Date: June 23
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.
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.