easy granny gear but walked any hill I wanted to, and while that may not have been an efficient move time-wise it probably helped my body feel better overall.

I saw exactly one other bike the entire loop, and that was towards the end, though it was still dark. I'd been riding my first leg as the sun had set, and now I watched as the sky began to brighten. Eventually I could turn off my lights, something I'd been rationing for an hour or so, and finally I was close enough to make the call I'd been looking forward to all night: "I'm about 6 miles out, so I should be there in 7 hours or so."

"You sound terrible," Mickey replied.

I hung up the phone, started pedaling again, and soon realized that the flickers I'd been seeing in the distance were lightning, not warning lights on towers as I'd initially assumed. A big, dark cloud formed overhead.  Though the wind had been blowing out of the south throughout the race, it began gusting from the north, naturally the direction I was now riding.

The ominous weather provided some motivation to pick up my pace, and a short stretch of pavement eased me back to familiar territory. It was sprinkling as I rode into race HQ, and then, having successfully herded me back to the finish, the would-be storm dissipated.

Finished! Get me off this bike.
Thanks to Mickey's strong riding and my surviving both loops, we ended up taking second place in the 2-person 400K relay.

Cool awards, and I think the daytime headlamp is a nice touch, too.

I know. I was surprised, too.


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