Contrary to popular belief, the IMBA staff is not made up entirely of hardcore, pro/semi-pro racing types. We certainly have those who are inclined toward racing and race fitness, but then there are some who haven't been mountain biking all that long and many who just do it for the joys of adventure and being outside. Heck, if racing were a thing around this office, I never would have been hired.
The joys of adventure and freedom are why five of the six women in the IMBA Boulder office signed up to "race" 18 Hours of Fruita this past weekend: Jenn Dice, Kristy Kibler, Wendy Kerr, Katherine Fuller and Tiffanie Beal, along with Wendy's husband Kristian to qualify us for the co-ed category. (Unfortunately, we lost Tiffanie to a punctured lung, but she's recovering fairly well.)
By "race" I mean that it was technically a race, and I know we all gave it 110% out on the course, but otherwise it was a vacation, a party, an adventure, a bonding experience, a chance to make new friends and drink beer with them around a camp fire.
Some of us trained, some of us had other things to do. Those who hadn't ridden in the dark never got around to practicing. We gathered for just one team meeting three days before we stuffed the IMBA Subarus full of our crap and headed over the Continental Divide toward something most of us had no experience with. Why? Because, why not?
If you're thinking of trying a mountain bike race, then take it from me - the inexperienced one - that an overnight team event is the way to go. Even though the first two miles of the course were above my bike-handling-skills pay grade and resulted in me turning in the slowest laps, the relaxed atmosphere and my supportive coworkers meant that I was free to muddle along happily through the tight turns, the thick dust and the final, steep climb where the spectators gathered.
No one crashed, no one overdid it, only Wendy had a flat tire and, thankfully, we weren't last. Out of 15, 6-8 person coed teams, we placed 13th (although according to my teammates, the official race report gypped us out of a couple of laps and we really should have been 12th, ahead of " Team Brown Chicken Brown Cow"). I think the winning team in our category was a group of people all riding rigid-fork Surley Pugsleys equipped with giant snow tires. Because, why not?
In retrospect, the only thing that surprised me was the condition of the trail at the end of the race. 18 Hours of Fruita is capped at 100 teams, and a rumor was floating around that 1,500 people were in attendance. Not all of them were racing, but hundreds of bikes hammering through a six-and-change-mile course over 18 hours does some serious damage. In the five hours between my first and second outing, many parts of the trail had turned from hard pack to sand. Rock gardens and loose edges appeared out of nowhere. Sketchy singletrack on a ledge above a lake got even sketchier. A few solid rains will do a good job of restoring the trail, but it was like going through a time warp and seeing why consistent maintenance of your favorite trail is so important.
[Insert shameless plug for the Subaru/IMBA Trail Care Crew and the IMBA Trail Building School here.]
So thank you to all of you who build and maintain sustainable singletrack. It's the only stuff that can handle an 18-hour mountain bike race, and the only stuff that could have made us so happy to be racing on it.