Saturday, 04 Sep 10
9:02 am: I arrived in Leadville, at the parking lot turned into a camp ground and racing ‘pit’ by the 80+ contestants who had signed up for the inaugural Leadville 24 hour mountain bike race. Nick Watson and Jordan Latva were all ready there making final preparations for Nick’s big day. The weather was cool, but sunny, and a bit windy. A perfect day for a bike race!
I had planned on arriving the night before, but a last minute run to FedEx Office was needed to secure the great banner they made for us, as well as to pick up some Veterans Expedition stickers, that would soon cover everything we had, to announce to Leadville, that Vet-X was here!
Everyone in the pit area was excited, fresh faced, and ready for the big challenge ahead. There were mainly two camping areas, one for teams, which could either be a four person, or a two person team, and one for the solo riders like Nick. You may think that the solo riders are the craziest bunch at a 24 hour mountain bike race. You’d be wrong. The craziest bunch are the soloists who ride on fixed gear, that’s right, just one speed!
9:45am: Everything is ready. Tires are pumped up, the chain is greased, water bottles and food are lined up and ready to go. As we give Nick encouraging words, I ask Jordan if he has the camera. “You didn’t tell me to bring a camera,” replied Jordan. Looking through my checklist, I saw I had written a note that said: “Remind Jordan to pick up a camera, or get one yourself!” It remained unticked. Thankfully, having a smart phone turned out to be a good thing!
10:00am: After running up the hill the bikers would have to charge up to begin the 24 hour race, Jordan and I were well placed to snap a few pictures of the riders charging up the hill.
We slowly walked back down, glad not to sit on a bike for the next 18 miles!
11:45am: Nick rode in on his first and fastest lap at one hour, forty five minutes. We switch out water bottles and loaded him back up with food and snacks. As he pulled out, I headed into Leadville to see if I could not find a camera…I could not.
When I returned to the camp, Jordan had made friends with the pig roasting crew that had arrived to begin the 24 hour smoking of a pig for the next day’s post race party. Compromised of two South African army veterans, a snowboard instructor, and the head of the outfit, NASCAR loving, South Carolina trained pig roast master, Travis, we spent the rest of the day discussing old war stories, grilling all the meat we could find next to the big pig, and blaring vuvuzelas when bikers came in.
2:15pm: Nick came in on his second lap, still feeling good but slowing down a bit in preparation for the long haul. At a 24 hour race, unless you’re willing to hike into the trail and brave being run over by cyclists, there is not a lot to do, other than meet the rest of the support the crews and keep on keeping on with your own ways to keep active. Dreaming of climbing the not so distant peaks and being ready whenever your rider comes in. All in all, it was a great atmosphere, and many people stopped to talk to Jordan and I about Veterans Expeditions.
We thought the name said it all, but a lot of people were somewhat shocked when we let them know we were military veterans. We think the world sometimes does not understand us, but clearly we do not always make it easy for others to understand us either! We met a lot of other military veterans, some still in the Reserves or National Guard. They were excited to meet us and hopefully keep in touch!
Neither Jordan nor I were surprised to meet so many veterans at an event like this. After all, we push ourselves hard while in uniform why would that change when you take it off at the end of the day or the end of a career?
4:30 pm: A little bit sooner than expected, Nick came roaring past us. We had Nick’s dog, Samantha, out with us the whole time, and she thought everyone on a bike was her dad and would pull at her leash any time a rider would come back into the pit area. So, we weren’t paying attention when she was pulling this time, but she pulled out of my hand and chased down Nick.
At the end of lap three Nick was in great shape. We prepared his night bicycle when he was there, fed him, and got him back out onto the course. Meanwhile, the Pig Crew was getting a bit rowdy and we had introduced ourselves at that point to all the riders. The great thing about the 24 hour race is, you cheer for everyone! While there are some very, very competitive folks out there, including some who had competed in the Leadville 100 a few weeks earlier. Still, its an endurance feat, and everyone got cheered!
7:00pm: Nick came in for his fourth lap. It worked out perfectly as cheeseburgers and sausages were coming off the grill as he came roaring in! A longer transition than normal to rest his legs and eat some solid food beyond GU and Cliff Bars, etc. and Nick was on his night bike, with lamps and head gear by 7:30. At this point he had cycled 72 miles!
Jordan headed back to Denver to celebrate his 5th Wedding Anniversary, and back with the Pig Crew we settled in for the evening.
I felt somewhat sheepish when around 9:45 with no sign of Nick, the long day of sitting in the sun, cheering on riders, and spending time with the numerous cyclists and support crews in love with Nick’s dog or wanting to chat about Veterans Expeditions, I burrowed into my sleeping bag and waited for Nick while trying to stay awake…after all there’s a reason a 24 hour bike race is extreme!
Around 10:15, Nick came back into camp following his fifth lap. I could only imagine the leg cramps and dehydration, but Nick claimed to feel pretty good, took care of himself and decided to take a break from the action. All around us, the pit area grew dark and quiet, as teams and corporate riders kept switching up after laps and the solo riders mostly bunked down for a few hours.
Sunday, 05 Sep 10
4:50am: My alarm went off and I hoped up out of bed, cutting the bottom of my foot on a rock outside my tent. That’s right folks, the only injury out of our team from the 24 hour race came from the support crew when I stumbled in getting up early! There was no motion from Nick, but at 5:05 I shook his truck where he slept, and groggily he got ready for the rest of the race! He needed to complete at least seven laps to get a big silver buckle and at 5:32 had ridden off back onto the course, braced against the early morning chilly.
7:25am: Nick rolled back into our pit as I was brushing my teeth. Drank an ice cold Coke and headed straight back out for his second lap of the morning and the decisive lap if he was to get the big silver buckle! He was feeling good, though tired, and confident he’d get the 7th lap in.
7:55 am: Riders began to finish the race as supporters and fans lined up near the finish line and began to cheer every rider coming in. Sam thought they were all Nick! The pig crew was up and the impending barbecue smelled fantastic! We knew Nick would be close to the 10 am finish time, but stayed near the finish line to cheer on riders as they came in.
Many of the riders coming in got off their bikes and looked like the walking wounded. Nick’s lap times of close to 2:15 were pretty good. Some solo riders were out there for well over three, and even four hours for late night laps, but they got it done! Only one rider took a serious spill in the late night hours, breaking her collar bone on the back side of the course, but riding another 10 miles through the course to hand off to her team mate!
9:49 am: Looking relieved and tired, Nick came riding in, completing his seventh lap to the sound of vuvuzelas and dog’s barking! Nick successfully completed 7 laps and 126 miles in 24 hours on his mountain bike! Congratulations Nick!
11:45 pm: Lunch is served and the pig crew served up some of the tastiest barbecue I had ever had! Look for them around Veterans Day in Boulder, CO for a Veterans Expeditions fundraiser and some delicious food, accompanied by a sneak preview of the climb documentary, Reclaiming the Edge, which will be filmed this week in Rocky Mountain National Park!