To say that most of us here at IMBA don't race is an understatement. That has nothing to do with our competitiveness; we just find other (cheaper and less travel-intensive) outlets to relieve our desk-jockey work lives. But we jumped at the chance to race this year's 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo under a warm desert sun. It's particularly cold and snowy around here during February, translating to not much riding, or to very miserable riding.
This year, Epic Rides—24HOP's organizer—kindly dedicated the event to IMBA for our work building trails and maintaining access. It was the first time an organization has received the honor (rather than one individual). We got a shiny plaque at the dedication dinner, a chance to speak to a big group of racers and lots of warm fuzzies, especially when IMBA board chair Bob Winston asked, "Who in the room is an IMBA member?" and nearly every hand shot up.
Because of that, the attendees probably didn't need Rebecca Rusch, the Queen of Pain and a member of IMBA's honorary board, to tell the story of her hometown IMBA Chapter, but she did: A few years ago, Rebecca was just like most everyone with a passion for mountain biking. She was too busy having fun to do more than just appreciate "the others" doing trail advocacy work. But when her favorite home trails in Idaho were threatened with closure, she realized the reason was because ALL of the local mountain bikers were just like her: too busy having fun. Not one of them had a seat at the table, so the mountain bikers had been shut out of local land management discussions.
To help solve the problem, Rebecca founded an IMBA Chapter where she lives—the Wood River Bicycle Coalition—and to this day is a proud and vocal propagandist for trail advocacy. She's also really nice and really, really, really fast.
Since 24HOP is sometimes referred to as the "Burning Man of mountain bike races," we decided not to miss out and fielded two teams of staff, board members and friends. IMBA's board chair, "I'm-not-here-to-race-hard-Bob" (who turned in a very impressive 1:11 lap) captained the Fat Tire Five—IMBA's "serious" team featuring the Fat Cyclist himself and NICA Executive Director Austin McInerny. The IMBAciles, a less-competitive (but still motivated) group of seven, featured IMBA president Mike Van Abel, board member Luther Propst and SDMB's president, Zach MacDonald.
The tight, twisty, cacti-lined course of 16 miles was generous in handing out barbed chollas and painful burns under a low winter sun. It also claimed two of our people. The first was Austin, who braved the noontime, Le-Mans-style start for the Fat Tire Five, only to discover that someone in the RV where he was crashing shared with him the exact same size and style of shoe. He had grabbed the wrong pair and found himself with SPD cleats on Crank Brothers pedals. Instead of sprinting back to the RV, Austin rode all 16 miles precariously perched—unclipped—atop tiny Eggbeater platforms, hammering out a very impressive lap of just a hair over an hour. A few hundred feet from the finish line, the 15-foot rock drop roll to the transition zone bucked him right off the bike and torqued his knee badly enough that he had to pull out of the race and travel around camp on the seat of an extra-small bicycle, propelling himself with his one good leg.
The other casualty was Luther (who you may remember from his excellent keynote speech at the 2012 World Summit). He was motoring through his first lap around 9 p.m. when his light suddenly went out. No flickr, no dimming, just out. Luther also happened to be a few hundred feet from the finish and in the middle of the course's rockiest, sketchiest section. Completely and very suddenly in the dark, he went over the handlebars and broke three ribs. He spent the night in the bed of his truck and drove home to Tucson the next morning.
Down one man each and not allowed to pull in the bench warmer (me), Fat Tire Five and the IMBAciles still managed impressive finishes in their categories, placing 7/34 and 28/65, respectively. (And anyway, thanks to Gu hooking us up with IMBA 25th anniversary stainless steel pint glasses, I spent my Saturday night pouring pints of Lagunitas for thirsty racers, many of them looking to fuel themselves with beer calories immediately before heading out on a lap.) Fat Tire Five finished just behind groups with names like: "Weapons of Ass Destruction" and "My wife left me for a slower team." The winning team in the IMBAciles category was, perhaps not surprisingly, the "Area 51 Stravassholes."
In all, everyone had a blast, (which is always what happens when we unchain ourselves from our desks and go play outside). You might just see the IMBAciles at more mountain bike races this year, hopefully with fewer broken body parts.
The IMBA Chapter in Tucson, Ariz., the Sonoran Desert Mountain Bicyclists (SDMB), deserves a huge "thanks" for the cleanup ride they did following 24HOP—pedaling the course picking up race detritus: empty Gu packets, broken carbon cranks and crushed dreams. Well, maybe just Gu packets. And only one SDMB member found a piece of a carbon crank.
Thanks again to Epic Rides for dedicating 24HOP to IMBA, to Gu for sponsoring our beer party, to Rebecca Rusch for supporting IMBA so wholeheartedly and to everyone who joined or renewed their IMBA membership at the race!