So over some beers with Shaun at the campsite, he and I kept coming back to the 24Hrs of Rocky Hill Ranch in Smithville TX. It kinda went like this...
A great grass root event, a chance to hang and chill with John Russell (Another athlete coached by Shaun, and really cool guy). Finally, a great opportunity to fuel up on some of the best Tex Mex and BBQ (and beer) that Austin has to offer.
Then there was that small item of unfinished business. That was for me to improve on my 2nd place finish at this same race in 2011.
24 Hours of Rocky Hill
This year was different than last year, as in... instead of just me heading down, it was actually going to be three of us racers heading down from Canada to partake in this. A real fast solo racer named, Julie Kelly ( also coached by Shaun) Shaun himself, and me.
As I planned to drive down, I could take all of our bikes, and equipment in one fail swoop, stopping in Butte, Montana long enough to pickup Shaun, his bikes and gear. Then blast off for the balance of the drive to Austin, approx 36hrs all toll.
On the morning of Wednesday Oct 17, with a full tank of diesel, and a full cooler of food, I hit the road.
With 36+ hrs of driving under our belts, we finally get to John Russell's house. John is also a racer and Shaun coaches him as well. He is super fast and has won 2 titles at this event in the past . So even though he wasn't able to compete in this race with us he was available to run our pits.
We all wake up at around 9am Friday morning, grab a small breakfast and chat for awhile, we load up and make the drive out to Rocky Hill Ranch for pit setup and a preride.
I ordered the "monster wrap" I would summize that it was in the 3-4 lb range, and yeah... I ate it all. It was a great night before meal for me. Back to John's and early to bed so we could get an early start for the morning drive back to RHR.
8:30 am all of us are up and on the road to RHR. By 11am we all have our kits on, and are ready to get this event going. Another athlete of Shaun's is competing as well (Antonio) he is also a very capable endurance athelete and I had raced at Gallup, NM earlier this year with him. Thad W and Shaun H also show up and and start helping us with our pit as they had volunteered to help John manage all of us in the pits. I was super happy with this as they both had previous race experience at this event as well and Thad just pulled off a very impressive 5th place finish at the Reveille's Peak a few weeks earlier.
11:55am Shaun, Julie and I are standing on the start line... 12pm and we are off for the Lemans start, Shaun and Julie are off ahead of me by a mile as I do my best to keep pace the best I can.
I round the corner and see John holding my bike for me as I hop on it for the start of this 24hr race.
The weather... it was overcast all morning, but by now that has all but burned off and we have a pretty sunny day with the highs expected in the 34's, (which it did BTW).
So, for the first 10 minutes I start to work my way up the field of riders ahead, just so I can settle into my rhythm without a bunch of traffic. It was a great idea until halfway up a punchy blind corner climb, a rider ahead of me rolled backwards and into me. I fell down the side of the bank, wrapping up in my bike like a pretzel as I couldn't unclip my shoes in time. Not fun watching the balance of the race field ride away from me while I spend the next few minutes trying to get untangled from my bike.
The balance of the day was pretty much uneventful... I was settled into my pace and riding fairly smooth, no stops in the pits, just tossing a bottle and grabbing a fistful of bottle on my way by. The day was getting hotter, and I was seriously looking forward to the night laps so that I could have some cooler laps. I figured this would be the time to start making a move to the front if I could.
I was hoping that the evening would bring some relief from the heat and humidity... the clearings are all that felt cooler (and not by much) but as soon as you would head into the woods, it was like riding into a wall of hot humidity. So much so, that around my 10th lap I started to feel some discomfort in my legs with slight cramping. I knew this was brought on from losing so much fluid from perspiring. In fact, if I would say I had a painful lap, it was my 10th lap. I started to really get into the electrolytes and by the end of the race I was racing on nothing but on that.
The wee hours:
Around this time I start to lose my eye for detail and just focus on pounding out laps and keeping my nutrition in check. I thought at the time that Shaun was ahead of me, and that an ex 3 time winner and current 3rd place US Nats champ was ahead of me. I just didn't know how much. I just kept thinking that I will turn it up when I need to and that I felt really good for being this deep in the race. In fact it was somewhere before midnight that I was fortunate to ride a few laps with Ray Porter. Ray is a legend in Texas, he rides a SS and he is super strong. He and I raced together last year at this event (right after he completed the Tour de Divide race). I have a ton of respect for Ray and his previous accomplishments and it was super great to race with and against him at this time. A great guy!
So, it starts to get interesting around this time of night and I'm positive I wasn't hallucinating. Tree frogs... hundreds of tree frogs all over the trail, some even got the squish from bikes. Then of course there were the snakes that sauntered out onto the course. I had seen 2 coral snakes and ran over one. Then I ran over a big black and green snake, which know one knows what it is... the last one may have been in my head. But,...you couldn't miss seeing the Coral snakes. Man they are super pretty and dangerous... I can only hypothesize that they were there for the frogs.
I came into the pits somewhere after midnight ( I think l or could be later) and saw Shaun and Julie chillin out. It was only then that I found out from Shaun that I was in 1st position and that I had a lap on the 2nd place contender. He suggested that I take a small breather, which I did quite happily. It was a pretty special time as the 5 of us (John and Thad as well) talked about the event and the little things we experienced up to now. We had some serious laughs and jokes flying around and man it felt pretty cool to experience this with these guys. I will remember this for a long time.... So fun!
After about 10 mins of chillin, Julie headed out followed by Shaun, (btw he had just found out that his lead over his nearest competitor had shrunk, due to some timing delays). I was concerned about this as well, so I was out of the pits maybe a minute or so behind Shaun.
Around the 4am mark while out on course, I notice that my back wheel is actually bottoming out on the roots. I pull off the trail real quick and feel that my tire is quite low in air. I was concerned about this, but at the time I thought I would just add some air from my "big air"canister and finish off my lap. Uhm yeah, NOT! who would have thought that when I tried to add air to the tire that it actually let more out because I had a faulty "Big Air". Are you kidding me?? So now I probably have 10-15 lbs pressure in the rear tire and no way to fill it up. I literally spent the next few minutes with the majority of my body weight over the front wheel so as to not pop or roll my rear tire.
I did this for about15 minutes when a fellow racer came up and I asked him if he had a pump. He stopped and gave me his Big Air and I was able to get enough air in my tire to get me back to the pit. I totally thanked this gentleman, then and after the race... that right there is why I love the people of Texas.
I limp back into the pits and my tire was pretty close to flat again. After a few minutes inspection from Thad, he noticed that I had a tire that was separating from itself. Maxxis had this problem for a little while last season and it seems like I bought one of the last ones that have this problem...lucky me.
Thad and John hook me up with my spare bike, and off I go to ride my last night lap. When I came back into the pits after the lap, John and Thad had me sorted out with a spare wheel and tire, and I finished the balance of the race with this combo. It was John's wheel and tire from his personal bike and I can't say enough thanks for him for that.
Now I'm just riding defensively and enjoying my race. I feel really good, (even though it's starting to get pretty warm again)... especially with the sun coming up. It gave me renewed energy.
I complete my 21st lap and pull into the pits. Here I see Julie, Shaun, John and Thad. We discuss whether I need to keep racing or call it a day. At this time I seriously do not care either way... I still feel pretty good, and I know I am good for another lap if I need to. John ran to the tent and then back and said that there was a rider still on course riding his 21st lap and that they were expecting him back within 15 minutes or so.
There it is... Shaun hooks me up with some techno, Thad hooks me up with some nutrition and I ride out with some purpose of putting in a fast lap. Which I think I do... I pull off a 1:02 lap including some 3-5 minutes chatting and having a seat while we decide if I need to go out again.... I was happy to finish like that.
I pull into the transition area 24hrs and 34mins and somewhere in the area of 350kms completed. I come across the finish line in 1st place. I'm greeted by my friends and I feel great to be a part of this and all of our good results.
After the awards ceremony we drive back into Austin and hit up Rudy's BBQ, and then back to John's for some laughs and beers and good times for the next 2 days.... Then there was the 40hr drive home, but it felt like coming full circle.
First off to my wonderful wife Coralee, she is awesome and supportive, we were both sad she could not make the trip, however there is next year..... :)
To my coach and friend (and now driving partner) Shaun, it was truly inspiring hearing (while I was racing) how you were swinging that battleaxe! Congrats on your 1st place SS win and fastest lap!
To John, for my motivation, support and the use of your home while in Austin, 'Keep on Keepin on amigo"
John lost his mother to cancer earlier this year and that bracelet really hit home for Coralee and I.
Thank you for the honor John.
To Shawn H, for pit support, sorry I wasn't chatting much but I knew you were there for us.. thanks.
To Julie for some ground breaking inspiration. Congrats on your 1st place win for open female!
To Dr Dave Westmacott, and all the staff at AST, thank you for fixing up my body and getting behind me in this sport. Thank you!
To Pedalhead bicycles in Calgary, for servicing my bike and for setting up my bike...I can't say thanks enough guys.
Last and certainley not least, all the great people of Terra Firma and Rocky Hill Ranch who put on this great event year after year. Thank you