By: Justin Hawkins
Photos: Samantha Johnston
The alarm clock went off around 10:45 pm. I woke, made some last checks of my bike, food, lights, got my kit on to race and left our campsite headed for the midnight start of 18 Hours of Fruita, racing in the men’s solo division.
Anyone who has any bike racing experience knows the 5-10 minute period before the race begins you are bombarded with details about the race, such as a long explanation of the start, safety concerns and at bigger racers possibly a call up of past winners or notable participants, but this one was different.
To begin the 18 Hours of Fruita riders we were milling about the finishing tent expecting it to also be the staging area for the start only to hear a bullhorn powered voice calling us down a hill next to the lake. From there, race director Troy Rarick finally explained the start that was to take place in just a few minutes. He presented us with three options while also passing a bottle of tequila around, to any brave racer willing to take a pull off the bottle. Those options were:
1. set our bikes down run halfway up the hill we had just ridden down and circle the bathroom building
2. find a partner and complete a wheel barrel race of a much shorter circuit around a picnic table near by
3. jump into the lake from a dock next to the start line and if you threw in a back flip Race
Director Rarick would give you a head start by holding all the other racers at the line
In the next couple moments more tequila was passed and a couple brave racers tried to partner for the shorter wheel barrel race option that would get you on the bike sooner and hitting the single track a little ahead of the crowd. I can only assume no one accepted the lake plunge since we were not held at the start and I saw the wheel borrowing racers effectively trampled as most of us took off running up the hill and around the bathroom building.
Anyone who has ridden in the Fruita or Moab area has experienced the sand and dust that can fly with the slightest amount of movement either from a bike, walking or the breeze. For the start of the 18 Hours we enjoyed all those options kicking the Fruita dust into the air and making for a sporty first few laps. If you have not ridden in Fruita try this: set your bike up indoors on a trainer or a pair of rollers with a large fan in front of you blowing full boar, collect vacuum bags from all your friends, turn off the lights, put on a headlamp and start pedaling while someone throws that collection of vacuum dust into the fan.
After finding my bike I spent my first lap in a blind, dust induced haze simply following the wheel in front of me and hoping that person could see something. Then 38 minutes later that lap ended in a mob scene on the second of two climbs on the course with an energetic crowd hooping and hollering for all the racers.
From that moment the race evolved into a balance between riding, hitting my timeline goals and taking in the nutrition I needed to stay on schedule. Riding through the night I balanced yielding on the trail to the team riders going mach one for their lap and passing other racers that I needed to in order to keep my rhythm going. My night laps were a battle between visibility challenges with the constant dust and looking after my nutrition to get through 18 hours of racing. But I kept to my schedule battling the demons of night racing and reached my goal of 11 laps by 8:00 AM a full hour ahead of schedule. I thought with the sun now up I would certainly reach my goal of 22 laps by the end of the race at 6:00 PM. But my body had some other ideas.
One of the godfathers of Crank Collective, who knows me well, could explain my love of suffering and entering the “cave of pain” that I enjoy from long hard rides. There is simply a moment I value in pushing myself past my limits and likely drives me to enter such races searching for that limit, which I found in large quantities towards the end of this race.
By about noon I had passed through my second and third wind and all my laps became a brutal struggle of crashes and lacking any control on the bike. My faithful support staff, my soon to be wife, continued to look after me always making sure I had the food/drink that my body needed but finally around 1:00 PM my body threw in the towel and I reached a breaking point I have rarely experienced. I completed my last climb, finishing my 17th lap, and could not get myself back on the bike for anymore miles even though there were several more hours of racing remaining.
Collapsing into my tent I knew I was coming up short on my goal but simply could not rally my body to get back on the bike. Getting out of my race kit I settled in for a much needed nap waking a couple hours later with an extremely sore body. Stumbled to the showers and watched a couple friends finish their race as the 18 hour clock reached zero.
Looking back I’m certainly disappointed for not reaching my goal but also don’t know what else I could have done. I also look back and wonder why I seek out those experiences that push me so far past my limit on the bike and personally. For me the experience of finding that limit is the reason why. Hard to explain but I know there are some readers out there that understand that feeling and satisfaction that comes from that experience.
So get out there and push yourself in whatever way you need and catch you on the trail and possibly in the dust of Fruita.