The race itself only lasted 24 hours; but the experience was spread over four days, and those four days felt like four weeks. During that time, I laughed and I cried; I was hot and I was cold; I was lonely but not alone; I felt good and I felt very, very bad. It wasn’t just a race. It was a study in contrasts, in human endurance, and the beauty of human nature.
Thursday: I left work a little early and drove down to Oracle. The clouds were ominous and we knew it might snow. My mom and dad had gotten a prime spot on the course and next to a rock hill that provided a view of the entire town. We went into Tucson for packet pickup and pizza. It was Valentines day so it felt good to share dinner with my parents, whom I love so much.
Friday: Sometime during the night, the rain started. And then the sleet. I layed awake the entire night worrying about the weather. When I finally left the tent, it was covered in ice. Luckily, our tent was huge and we were able to move between it and the EZ-up all day as the rain and sleet turned to snow and then to rain and then back to snow. Needless to say, we didnt get a chance to pre-ride the course. In the end, the day probably ended up being a good chance to rest that I might not have taken advantage of otherwise. That evening, we went to the dedication dinner and ended up sitting next to the guest of honor: Richard Cunningham. He was very nice and it was an awesome end to a not-so-great day.
Saturday: Mom and I crawled into our sleeping bags around 9 on Friday night. As soon as we got in, I knew I was in trouble. No matter how many clothes I kept putting on, I was freezing. And this was inside two sleeping bags!!! Finally, I sat up and rocked back and forth on the cot desperately trying to warm myself up. I moved down to the floor in hopes that I would be warmer. I also found some chemical hand warmers and put them between my legs. I finally started to warm up but found my self slipping farther and farther towards dispair and fear about the suffering I knew I had to face in only a few hours. Dad had gone to Tucson to get Debra and when they hadn’t gotten back at midnight, I started to worry. We knew the roads were bad and the weather had deteriorated in the night. The tent and everything outside were now covered in an impressive layer of snow. With only a few hours left to sleep, Dad and Debra showed up close to 1 a.m. Their trip in on the dirt roads had been quite an ordeal.
Despite the weather forecasts for better weather, Saturday morning dawned in a heavy layer of ice and clouds. Trying to keep a positive attitude, I crawled out of the tent and got to work preparing my clothes, my bike, my food. In a display of things to come, my family was an awesome pit crew making me breakfast, going to the pre-race meeting, and keeping me warm.
All photos courtesy of Debra Bonkoski.
The morning went by frighteningly fast and noon came and went. Right as we started the lemans run, the sun came out and everybody started to shed layers. At last, we could hope for better weather! On the first lap, I found some other solo riders and rode extremely conservatively. It was nice to chat and I met another solo female who ended up placing 2nd in the singlespeed category. I never got my heart-rate up too high and felt great as I rolled back into the pits.
The second lap, I pushed a little harder and had a good time. The third lap was the hardest of the entire race. My right knee started to hurt and that completely demoralized me. I felt tired. I was going slower than I wanted to be going and knew that at this pace, my original mileage goal wasn’t going to happen. That was hard to swollow. When I got back to our pit, I cried. The hardest part of these races is having an idea in your head of how you want to feel and how you want to perform, and then not living up to it. I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue.
This was a long pit. We got my lights mounted and Debra gave me her Ipod. As I left the timing tent for my first night lap, my spirits immediately started to improve. Ibuprofin seemed to be helping my knee; the music pumped me up and I sang along. Riding at night is a surreal experience. It is hard to tell what sort of grade you are riding or how fast you are moving. You can tell when somebody comes up behind you by the increased light rather than the sound. When you turn around, you can see a dozen little lights far behind you wandering through the dessert. At about the three-quarters point, the Ipod died. Afterward, all we could figure was that it was reacting to the extreme cold. At first, I was afraid that losing the music was going to plummet my spirits again; but it seems the good had been done. All around me I was hyper aware of the noise of my tires, the sound of wind on the bushes, voices in the distance.
After this lap, I got into the sleeping bag to stay warm. Immediately, I got the shakes and was having a tough time keeping my core temperature stable. Once my dad had gotten me warmed up, he left me to sleep for 10 minutes. This made such a big difference and seeing Kristi as I left the timing tent boosted my morale as well. Of the whole race, this night lap was my favorite. I felt good and I was excited. Every so often I would think, “Heck yeah, we are having so much fun riding our bicycles.” In fact I even started thinking I should start night-riding more often.
In the pits, I slept for 20 more minutes and spent quite a while trying to get some food down. Nothing sounded good and even Coke, which had been going down so well up until that point, started to make me nauseous. Once I started riding, my stomache was doing even worse. My mom had given me a talk about staying aware and not riding off the course during this lap because I was getting so tired. This lap took my a super long time but it was also an adventure. Everything was covered in a thick layer of frost and it glimmered in the full-moon light. Coyotes yipped all around me and even the cows off to the side of the trail were making a racket. I stopped every few minutes to try to wake up and to stretch. Because I was taking so long, I started to worry about running out of battery so I would turn off my headlamp everytime I stopped. The sky was clear and the moon and stars seemed to be low–so low that I could touch them. I stopped at one of the aid stations with a campfire and warmed up. The men there were so nice. I was having trouble talking so they just let me be quiet and told me stories instead. Headed up the powerline trail toward town I pulled over and laid down on the side of the trail to keep from falling asleep on the trail. Again, I marveled at the adventure of riding through the dark with frost and stars and animals.
This was my last night lap. When I got back it was 4:15 and I was done for a while. I got into the tent and was sooo cold. Mom layed on top of me for a while until I moved to the floor again where she laid down next to me. At 6:00, Dad woke me up but I was too tired and miserable to move right away. When Debra came back from volunteering in the tent I started moving. It was so hard to get dressed again. Dad made me Ramen Noodles and it was the first solid food I had eaten during the race. By the time I actually made it to the timing tent, it had taken me a full hour and a half to get ready. I was moving so slow.
The sun was up but it was so cold. My thumbs started hurting from shifting. I started walking the bitches. I was ready to be done. At mid-morning I got back to camp and sat down to eat hashbrowns and veggie sausage. It was amazing! I could feel the strength flowing back into me. I took off and this lap was one of my fastest. Everybody was just cruising trying to make it back in time for another lap. Part of me wanted to get back in time to go out again; but an even larger part of me was ready to be done. I finished at 12:04 and sat down to dring a beer and cheer on other riders still coming in.
I came away from this race both feeling happy and regretful. I felt stronger and more positive in this race than I did last year. I did an extra 25 miles. I had a fuller appreciation for my family helping me and also for the other racers who were so kind and so full of life. One thing that I would have done differently would have been to pay attention to the results; I could have placed alot better if I had been paying attention. It also might have motivated me to get in the extra laps. I was amazed by the racers who really dug deep and pulled out some phenomenal mileage. I passed some of these girls towards the end and realized that they weren’t winning because it was easy; the were winning because of their mental fortitutude. I’m not sure this is something I am even capable of ever attaining, but I definately admired it and it gave me something to strive for.
Each time I race or go to a big event like this, it reminds me why I like to ride my bike. I like the people and the culture. Even though there are a few rotten apples, there were dozens more who were genuinely good, happy, exciting people. Riding makes you push yourself physically beyond anything you might have thought possible for yourself. As you turn over your pedals, you learn alot about yourself: what inspires you, what your goals are, how you will choose to live your life. The singletrack is a metaphor for our lives.