Open All Night

Our very own Tom Selleck Tyler Smith ventured out to Eastern Washington earlier this summer to take part in a 24 hour mountain bike race. This is his story.

If the thought of checking out a 24 hour mountain bike race has ever crossed your mind, don't hesitate.  Just sign up.

First of all, you can basically get several different types of racing all rolled into one event: Short track XC, with a Le Mans style start, long course endurance MTB racing where digging deep mile after mile is just par for the course. Throw in a dash of cyclocross, pinch of alleycat, drop or two of gravel grinding, and sprinkling of Burning Man, and you've got a 24 Hour MTB race. 

Spokane has drawn us East for this crazy race, The Round and Round, on more than one occasion. The 5th iteration of this journey would take us down some fresh trails, expose us to familiar highs and unexplored lows, and ultimately deliver an experience as unique as the first time we rode that lap.

Over the course of this 15 mile lap, one tends to encounter certain features that are more fun than others. You find yourself dreading a specific section of loose, sandy trail, or a punchy and strength-sapping climb, but also looking forward to that breezy ridge line paralleling the river, where you can pick up some speed and gather your wits before dropping into dense and technical singletrack again.

Similarly, you may find the searing temperatures of a mid-summer afternoon on one side, with dusty and stifling trail conditions, while laps in the dead of night necessitate vests, warmers, and embrocation. 

The route up a particular sustained climb at night looks like a radio antenna stretching skyward, as riders navigate their way up the sandy terrain, taillights blinking from their seatposts. The same climb, timed correctly, can also afford a front row seat to the first rays of sunlight, peaking over the hills to the East. A lap that starts in the dark, necessitating all lights, can quickly transform as the sun trickles through the trees with cool blue hues, and illuminates the trail once again.

As you leave the transition tent, and the hum of generators, squawks of the announcer, thump of the music, and cheers from your teammates fades behind you, you find yourself alone. You might end up riding an entire lap without seeing another rider, or you may be lucky enough to catch or be passed by other riders, exchanging encouragement and maybe some company for a few pedal strokes. On a dark and windy trail, with only the amber spot of your own light to distract you, the contact of another human, another rider tracing the same lines and features, can be the equivalent of a caffeinated gel or push up a hill.

At some point, the march away from civilization, and your friends, turns into a return voyage, a journey back. That final descent down the fire road, and the welcome clatter of cowbells, voices, and the announcer reading off your name and number is music to your ears. The rows of tents, RV's, campfires, and porta-johns make you smile as you roll across the line. You're home. That is, until your next lap.