Monday, May 08, 2006

Report on New Cycling Event: Cool, CA Mountain Bike Race

The Coolest Mountain Bike Race!
Norman Field is amongst nearly 200 racers who competed in new event near Sacramento, May 6-7, 2006

By Karen Kefauver
Race photos:

Santa Cruz —
As 24-hour mountain bike races are growing more popular across the U.S. and my bicycling friends flock to sign up for relays or solo divisions of these events, I have been curious about what compels them to race nearly nonstop, night and day, lap after lap, on a looping, off-road course. I decided to accompany Norman at his first solo 24-hour mountain bike event, this past weekend, May 6-7, in Cool, CA, east of Sacramento. That way, I could investigate the appeal of this event without the pain of racing myself.

As it turned out, being a support person in one of these events is also a challenge in and of itself. Happily, I had superb help: Norman's sister and brother-in-law, Rachanee and Dan, arrived early Saturday morning and stayed til the end. They were essential to Norman's success. We also had fantastic aid from Hank, who arrived Saturday evening for a few hours with crucial resupplies and good cheer. Plus, our friend Melanie, a veteran 24-hour mountain bike racer, had provided great tips over dinner before we left and had generously loaned us camping gear. During the race weekend, she called often to cheer Norman and boost our energy.

We departed on Friday at noon, the Jeep packed to the gills. We missed Melanie, who was recovering from recent foot surgery and unable to join us as originally planned. But we wondered how we could have managed another passenger! After a four-hour drive northeast, we rolled into Cool, CA, ready to set up camp. We were grateful to our hometown Santa Cruz County Cycling Club Race Team for the loan of the pop-up tent which was our central hub where Norman stopped to refuel each lap. That blue tent became home for the next two days, in addition to our 2 individual tents.

On Friday evening, we went for a leisurely 2-hour dusk ride and were impressed by the beauty of the area — lush green hills, red clay paths. We scouted out the race course - some climbs so steep that they required walking! Ouch! Some downhills so strewn with rocks that they required my walking (Norman had the skills to ride them.) The highlight of our ride together was Norman spotting a lone bear ambling into the woods. He was a safe distance away, but I wondered if that fellow would visit our camp later for dinner. We turned in by 11 p.m. (No bears visited).

12 noon - Norman started his first 24 Hour Solo Race with a mad dash, literally. Known as a "LeMans start," Norman and the other racers had to run a quarter mile around a field before they got on their bikes and set out to do their first 9-mile lap. Norman aimed to complete 11 laps, or 99 miles, during his 24 hour time period. The winners of these events are the riders who complete the most laps in their division. Norman was not out to win, just to experience the test of endurance. He went strong and steady, stopping after each lap, back at the tent so we could help him get more food and drink, clean his bike and give him a pat on the back. He remained upbeat even as the day wore on. I was in awe and baffled that he did not want to quit and nap, as I imagine I would.

At 7 p.m. he took a 2-hour break to enjoy a steak dinner and feast prepared and served in Rach and Dan's camper trailer. Thanks! Our friend Hank joined us and provided good cheer and supplies for a few hours on Saturday night. Norman was reenergized and after dinner, kept on riding, even after I went to bed at 1 a.m. He promised he would be safe and be vigilant about charging the two lights he had affixed to his bike, one on the helmet, the other on the handlebars.

When I awoke at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, to my amazement, I found that Norman was STILL cycling and had indeed ridden all through the night while I was asleep. At 7 a.m., he declared he would actually exceed his 99-mile goal and do 12 laps, for a total of 108-miles! I was floored. I got to work making breakfast and we all ate and celebrated when Norman rolled in, done racing, at 9 a.m. or so. Way to go, Norman!

We broke down camp and loaded for several hours. Fueled by coffee and chocolate, we hit the highway shortly after the noon conclusion of the event and traded driving duties all the way home. We somehow made it back to Santa Cruz on what felt like an interminable 4.50-hour drive. We collapsed into bed that night, both wiped out. I am very proud of Norman's accomplishments. I felt happy that I had played an important role in helping Norman achieve a goal that was meaningful to him. I had a hard time imagining myself doing this event, though I was inspired by the woman who had set up camp next to ours, Mary, of Folsom, CA. She was the only woman who had signed up to race solo, and on a single speed bike, (only one gear!) no less. It was her first solo event and she did really well.

Norman's body demanded 13 hours of sleep, plus an hour nap, and frequent feeding on this first day of recovery. (He was smart to have taken the day off of work). A massage and sushi dinner were part of the celebration, but mostly, good, solid rest was the top priority. After all, he is planning to do this 24-hour mountain bike racing all again this next weekend. But one major difference: he will be part of a 5-person team at Laguna Seca in Monterey, CA.