The Pile of Superlatives

I’ve got a buddy who likes doing 24-hour mountain bike races. Solo. So when I tell you I think he’s crazy I know that my reliability as a witness is questionable, the way both the fun and the safety of a sofa pulled behind a pickup truck through a field of soybeans are questionable. My idea of fun isn’t mainstream, but if you’re reading this, your idea of fun is every bit as skewed as mine, so we can dispense with claiming that racing a bicycle is a dubious pursuit, right? But seriously, 24 hours? Despite his shaky credentials, it was he who first mentioned Bike Monkey’s Boggs 8-Hour Race. It got my attention. Why? Well, it’s crazy long, but without the silliness of riding your bike after the sun sets or before it rises. My view of bike events is that they should be conducted while the sun is on the clock, so to speak.

The format is simple; begin at 8:00 am and then race until 4:00 pm. Finish your final lap before 5:00 pm or it doesn’t count. The question becomes less a matter of how fast you can go than how many laps of the course you can complete before the time is up, which isn’t the same thing as going fast. Very few of us can ride at threshold for eight hours.

IMG_1731Lake Winawa, from roughly a third into the course. Image: Jeremiah Moulton-Kahmoson, B Rad Foundation.

Boggs offers more than just the solo 8-hour format. There are a number of team options: two person and three person, in male, female and coed, not to mention all manner of single speed permutations.

But Boggs Forest burned in the Valley Fire last fall. Bike Monkey put on a fundraiser once the fire was under control and raised enough money to plant 100,000 trees. That’s a staggering number when you think about the labor. Years will pass before Boggs will be its old self. This year, as an alternate venue, Bike Monkey worked out a deal with Wente Scout Reservation to use their campground near Willits, Calif., in Mendocino County as the location for this year’s race.

IMG_1725

What most of us didn’t know was that a fellow named Kevin Smallman had been carving trails into the hilly forest surrounding the camp. The many hows of that situation are the stuff of another post. Smallman understands flow trails like Miles Davis understands jazz. Many, if not most, turns were bermed. There were rises, twists, chicanes and pinches, all of which kept you on your toes and, if sufficiently skilled, off your brakes. The video that leads this post should give you a fair idea; I shot it on my fifth lap, after I’d begun to slow some, but before I was completely shattered.

The course itself was 8.3 miles and contained roughly 1000 feet of climbing. The biggest single climb was three-quarters of a mile and came within the first two miles of the course. There are two more half-mile climbs late in the course, but those are details that don’t do much to describe the riding.

IMG_1742The ice cream social on Friday night was a hit.

Let me frame it this way: I’ve done races on courses that I rode only because that’s where the race was. They weren’t fun, and while they were challenging, it wasn’t in a way that I found enjoyable. I recall one descent at a race in New Hampshire where I squeezed the brake levers with all I had in an attempt to moderate my bike’s deathly velocity down a ski slope. As I bucked from one jagged bump to the next—the trail had as much flow as a cinderblock wall—I recall thinking that my effort to slow my bike was the opposite of racing. That racing in this case meant a complete disregard for survival. I stopped racing in large part because the courses weren’t fun to ride. Why not just ride trails that are fun and dispense with the whole pinning numbers on thing?

Well imagine riding singletrack that becomes more fun, more challenging, the faster you go. Imagine that you are faced with a trail that taxes your skills as well as your aerobic system, forcing you to temper your effort just enough to maintain your line over the waist-wide track.

IMG_1737Sebastopol’s Drifter Pizza Company cooked up more than 100 pies post-race.

IMG_1740The brick oven was made in Colorado, but the rest of the trailer was fabricated in Santa Rosa.

It was on my fifth lap that I began to realize I faced a choice. I could either back off the gas and attempt to achieve my stated goal of eight laps, or I could press on with all I had and complete only seven laps. There were two effects I was considering. First was that I was concerned about my ability to control my bike on an eighth lap; the likelihood of me crashing seemed likely to go up 1000 percent. The other effect was that in slowing down, the flowy sections of trail became very slow because of the loss of momentum, and with that came yet another undesirable effect, which was me slowing down team riders who needed to pass. The slower I go, the more I get passed.

I opted for the faster, more fun ride, with fewer laps. And while I was on track to have plenty of time to both start and finish that number eight, on my seventh, I began pulling over at trail junctions (like when it crossed or joined fire roads). It didn’t matter to me that I’d be giving up time to fellow competitors; I wasn’t there to beat anyone else. I was there to find out what was in me.

IMG_1745

With all the competitors in, the awards ceremony was big and collegial. The cheering could be heard in Willits. And unlike any crit I ever raced, the people watching the awards weren’t just waiting for their turn to get on the podium, or family members of those waiting to ascend, the people attending were genuinely excited to cheer their fellow competitors.

It’s worth mentioning that I spoke to a great many people who would claim to have raced even less than I did. They were there to ride a couple, three laps, hang with their friends, indulge in morning beers, tell tall tales over camp fires and swim in the lake. In short, have a great weekend.

Whether Bike Monkey will have access to this venue again is unknown. It’s unknown if Bike Monkey even wants to use this venue again. That said, there’s already a social media hashtag: #Wente2017 to voice support.

Wente is the why. It’s the why of why I stopped racing mountain bikes and it’s the perfect why for why I now do it again. This was the best-organized mountain bike event I’ve attended. It was by far the most enjoyable course. It was the friendliest, most chill crowd I’ve encountered (and that’s saying something), and because many people came equipped with their families, it was a terrific cross-section of what our cycling lives are. Most of us, including Mini-Shred and The Deuce, made friends that weekend. And we all made memories we’ll savor.

, , , , , , ,

6 comments

  1. Michael

    The video is working for me, now. I don’t know if I have ever ridden a trail like that, with nary a rock on it. I watched the video before reading what your posting was about and all I could think of was that it was perfect for a cross bike – no suspension needed. Sound like a great ride and weekend. Are those trails ever open to the public? Maybe some day I’ll be in California with a bike again.

  2. Pat O'Brien

    That looked like too much fun. And the atmosphere that the crowd created was icing on the cake. And that trail was flow looking for a place to happen. Did you lose yourself on a portion of every lap and become the bike?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Yeah, that course was amazing. I seriously have never raced any course that was so much fun. Which begs the question why we race so many crap courses. What Carlos and crew put on there is why I’m excited to pin numbers on again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *