Friday, September 23, 2011

12hrs of Hanson Hills

Race weekend arrived all too quickly. For some reason this crazy idea to race our bikes for 12hrs at the Hanson Hills enduro maybe wasn’t a smart one, I thought to myself. I probably wasn’t the only one in team Quattro that was asking himself, “Have I put enough miles in over the last 2 months?” Perhaps I was.
Our departure planning was terrible. Tammy and I arrived in Grayling, MI with the two kiddies around 10pm. Not a smart move. We finally got them settled down and asleep but we had a crappy night’s rest.
Rise and shine at 6:30am to start ‘fueling’ and ‘regular fluid checks’ for the day ahead. A healthy Big Boy breakfast followed by constant water intake got us fired up and by 8am Paul and his friend Joe and I headed over to the race to set up service at the base of the Hanson Hills ski area. There we met the fourth member of the team, Jake who I work with. It was a cloudless day but nippy. The race in principle was fairly straight forward. Starting at 10am we had to race as many laps as possible in 12hrs. The course was mostly tight, twisty single track with the occasionally sand trap where you had to keep your wits about you to avoid the trees that were right on the edge of the trail. They weren’t going to move if you came too close and we hadn’t fitted rollcages to our bikes and the helmets didn’t have HANS posts. There was even a Caution! on one descent.
Paul and Joe had raced this event before so Paul drew the short straw and started first. I was keen to put a night lap in but went second, then Jake then Joe. This proved to be a great starting order. Going into this event, in my mind we were going to do about 12 laps. Jake and I had visited Hanson Hills a couple of months prior and while the race course wasn’t marked out we got a feel for the terrain and it was pretty tough. I was thinking 55mins-1hr laps plus a changeover between riders. Paul set a blistering first lap at 51m 45s, our relay style handover was smooth and I took off on the trail. It started out on two track gravel then changed into hard packed sand and a single track climb. The first 1.5 miles climbed up into the woods and then flattened out and snaked down into a ravine. There was no chance to rest and with tight turns the focus was on maintaining momentum by not braking. Keep the speed, bank the turns and rail the side of the trail.
Don’t look off to the side or those magnetic trees would get you. I was glad I had a new bike. It’s a carbon 29er with lock on the fly suspension forks, very light and super fast on this terrain. I zig-zagged through the woods, the air was a little chilly with the low morning sun. The last climb was a killer; two track gravel with sand at the top, almost designed to zap the last ounce of power you had in your legs. It climbed the back of the ski hill but once up there the traverse through the woods was fast into a tight left and down a rocky chute over a crest and down the ski hill to the finish line 10.5 miles later and another 52mins lap. It felt as though we were flying and it was fun.
Jake was up next and he powered off at the changeover coming back around in another 52mins lap then Joe was up and smoked us all with 48mins. The ‘old’ guy in the team schooled us all. With that inspiration we got into a groove and got used to resting, refueling between laps. Allister helped with service and almost stabbed my tyre with a screwdriver, Ryan chilled out in his car seat, eating mostly, and Isla slept pretty much the whole day in the sun. Happy kids. Happy parents.
The trick with endurance cycling is to remember to drink and eat and while we couldn’t stomach a 3 course meal we scoffed cereal bars, fruit, yoghurt and a bunch of other tasty high calorie snacks. As the day went on we became more familiar with the trail, hitting 25-27mph on the descents and consistently averaging 12mph with each lap which meant we quickly realized that we might actually be able to do more laps than we thought. As I finished my 3rd lap with the Wee Man screaming, “Go Daddy Go!” (by far the coolest part of my day by the way) I could smell the grill from the finish line. Tammy had returned after taking the kids for a nap at the hotel and the burgers and brats were grilling away. It was a cool atmosphere hanging out watching the other racers and just talking crap whilst eating and waiting. We even had time to visit the play park and play on swings, a rather odd scenario mid race.
As the sun went down the temperatures dropped from the mid 60’s into the 40-50’s. We fired up the generator and floodlights then we started setting up the lights on helmets and handlebars. The rules state that you need to have lights on the bike from 7pm onwards and a flashing red light at the rear. I lost mine somewhere in the woods. It just exploded and fell off. That’s the story I’m sticking to. Joe finished his 3 lap, and Paul headed out on lap 13. We all got a little anxious when the hour passed and he wasn’t back. Anything could happen out there in the pitch black. Thankfully he made it back flying through the finish line and I headed out for lap 14. It was cold by this time so I just wanted to get around and make it back. Food, warmth and sleep are great physical and mental motivators. There were a few stragglers out there that could obviously see the lights coming up behind them and they jumped off the side of the trail to let me by.
There was some wildlife out there to so my mind started playing tricks on me imagining flying around a corner into a deer or something big and furry. Suddenly a black cat shot across the trail, yikes. It must have been a sign that the stinking hill at the end was coming up. It kicked my arse but once at the top it was a cruise to the finish and we had done it. 14 laps or 148 miles in 12hrs 13mins 15seconds. Brilliant.

Now, a little perspective. The top 2 person team did 15 laps in less time than we did. The winner of the solo 24hr race did 20 laps.

We were still pretty happy with ourselves but clearly a loooong way to go in this game.

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