19 Hours of RapeljeAug 07 2013 · 0 comments · Race Updates ·11
They say you can do anything for a minute. Or five minutes. I’ve even heard it being modified to fifteen minutes. But one thing I never can recall this expression being extended to, “You can do anything for 19 hours.” Somehow, that phrase doesn’t seem quite as encouraging.
19 hours is all the time that Mother Nature granted us in mid-June to race the 24 hours of Rapelje mountain bike race.Team Rockford had a great showing with two 5-person teams – one all male and one mixed team. All riders from both teams finished the race as better, more experienced riders with a few war stories to swap when all other topics have been exhausted on our many training rides together…
19 hours was enough for me, but somehow I can’t help but feel that I still have yet to complete a full 24 hour race because we had it easy when we needed it most – on Saturday night, when the long, hot, dusty laps completed earlier that day had started to catch up with us.
It’s always great to see which rider/team is first to cross the start/finish line and tag their teammate on the first lap, and this year it was a smokin’ fast chick from Casper who schooled the guys to come in fast – way fast. She locked up her back wheel coming in hot off the gravel road, with the rear tire bunching up alongside her before catching and bucking her off like a raging PBR bull. She didn’t come to race in the hot Montana priaire to quit, so she jumped right back up and brushed herself off with a smile, as if nothing had happened. It was clear that no lost skin was going to dampen her joy of finishing Rapelje’s first hot-lap!
How hot was it? – damn hot. Hot enough for the very word “hot” to melt away in the wake of adjectives like ‘scorching,’ ‘sweltering,’ ‘searing.’ Hot enough for a rider on a Missoula EMT/Firefighter team to succumb to severe heatstroke on his first lap in the early afternoon on Saturday. He ended up completing his lap but as he crossed the start/finish line and tagged his teammate, he weaved in and out of consciousness and rode straight into the side of a huge grain silo before collapsing. As luck would have it, his teammates had a strong medical background and treated him while waiting for the ambulance to arrive from Columbus. Rumors circulated that his temp was 106. That’s enough to make my blood boil.
Meanwhile, back at camp, Team Rockford was busy refueling and staying cool (but of course!). We take our 19’s very seriously at Team Rockford. The 5-man team consisted of some of the state’s top men (listed in order of height): Ben Alexander, Zach Tondre, Jeff Wyatt, Jim “Butta” Fearick, and the 5’9″ shorty on the team Ryan Hamilton. Our team’s fast lap was initally set by Zach but Jeff burned up the trail on his last lap Sunday morning to barely eclipse Zach’s time – and that’s after all those hours of racing through the dark, mud, grime, heat, mud, and lightning. Rockford’s mixed team featured the burly husband/wife duo of Kase and Erika Cannon, National Champ Ivy Pedersen, 24 hour veteran Sarah Alexander, and Petra Davis.
The much needed 5 hour delay caused by wind, rain, and lightning on Saturday night allowed us to refuel and get some rest while thinking abut the trail conditions that we might encounter in the middle of the night. After a midnight riders meeting where we all downed plate-sized pancakes served with a smile by the local Rapelje ranching community in the hallowed Stockman Cafe, we headed back to Zach’s camper where some of us prepared lights and bikes, and others hit the hay for some shallow zzzz’s. In my book, Zach and his camper are welcome on any future 24’s! That thing was a lifesaver – we casually prepared dinner in somewhat cramped quarters while the storm raged outside and tents were thrown and tossed about. As the storm began subsiding, we would peer out the window and admire the beautifully soft glow of the sky.
The race resumed at 1am after the violent storm had subsided and the threat of lightning was a non-factor.
There were a few laps in the middle of the night where a certain low-lying mud section sucked all the energy and momentum from the riders. We were thrown tips from the other riders at the start/finish line: “as soon as you hit mud, pick up your bike”, “don’t try to ride through the mud, it’ll only make you go slower.” Some wearily groaned, “my bike must have weighed 70 pounds!”, and watched as our faces showed knowing compassion.
Everyone on our team except Butta rode a night lap that let us enjoy the new 1,200 lumen Cree MagicShine LED lights that Zach picked up through AmazonPrime a couple of days before the race. These Chinese lights might have come in a slightly “sketchy” (as my teenage daughter put it) package, but they were life savers. Click those babies on and I swear I could barely make out the tip of the North Pole at the end of the fading green-tinted beam. Most of us had the pleasure of riding two laps in the muddy section, but when the sun began to hit it at 6:30am, it began drying out so that by the end of the race it was no longer a source of complaint.
As the last fifteen minutes of the race reached us, the light at the end of the tunnel became visible as it was clear that we would win by a few laps. We now had the freedom to consider two options; we could head out for one more laps, or we could pack it in. We opted for the slow tour of a lap with the whole team, which turned out to be a lot of fun. We bantered back and forth, checked out the views that we had missed the previous day, thanked the volunteers again, and successfully avoided the prickly pear that practically lined the trail, making the tough sections even more stimulating (pun intended). Our team was fortunate enough that we didn’t encounter any mechanical issues, punctures, or crashes that held us up. Maybe it was luck. Maybe it was the bordering-on-paranoid, meticulous preparation and tubeless tire setup that most of us ran. Maybe it was the “Be prepared” Boy Scout motto that will be forever ingrained in my Eagle Scout mind. Call it particular or call it prepared; whatever it was, we’ll take it. I arrived with a pretty clean bike, but Zach, Butta, Ben, and Jeff had bikes that looked showroom-new – I honestly don’t know how they do it.
The event ended with a delicious home cooked meal (served again by the ever-friendly locals) and free ice cream bars of endless varieties. Maybe it’s the phase of life that I’m in, but I seem to appreciate friendly race organization even more as I get older, and there’s no topping the Rapelje culture. They were the kind of people that, upon being greeted, make you question the fact that this is the first time you’ve met.
The victory photo on the wall of the cafe will hopefully stand for years to come and the laser cut metal trophy will be reminders of this grand adventure with friends and teammates. I will remember for a long time Sarah Alexander sitting in the shade of the camper munching on something with several pair of dirty shorts drying on a makeshift closeline just above her head and above the kitchen, shorts turned inside-out, of course, to facilitate drying. Or the impossible ride home in the back of Zach’s extended cab truck where Butta and I “must have fallen asleep 1000 times” while Zach downed Red Bulls to stay awake and Jeff did a stellar job stoking the front seat conversation.
Many thanks to Jeff for putting the team together and to Butta for making the trip from Utah – hopefully he can find a way to move here soon!
Kipper Snack Taste Tester & Expert Peanut Shell Cracker