Our first exposure to 24 Hours of Adrenalin was a year ago, when we rode over to the Canmore Nordic Centre to watch the start and cheer on a family friend who was racing as part of a 5-person team. Briefly, this is a mountain bike race where individual, pair and team competitors ride a 16 – 18 km course, completing as many laps as possible in 24 hours. Actually, as long as a rider starts a lap before the 24 hours are up, that lap counts towards the total so long as it’s finished before the end of the 25th hour. Over the past few years, the top teams have finished somewhere around 25 laps, depending on the route and trail conditions. The top male solo rider usually completes 16 – 18 laps, while the top female solo rider finishes somewhere betwen 12 and 15 laps.
Our respect for the riders’ skill and determination increased markedly this past weekend, when Mother Nature threw a couple of curve balls Friday. First off, some of the riders coming into Canmore from BC got caught on the wrong side of the mudslide just west of Banff. Fortunately, the eastbound lands of the TransCanada were cleared early Friday evening.
More significantly, a storm rolled into Canmore shortly after supper. Lightning, thunder, rain and huge winds combined to make for a scary experience. Wind gusts lifted three large, barn-style tents right off the ground and rolled them through the campsites, taking down multiple tents and increasing the odds that competitors’ sleeping bags and spare clothing were soaked. Amazingly, the worst resulting injury we’re aware of is one requiring nine stitches.
Our phone rang about 9:45 Friday evening. It was our racing friend, John, who wondered if he could use our clothes dryer and also whether our standing offer of a place to stay was still open. Of course! By the time they gathered up the pieces of their tent and the rest of their belongings, it was almost 11 o’clock before John and a team mate arrived to bed down at our place for the night. They got a much better rest than if they’d tried to tough it out at the Nordic Centre. As they headed off to join up with the rest of their team members Saturday morning, we reminded them we’d be riding over to watch the start of the race at noon.
As it turns out, we saw them again a little sooner than that. Around 10 o’clock a few tweets came across calling for volunteer help to repair some of the trails damaged by the storm. Within 15 minutes, C and I were on our bikes, arriving at the Nordic Centre shortly before 11 o’clock. After a quick stop at the team’s tent to say “hi”, we pedaled on up the course to hook up with the repair crew. Our timing was impeccable! The repair guys were pulling the last windfallen tree off the trail just as we arrived. After saying “thanks for showing up” the crew suggested we ride the rest of route and report any other damage to the main stage.
My immediate reactions were: first, riding the rest of the course would give us a much better idea what the race is all about; and second, that I’d be lagging far behind. Since C was equipped with bear spray and a walkie-talkie and was carrying lots of water, I encouraged him to go ahead and ride at his own pace. We planned to meet up back at the starting area.
It was soon apparent that my mountain biking skills aren’t yet up to all of the challenges of the 24 Hour course. Like my 2011 attempt at the Highline Trail, I ended up pushing my bike along several sections of the course. But unlike last year’s Highline attempt, I rode more than I walked, since swarms of mosquitoes encouraged me to try more riding than I otherwise would have!
I was pretty happy to reach the far west end of the upper loop, where the scenery took my mind off how tired I was getting and the wide, hard-packed trail was pretty smooth for a kilometer or so. To my surprise, photographers were out at three locations along the first half of the route and for some unknown reason, they were snapping my picture as I went by.
I was pushing my bike as I passed the third photo point, so I chatted a bit with the pair manning that location. They were official event photographers, aiming to photograph every competitor and all the photos would be available for purchase after the event. (Imagine my surprise when I found a picture of me on their website yesterday!) Anyhow, I asked them if I was half-way around the course yet. They said almost, and if I wanted to “bail”, I’d soon be in sight of the main stage and could abandon the course approximately mid-route. Alternately, I could continue on and do a second, lower loop to complete the entire route.
Given I’d already been riding for an hour, it was an easy decision to bail. But not before I stopped long enough to re-hang a directional sign that had come down in the wind storm. I arrived back at the staging area around 12:30 and was happy to see John’s team had all their tents back up and were ready for the race to start at 1 o’clock, an hour later than originally scheduled.
With less than 7 minutes to the start of the race, C hadn’t turned up, so I figured he was riding the entire course. With about a minute to go before the Le Mans-style start, I decided to head up the hill overlooking the start to get a better view. Just then, my walkie-talkie squawked – C was back at the tent! I waved him to come up and join me for the start of the race.
As it turns out, he did ride the whole course, finishing in about 1 hr 50 minutes. He figured he might be able to do 4 laps in a 24-hour stretch, which is about the average number of laps completed by each member of the 5-person teams. Given our experiences on the course, we were really impressed when we heard that Patrick Humenny, the 2012 top male solo rider, completed 18 laps on a single speed bike! Nadine Mueller, the top female solo rider, finished with 15 laps. John’s team clocked 19 laps; the top 4 teams in their division each finished with 25 laps.
We’d like to say “Congratulations!” to all the competitors. As C knows first hand, it takes skill, determination and stamina to finish just one lap, let alone go for 24 hours. Way to go!