Monday, June 25, 2007

Best ... 24 ... ever

Date: June 23
Mileage: 95.4
June mileage: 536.5
Temperature upon departure: 18 C ?

So, I have a new theory. I haven't had much time to think about it, as Geoff and I walked off the race course at 1 p.m., took a quick shower, drove two and a half hours to Skagway and caught the 4:30 p.m. ferry to Juneau ... but I think I've figured out the perfect recipe for a unfailingly successful 24 hour race. First, bike like a maniac for 12 hours. Then party like a rock star for 12 hours. Seriously, you can't go wrong. Of course, Geoff thinks you should just bike like a maniac for 24 hours, net nearly 200 rough dirt miles and break the course record. But what does he know?

It also helps if, on the way to your race, you catch a motivating glimpse of a Yukon Cow. Bears and those northern Canada skeeters will keep you moving fast ...

So the 24 Hours of Light. Where even to begin with a race like this? Within one hour of arriving in Whitehorse, we had met up with the captain of a team-of-eight-minus-one - the "Magnificent Seven" - were offered a place to spend the night, made friends with a fun group from Anchorage and were served delicious tuna burgers and grilled vegetables at a complete stranger's barbecue. The next day, when we arrived at the race start, I met up with more Whitehorse locals and walked around looking at their bikes, talking to them about their trails, marveling in the dry air and tiny spruce trees piercing terrain that's literally webbed with hundreds of miles of singletrack. Within 18 hours of arriving in town, I was already forming plans to sneak over the border in the middle of the night so I could take up residence as an illegal alien in the Yukon.

The race course itself was rough and fun. The official course description called for 12.5-kilometer laps with 300 meters of climbing per lap. I measured 7.9 miles per lap, and 300 meters converts to just less than 1,000 feet. Ouch. Tough, too, because nearly all of the climbing was on sandy double track and most of the dropping was on tightly-wound singletrack. Either way, it's pretty slow going for a technically challenged gimp like me. I hooked trees a couple of times and body checked many others. But fun, so fun. And physically, I felt amazing. I made frequent mental notes about how my bad knee was feeling and, despite being relatively out of shape, wasn't prompted to worry about much else. I just kept a really comfortable pace and only had to endure a health lecture from Geoff every three laps, which is how often he lapped me.

As to doing a bunch of loop-de-loops ... I really don't mind. I still had a great time. How many 24-hour loop races net you views like this? This picture was taken during my "Midnight" lap by the way - 11:35 p.m.

Midnight also was the time I hit my "best case scenario." I promised myself if I rode for most of the first 12 hours, I would definitely not ride any more. As it was, 12 hours more than doubled the most time I have spent in the saddle since my knee injury. Not a smart jump, and definitely not smart to go any higher. But honestly, I was bummed when midnight came around. I was feeling great, and eating well, and generally keeping my pace of 1-hour laps with a 10-minute break between each one. But my knee was starting to feel sore. So I stopped, loaded up the ice, and took up residence with the "Magnificent Seven." A coffee cart in the parking lot was dolling out free drinks to your heart's desire, and I went on a caffeine bender that filled most of the so-called "dark" hours (which is when the orange light of the sunset/sunrise hovers on the horizon, and nonlocals realize why the only rule in the 24 Hours of Light is "No Headlights Allowed.") In that time, we munched on soup and bread and collected free schwag, danced to thumping 80s/techno mixes and clanged a cowbell as wig-clad racers flowed through.

At 3:30 a.m., the party was winding down. I still had a couple of gallons of lattes to move through my system, so I committed with a team racer from Anchorage to ride one "sunrise" loop, to compliment by last "sunset" loop and make it an even 12. I thought at the end of that lap I'd have a dirt century. But at that time of night, I really can't do math.

The final lap was amazing. After three hours of rest and soup and lattes, I felt like I had the ability to ride out and conquer the entire Yukon. I was soaked in late-night delirium, pumping and mixture of endorphins and caffeine and feeling no pain. I rolled onto a long stretch of singletrack that follows a steep ridgeline and looked out over the river valley. The pink reflection of dawn floated over tree tops and blazed gold in the still water. The landscape was bathed in light, as it had been and seemed like it always would be. It's hard to describe the feeling of moments like that once they've been lost to the haze of sleep and memory. I do know that I reached for my camera, and then for some reason thought better of it. Maybe I sensed that any image of that moment would only disappoint me.

I finally did pull out my camera to take the clock view of the end of my last lap. I have no idea how it ended up being nearly 5 a.m. I felt like a rode that last lap in 20 minutes, I felt so awake and a alive. But that's what a 4 a.m. high will do to you ... it will make hours seem like minutes, whether you're circling yet another loop or standing awestruck on a ridgeline shrouded in hypnotizing light.

I knew even before I returned at 4:47 a.m. the lap 12 was going to have to be it for me. My knee was stiffening up. There was no doubt about that. And once I stopped for sleep, I knew all of the effort of the afternoon was going to catch up with my out-of-shape body. Plus, I had no choice but to stop for sleep, because I was the designated driver. Still, so many voices in my mind just kept saying "Go! Go! Go!" There was so little left to say no. Some people have a crack habit. I have a bicycle habit. But we all suffer and sing for the same reasons.

As it was, I had a restless nap and was back up at 8 a.m. to continue cheering on Geoff. He was riding an amazing race - which I'm sure he'll describe on his blog soon enough. But it was his first mountain bike race - endurance or otherwise - after spending most of the summer training to run what is essentially a wilderness marathon. But in that bright Yukon air, he was inspired to ride 25 laps ... just shy of 200 miles and 25,000 feet of climbing ... and capture what many in the Whitehorse crowd believe is the course record. I finished with 12 laps ... about 95 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing. Despite only riding half of the time, I still won my class. There was only one other female racing solo, so it was a bit of a shallow victory. But I will take the win, and all of the beauty and good energy that came before it.

Now, 12 hours later, my knee has loosened up considerably and feels OK. Driving up and over White Pass at 3 p.m. was by far the most painful and difficult part of the entire endeavour. I'm still riding a bit of an endurance high and it feels pretty good. I made a bunch of new friends and maybe someday I will talk them into shielding me from Canadian immigration officers when I decide to skip the border. But until then, I will always have the 24 Hours of Light.


  1. Wow Jill. Thats incredible. Almost makes me want to take up bike riding... or excersising in general... almost.. ;-)

    Being new to these northern parts here in Cordova I'm a little jealous of your midnights... clear nights/days seem to be hard to come by here.

    Anyway, great job. Your quite the inspiration.

  2. Oh Jill, and there I was, worrying about doing the Dulwich Dynamo in July. That's ON ROADS! OK, I guess I'm scared the darkenss and boredom will send me to sleep but still... voice tails off in awe.

    Well done on your victory. The only losers are the ones that don't try. You should feel like one in a million.

    Heads off to haul tired ass out of bed and ride to work.

  3. Damn that Geoff, he's a machine!

    I wish we had all night light now and then.

  4. Congratulations to both of you.....what a great adventure !

  5. Awesome. Really makes me want to get back up to that race in '08. That's my favorite race for sure. Do they still host it up at the nordic center?

  6. Well done Jill. It sounds like a truly amazing epic ride! I love the poetry of the sunrise lap. beautiful.
    Well done kid.

  7. What a great write-up! I am truly impressed and I also have to point out that if you were truly out of shape, no way could you ride for 12 hours. You are IN SHAPE girl. Congrats on a successful race!

  8. Congratulations to you and Geoff! I'll have to put the 24 Hours of Light on my list of races to do. The lack of darkness was something I loved about the Fireweed 400.

  9. Jill and Geoff, what an awesome job!!! Congrats on your win and all the laps you put down. Very impressive...
    I envy you for celebrating the Summer like this, where there is no darkness and you can literally ride all night:)
    Hail to your knee! It's been behaving pretty darn well!!!!

  10. and yes...
    that Geoff is an ultra endurance freak!

  11. Now, that looks like a 24-hour race I'd enjoy! I've never had much of an interest in the 24-hour races (at least not solo), but that looks like fun! I foresee a trip to Alaska in '08... (maybe I could hang out for a couple weeks, then do the Fireweed 200, too).

    Sounds like a great ride, and congratulations on the win!

  12. That sounds like an amazing race! I wondered how you and Geoff were doing during one of my night laps. It was nice to know other people were racing at the same time!!!

    Congrats on a great race!

  13. Congratulations on your win (and Geoff's). One other competitor or 100, you still won! Savor it.
    That really does sound like a great event. The pictures, once again are excellent (and the story too!).

  14. Welcome back!
    sunrise laps rule!

  15. Way to go!!!! Congratulations to both of you for doing so well. It looks like a lot of fun. Thanks for sharing your story and great pics.

  16. Awesome job Jill! I am so frickin impressed, god I wish I could do that I feel like such a wimp! Great lap times and I'm impressed that you did those laps, but that you managed to stop yerself from doing more. Also glad ot hear the knee is already feeling better, thats a decent measure of its own recovery. Beautiful pictures! I loved the 11:35 one!

  17. Outstanding! Way to go! Both of you.

  18. wow, what a great story. i haven't wanted to do a 24 hours in a long time, but now i do. maybe see you there next year.


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