A day in the Sage - 2011 24 Hours in the Sage

Coming off the Notch on the last lap
Photo - About the Shot (abouttheshot.com)
Our third year of racing at the 24 Hours in the Sage and it was still a grand time. The KOA has fully embraced the madness of the noon to noon race, making the venue the best of all the 24 hour races we've been to. Add in the fun of Hartman Rocks and it's clear why 24 Hours in the Sage has become an annual pilgrimage. But besides the fun, the racing is also serious. Last year Nick and I won a close race in the Co-Ed Duo class and we came to Gunnison hoping to defend the title. Despite some hiccups and completely scrapping our pre-race plan, we kept it together. As usual in 24 Hour racing, the weather proved as much an opponent as the other teams. It was a close race for most of the first day and into the night. At the end of the day, Nick and I - racing as Happy 2 B Here - turned 20 laps, finishing at 12:08. We even beat the Men's Duo team by a few seconds! The second place Co-Ed team, Keeping it Kalm with Peter and Genevieve Kalmes, finished with 19 laps at 11:30 and the Single Track Siblings of Taf and Ken McMurruy completed 16 laps at 11:02. Congrats to everyone who braved the heat and tackled 24 Hours in the Sage this year.

As everyone gathered for the start, it was already hot. The sun blazed down from a clear blue sky, with a few clouds on the horizon. I held Nick's bike for the short run and they were off. Since I had already gotten everything ready for my first lap, I had some time to chill. I got to the transition tent early enough to watch the first rider come through (Jake Wells with Team KOA in 49:49 - super fast!) There were plenty of other fast riders sprinting for the line. The first Co-Ed duo team came through in 54 minutes, about 10 minutes ahead of when I was expecting Nick. Ouch. But Nick was also fast, turning a 59 minute first lap. Out I went for my first trip around the sage. And I was happy I had put a little extra in my camelbak! It was really hot on the road. Up Jacks hill and I acquired a tail. Some guy decided that my pace was just what he wanted to ride, and proceeded to follow me, about two wheel lengths back, up until the Notch. Why do the four man teams always decide to draft off the girls? Not cool, people. Oh well - getting used to it now. Up on the rocks and the heat radiated from the sand and the rocks. I was happy I was wearing a white kit! The trail was really sandy as well, with deep wheel sucking pits all over. The worst place was the climb up from Sea of Sage to Rocky Ridge. I did really well with my technical skills through Rocky Ridge, down Becks and into the Notch. Had a really good run up to the left hand turn to the Notch and the descent off the Notch. I cruised back to the KOA on the road with a new personal best lap time.

The plan was to switch over to two laps per outing after the initial opening laps. So after the hand off, I headed back to the camper to rest, eat and cool off after baking in the heat. I took care of my bike and fluids for the next two laps first, ate a ZingBar and settled down for a bit. Man, it was hot out! So I decided to head back to the transition tent and make sure Nick would have enough fluids for his second lap. I brought a bottle of water filled ice and waited in the shade. I wasn't dressed for riding by any means - with sports bra and skirt on. But when Nick came in, he didn't want that bottle of ice - he wanted off the bike and into the shade. It was that hot out in the sage. Our first change in plans...

It took a few minutes, but I was soon back out on course. And it was brutally hot on the road leading to the single track. I was still wearing my white SoCo kit and happy about that choice as the temperature climbed like the hill up Jacks. The sandy trails radiated the sun's heat up against the rocks. I had a clean run at Behind the Rocks - Nick had shown me a better line through one of the more challenging sections. Up the steady climb at the start of Alonzo's and through the rock gardens along the ridge line. Onto Luge and wow - was it hot. I actually unzipped my jersey all the way and I rarely unzip my jersey in a ride or race. Having the jersey unzipped and the wind against my chest helped. KOA Dave had even headed up to Cottonwood Grove - about the halfway point in the lap - with a cooler full of water bottles. I was doing fine, handling the heat well, so waved and continued along my way. Clouds were building the south west, but doing nothing but producing a dusty, hot, dry wind that made the road miserable. Back at the KOA and Nick met me with a fresh bottle and some salty potatoes. Then once more out into the heat. I was doing two laps so Nick could try to recover from the heat. He'd gotten some really bad cramps and was concerned about his hamstring since it was still hurting. The wind was picking up and the clouds were getting more ominous, but the temperature hadn't dropped. Brian Smith and some of his friends were at the top of Jacks, handing out ice cold Coke. Awesome! Did my best to slam one - just the kick I needed at that point. As I started up Luge, the clouds started spitting - big, fat drops that sent explosions of sand up from the trail. I was actually hoping for some rain to tighten up the trail and tap down the sand a little. No such luck - just enough rain to cool the air and make the rocks a little slippery and treacherous.

Nick riding on Rocky Ridge
Photo - About the Shot
Nick was ready - just not sure how fast he would be able to ride. His hamstring was tight and he was afraid he might have strained it. Time for our second change in plans - because of the heat and the speeds we needed to maintain to reach our goal - we were going to continue with the single laps at least until dark. I wasn't sure where we stood overall at the time since the print out was a few laps old. But at the time they were printed, we in second place by a few minutes. But as Nick always says, the race doesn't start until midnight. So the results didn't mean much yet. Time to get ready for the sunset lap. I knew that I wouldn't really need a light, but... Things happen. I decided wear my helmet light just in case. If something went wrong, I wanted to have the insurance policy.

A little faster then he'd anticipated and Nick rolled in. I headed out into the sunset. The wind had died down and the threatening rain vanished, leaving the air heavy and warm. The clouds still lingered, promising a pretty sunset. Riders were scattered through the sage, drained by the heat. I found a steady tempo up the hills and across the rocks. It was warmer then I'd anticipated and the arm coolers were too much. Rolled them down and continued along my way. I actually passed a guy on the descent on the backside of Alonzo's! I love it when I can do that! Riding was becoming more comfortable as the heat from the sun was fading, leaving the warmth from sand. I took my glasses off after the drop down Sea of Sage, but there was still plenty of light. The lingering clouds were fiery shades of pink, orange and gold, with mountains behind Gunnison ablaze in the setting sun. Up through the Notch and I made the left hand turn at the start - but then proceeded to bobble the rest of the rocks. Oh well - getting closer! That was the first time I'd even gotten to make the turn. It was almost dark when I returned to KOA and Nick set off, his lights blazing.

Nick had said he was feeling better and would try to turn a quick lap. That meant I only had an hour before I had to be back at the tent, ready to ride. I was starting to get tired. I hadn't eaten enough for the amount of riding I'd done. I was so used to doing two laps and then having plenty of time to rest and eat - doing one lap meant I had to ride faster, but was getting less then half the recovery as with two laps. At that point, having some help in camp would have been nice. But we didn't so I mounted lights, mixed bottles and got ready for my first night lap. Before leaving the camper, I left Nick a note asking for a bit of a break - if he could do two laps on his next outing.

While not cold, it was starting to cool a little down at the KOA. I left transition with knee warmers and a light long sleeved jersey, but soon realized I was way over dressed. After the climb up Jacks, I rolled my the knee warmers down around my ankles and unzipped my jersey part way. There were still plenty of riders on course, the lights sparkling through the sage but I was alone in my little world. Behind the Rocks was a bit of a struggle this time - a little clumsy. Getting the stupid tireds this early wasn't a good sign of things to come. I settled down a little on Alonzo's and suffered a little on Luge and Broken Shovel. Just tired, feeling like I had no energy in my legs and no power to turn the cranks. But everyone else seemed to be feeling the same way - I was still passing people and few riders were passing me. It was a decent run through Rocky Ridge and down Becks. Into the Notch and this time I almost made it - made the left turn, got down the first rock, up the second step, but bobbled on the last obstacle before the descent. So close! Gave me a little more energy for the descent down to the road. Back at the tent, hoping for my break. Nick was geared up for two laps and said not to meet him.

Ahhh - time for some rest! First the bike and light chores - clean the chain, lube the chain, get fresh batteries, charge the batteries I'd used on that lap. Then time for a quick rinse off and get out of cycling clothes. That felt really good - love the warm showers at the KOA! Finally I could sit down, eat some soup and potatoes and sleep for a little while. The soup hit time spot and I curled up in the bed to close my eyes for 90 minutes. Not sleep - at that point in a 24 hour race, with 12 hours still to go - I have never been able to sleep. It's more just laying in bed, nice and warm, listening to the quiet buzz of the racers around the camper. There a muted hum as the four man teams continue to send riders onto course, soloist come in for some food and support or sleep and the race officials monitoring it all. Too soon though, my alarm went off and it was time to head over for my next lap. I was hoping the break and food would provide me a jump and get my laps time back down where I wanted them.

Once again, I managed to overdress for the lap. In the KOA it was cool and slightly damp, with a light wind. I was afraid the wind would be worse on the mesa, so I opted for my wind jacket over a base layer and knee warmers. I quickly unzipped the wind jacket on the road. With a new section of trail added for this year, the lights of other riders meandered up Jacks, more visible then anywhere else on the course. Occasionally, I could see a rider top out on the Notch, then vanish behind the rocks. Then it was my turn up Jacks. I was still tired, but the break had done me good. I was able to get some of the spunk back for the Behind the Rocks. Still a little tired on Luge, but Michael's cheers from Cottonwood Grove gave me some more energy for Broken Shovel. It was still on the trail, with the only noise my tires crunching the sand. The lights gave the sage a pale glow, illuminating the ribbon of trail. One of the best things about night riding is the focus it provides. There is nothing outside that beam of light, just darkness. After one of my worst trips through the Notch - bobbled the entrance rock and decided the tree just below the drop needed a bit of a hug. Or maybe the tree thought I needed a hug! Either way, it was done and I was back on the road, spinning away towards the KOA.

And Nick wasn't there. I looked around, puzzled - Nick was never late! I have been the only one to be late for a transition. Mitch (race director) asked me if he'd ever missed a transition - as I was answering, one of the other riders pointed at Nick's bike - laying very noticeably in the way. "I think he's in the restroom..." Mitch volunteered to go get him. Thanks Mitch - he came back grinning, saying "He's coming, might not be clean, but he's coming..." After the race, Nick told me that Mitch poked his head into the bathroom and hollered "Nick! You in here? She's waiting!" Excitement done, I returned to the camper for new batteries, a clean bike and something to eat. Nothing was sounding good at this time point, so I just nibbled on some smoked salmon, avocado and rice cakes with some miso. Yeah, really strange 24 hour racing food, but it tasted good and settled well on my stomach. I also changed into my knickers, leaving the black base t-shirt on, but opting for light weight arm warmers and a light vest instead of the wind jacket. Then I just put my feet up until my alarm went off and it was time to go ride again.

I did check the results before heading out again - we were in first, with decent lead. But it wasn't so much that it couldn't get wiped out by a mechanical or mental breakdown. At least the 2:00 am demons had been conquered - this would be my last night lap. I wasn't feeling spunky, but the sight of some of the townies and Pugslie gang heading out made me smile. The townies were racing for world championship strips and the racing was hot this year. But this was the "gentleman's lap" - where all the townie racers rode together to a pre-determined point for a party and some adult beverages. (Although I'd already passed one of the townies at the entrance to Sea of Sage on my last lap enjoying some whiskey before the awesomeness of Sea of Sage) And the Pugs - well those guys and gals were a class of their own, with the five inch tires, giant bikes, costumes galore and some of the best etiquette on the trail. All I had to do when I got behind one of the Pugs was say hello and passing was a breeze. They had some mad skills too, some of the only riders I saw to jump the fire ramp at the start of the lap.

The fatigue hadn't completely left - I was slow and wishing for a granny gear on the climb up Jacks. I had debated riding the blue era so I had that granny gear, but didn't. The climb wasn't too long - but then came the road. And that hurt this lap. I passed the townies enjoying their party, then entered Behind the Rocks. Despite my fatigue, I still had a good run. Into the small ring for Alonzo's this time, and a little skittish coming off the ridge. I was starting to get the stupid tireds a little and decided that it was better to be slower and careful then wipe out and break something. Stayed in that little ring for the long climb up Luge and Broken Shovel. Michael was still up, ringing his cowbell out the window of his truck. A very slow slog through the sand at the entrance to Rocky Ridge, passing a few other riders. Although the heat was long gone, the sand was wearing on everyone. There was a little wind on top of the mesa and I got a good boost coming down Becks - always a fun ride, railing the bermed corners, jumping the little whoops. (Now that I feel comfortable jumping them.) Another bobble entering the Notch, then I passed a woman in a Honeystinger kit on the descent. She tried asking me a few questions - but I wasn't slowing down to answer. I wanted off the bike and to take a nap.

Nick was again distracted and came running right as I showed up. He had the final night lap of the race and seemed to be picking up speed. I saw him off, then rode to the camper and collapsed on the floor. I just wanted to put my feet up for a while, so I dozed first, then got ready to ride. It was still dark when I left the camper, so I decided to leave my bar and helmet lights on. But as I waited and the darkness waned, I realized I wasn't going to need the bar light. Dawn was painting the sky a deep purple fading into blue. Off with the bar light. Other riders were also abandoning lights, last minute changes as the waiting time dragged on. I knew I wasn't going to need the helmet light for long, but left it on. Soon enough, Nick emerged from the dwindling darkness and I was riding off into the sunrise. I was hoping for the usual burst on energy I get with the Sunrise lap. The growing light normally warmed the camp, waking up the racers. Not this time. Although the sunrise was pretty, I was still tired - to tired to enjoy it. There wasn't much left in the tank at that point in the day. My fatigue was starting to affect my technical skills as well. Behind the Rocks was a little sloppy and I was really slow through the rock gardens along Alonzo's. But the sun had also brought out riders - there were more racers out on course now, so I had people to ride with. It was a welcome distraction this lap. Another welcome thing was the thin layer of clouds just over the horizon. I was wearing my clear glasses and the road between Broken Shovel and Sea of Sage was just miserable because of the sun blaring into my eyes. I was not looking forward to dealing with Rocky Ridge or the Notch while being blinded. And then the clouds obscured the sun, making it much easier. Almost got one of the obstacles on Rocky Ridge - just dabbed a little. It was close enough to make me happy. Also had fairly good approach in the Notch - almost made the left turn again.

This time, Nick was waiting and ready to go. The sun had revived him and he was off quickly. Because my last two laps had been slow, we were racing the clock now. Our goal was 20 laps - but I needed to leave for the last lap by 10:59 or it wouldn't happen. With Nick feeling better, he was planning on dropping back down to hour laps. Good for us, but bad for me because I was not recovering at all. I was struggling to just hold on to the pace. So when he came in and told me I need to do a 1:15 or fast, I couldn't make promises. I just would do my best. But I had forgotten to clean my bike during the rest break and it would catch up to me. On the road, the chain and bike was creaking really bad in some gears. It got worse up Jacks, as the creaking became louder and louder. By the time I got to Luge, I was feeling the grinding through the crank arms. I wasn't sure what was going on, but didn't want to stop. So I kept the bike in an easier gear and tried to spin my way through the course. Which is hard for me - I am not a good high cadence rider. Combine the feeling like the chain was going to fall apart any second, the noise coming from my bike and the fatigue from the prior 8 laps, I wasn't going anywhere fast at all. It was my slowest ride through the sage and I was cursing that I hadn't taken care of my bike like I should have. I still managed to come in under 1:20, but barely.

And we're done!
Photo - Nick Thelen
We still had a decent cushion for getting 20 laps in. Nick left on lap 19 had about an hour twenty to finish his lap and get me back on course. Baring mechanical or crashes, I didn't see how he wouldn't be able to do that. This time I took care of my bike, thoroughly cleaning the drive train and lubing the chain. Rode around the KOA a little - no creaking, no noise. Smelled something yummy - KOA crew dishing out sausage and pancakes! That hit the spot and I was feeling pretty good as I rolled over to check results. Still has decent lead - with a chance that we would be the only Co-Ed duo to crack 20 laps. Nick was flying on his last lap and cranked out 1:03. I was out on course for the last time. All I needed to do was finish the lap, but I was hoping to make this a strong finish. As soon as I hit Jack's I knew that it wasn't gonna be my fastest lap. I was hoping to just keep it all under 1:20 at that point. It was hot, I was tired and there weren't that many people out on course anymore. A few fast guys passed me, including a rider for the Street Swell Long board team running single speed. I just rode - nice candance, but no power. It was slow up Luge, met someone doing his first 24 hour race from Chicago walking up Luge. Michael was still at Cottonwood grove, still cheering everyone on. I noticed on Broken Shovel that the SS guy who'd passed me wasn't gaining that much ground. I wasn't the only one tired of riding up that long, sustained hill! Up the double track, down Sea of Sage, up Rocky Ridge - seesawing back and forth with a SS woman. She'd pass me on the hill, I'd pass her on the descent, then she passed me back again. At the top of Rocky Ridge, she let me around and off I went. I might have been riding slowly, but I was still launching the little whoops and grinning the whole way down Becks. And I wasn't approaching the Notch with fear like last year. I almost made the left turn again, had a clean, fast run on the drop to the road and finally caught up with the Street Swell SS rider. He latched onto my wheel right away, so I asked what class (he might have been a SSer and the road sucks on a single speed, but I hate it when 4 man teams draft) He said  two man, so I gave him the tow into the the KOA. Very polite, did not sprint around to beat me into the finish. Turned out that was the winning Men's Duo team! My last lap was my slowest of the race - but I knew it would be when I started riding. Time for a shower, some food and relaxing before the awards ceremony! We'd met our goal of 20 laps and held it together for the win in Co-Ed Duo.

Gotta love 24 Hours in the Sage. It is a fun weekend and a great course and awesome venue. Next year, the KOA will be taking over the event. Given the amount of effort the entire KOA staff puts in to making the weekend a success, I think next year will be even better! Hope to see everyone back and ready for another day in the sage in August!

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