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Monday, April 8, 2024

Grass Roots Gravel Returns!


The mountain is high, the valley is low
And you're confused on which way to go
So, I've come here to give you a hand
And lead you into the promised land
So, come on and take a free ride
Free Ride, Dan Hartman (1973)

No shortage of primo gravel roads in and around the Black Hills of South Dakota.
(image by Paul Brasby)

Grass roots gravel returns to the Black Hills! 

Not one, but two community gravel ride series this spring! Wowzer!

Leading off, the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association is hosting a series of four free gravel "Social Rides" in the spirit of the wildly popular Black Hills Gravel Series. For our riding pleasure, Lucas Haan of Black Hills Gravel once again hand-crafted a series of unique routes over a mix of county gravel roads, minimum maintenance roads, Forest Service dirt, and perhaps even a smattering of two track. Every route is a gem.

As always, there's something for everyone. Each ride will offer three different routes, increasing in length and difficulty, for each start location. They're named by color:  Green (10-20 miles, moderate elevation gain), Blue (20-40 miles, moderately more elevation gain and difficulty), and Black (50+ miles, significantly more elevation gain and difficulty, likely with another challenge). A route exists for every level of ability, experience, and ambition.

Saturday, April 6 (9 am) - Gravel Social #1 (Sturgis)
Saturday, April 20 (9 am) - Gravel Social #2 (Spearfish)
Saturday, May 11 (9 am) - Gravel Social #3 (Custer)
Saturday, May 18 (9 am) - Gravel Social #4 (Hill City)

Updates will be posted on the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association FaceBook Group, with links to GPX files and cue sheets. Of course, Black Hills Gravel has a group on FaceBook, Strava, and RideWithGPS, where one can find additional information and links.

There's more. There's always more to ride out here.
(image by Paul Brasby)

But wait. We've only just begun.

Rushmore Bikes of Spearfish is also hosting a series of four free gravel rides on different dates over different routes. Here's their announcement of the Rushmore Bikes N(A)R Classic Spring Series, which includes links to more information and maps:

"Join us for the NAR Classic (Not (A) Race) Spring Series, a one-of-a-kind cycling event that's all about the joy of riding and the camaraderie of fellow cyclists. At Rushmore Bikes, we believe in creating a family-friendly atmosphere where riders of all ages and skill levels can come together to celebrate the beauty of cycling."

Sunday, April 14 (10 am) - N(A)R Classic #1 (Whitewood)
Sunday, April 21 (10 am) - N(A)R Classic #2 (Belle Fouche)
Sunday, May 12 (10 am) - N(A)R Classic #3 (Spearfish)
Sunday, May 19 (10 am) - N(A)R Classic #4 (Beulah)

Our gravel cup overfloweth! 

Enjoy these group rides. Bring your families and friends. Thank these folks for making this happen. Support the businesses that provide our start/finish facilities. 

This is our Black Hills grass roots gravel community. What a treasure.


Free Ride, Edgar Winter Group (1973)

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Happy Easter 2024




After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here. He is risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples. He is risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him. Now I have told you."

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell the disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me."

Matthew 28:1-10. 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

24 Hours In The Old Pueblo - People Make The Place

The 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo ("Two Four HOP") is well known for its welcoming, celebratory vibe. The promoters, vendors, and sponsors certainly contribute, but the racers and their crew are the life blood of this event. Throughout the weekend, I enjoyed nothing but positive and enthusiastic interactions with everyone I encountered. What an affirming experience.

Even out on the course, with challenging passes on fast, twisty single track hemmed in by large, nasty cactus, I found every cyclist to be friendly and encouraging. Every single interaction was positive, even with the fastest of the fast guys and gals. Maybe especially the fastest.

Everyone genuinely seemed happy to be there, and happy to see you there.

Ultra Trail Runner Extraordinaire Kristen Schindler brings a ready smile and a cheering section.
(image by Ultra Cyclist Extraordinaire Colin Schindler)

Here's a short introduction some few old and new friends who shared this experience and, along with many others, made the whole weekend memorable. 

Local Fast Guys

Among other things, Kristen Schindler is an elite ultra trail runner and her husband Colin is a competitive cyclist. We met at a cycling event in the Black Hills of South Dakota in late 2021 when Colin was preparing to race the Tour Divide. After his amazing 19 day finish in 2022, I interviewed him for my blog and kept in contact with them after their move to Tucson last year. 

Colin entered Two Four HOP as part of Team "Los Pitudos" in the 4 person Mens Open division, with Kristen joining as crew. But her enthusiastic support could not be contained to one team. Kristen screamed and waved a "CRAIG" sign at the start and kept tabs during the race. I later saw her (and heard her!) near the transition tent with a "COLIN! COLIN! COLIN! COLIN!" sign. I can only imagine the energy at their team camp site.

Not surprisingly, Colin rode 5 of his team's 16 laps, including 3 of their night laps after midnight, which are the hardest of the entire race, by far. Go, Colin!

Colin Schindler effortlessly cranks out another lap for Los Pitudos.
(image by Kristen Schindler)

ChristianCycling - Tucson Spoke

In advance of Two Four HOP, I contacted the Tucson Spoke of ChristianCycling to see if any of their members planned to be at the race. Conor Johnson responded that he was racing as part of a 5 person co-ed team with other friends, but that he did not know of a formal ChristianCycling team. I didn't know Conor, but we communicated over a few days before the start and met at packet pickup. 

Out on the course, Conor flew by me on a few laps, always with a loud "GO CRAIG!" or "LOOKING GOOD CRAIG!" I would have loved to ride with him, but he rode much faster. His team, "Chill Team Ride," ultimately rode 22 laps to finish 2nd in the 5 Person Co-Ed (150-199 combined age group) division.

  
ChristianCycling - Racers from Vintage 24 Hours of Moab Teams

Checking into the transition tent on Saturday morning, I heard someone exclaim, "Craig!" I turned to face an excited Jovan Fritsch. He introduced himself as a racer on a ChristianCycling team at our 24 Hours of Moab ministry, way back in 2005, where I was Race Teams Director of our 10 race teams. The years melt away as we quickly catch up before the start.

Much later, while checking through the transition tent in the middle of the night, I again hear someone call my name. Now, it's Mark Berghoefer, another racer part of another group of ChristianCycling teams that I directed at the 24 Hours of Moab, this time in 2004. He's retired now, but looks as race-fit as he did 20 years ago.

Both Jovan and Mark bring big smiles, along with a flood of warm memories from those ministries and from many other team rides, races, and events back then. Better yet, both shout encouragement whenever they see me out on the course or in the transition tent. I really wish I had pictures with them and hope to ride with them again.

Checking in with Conor Johnson, captain of Chill Team Ride and member of the Tucson Spoke of ChristianCycling.
(image by Conor Johnson)

Other Racers

Right before the start, a woman burst out, "Hey! Do you know if Michael Hast is here?" I recognize that name as the Director of the ChristianCycling Tucson Spoke, so my team kit must have sparked that question. "No, I don't think he's here, but I don't know." Undeterred, she introduced herself as Sarah Mulholland and wanted to know all about my story. What an energetic bundle of good cheer!

Racing with Team Baaad Hombres, Sarah and her teammates sport custom jerseys that included a happy, excited looking goat to reflect their team spirit. Later, at the start and at unexpected times during the race, I'd hear Sarah's enthusiastic shouts of "Go Craig!" What fun!

Also exemplifying the event's friendly, welcoming vibe, Ty Pessin of Tucson introduced himself at the Outbound Lighting tent as we checked out some demo lights during the Friday expo. He was plumb full of positive excitement. The next time I saw Ty was well after noon on Sunday on the final lap. He looked strong on his 10th solo lap, but apparently was pacing a struggling racer around the course. I'd love to ride with him some day.


Neighbors

Peter Stocker and Lonnie Calmes entered Two Four HOP as part of "Toadie's Wild Ride" in the Corporate Team division. Peter has raced here 5 times before and, amazingly, Lonnie is back for the 18th time. Yes, their camp setup is primo. When I arrived on site after dark on Thursday night and stumbled around searching for a place to camp, Peter and Lonnie recognized my predicament and carved out some space near their site. They then offered food, drink, heat, and light throughout the weekend, along with a friendly spot to relax. Good neighbors, indeed.

Other friendly neighbors included Bob and Holly (unknown last names). They are an adventurous young couple from Phoenix that enjoy a wide variety of outdoor pursuits. Bob is here for his first 24 hour mountain bike race and chose to race Solo Single Speed. Holly is crewing this weekend, but will reverse roles with Bob at their next event. They both are so jazzed to be here and to just soak in the entire experience. They watched over me throughout the race, with encouragement and coffee.


Vegan Cyclist

At the venue expo on Friday afternoon, I spot Tyler Pearce, aka The Vegan Cyclist of YouTube fame. We met on a back road in Montana in 2021, where Paul Brasby and I were on Day 3 on our ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and he was on Day 1 of one of his "Impossible Rides." Tyler and crew pedaled up, cameras rolling, interviewed us on the fly, and included us in his film. After I introduced myself at the expo, he immediately remembered all that and genuinely wanted to know all about the rest of our ride. He's the real deal.

During the race, Tyler passed me several times, shouting encouragement by name each time. He ultimately rode 16 laps to finish 5th in the Solo Men division. Notwithstanding his high level of achievement, on and off the bike, Tyler fit right in.

At the Friday expo with Tyler Pearce, vlogger and film maker VC, aka the Vegan Cyclist.
(image by Tyler Pearce)

Vendors 

Even the vendors at Two Four HOP were awesome. Leading the way was Tom Place of Outbound Lighting, who patiently provided demo lights and neutral charging of all devices. He worked a long day on Friday and throughout the entire 24 hour race on Saturday and Sunday to keep the lights on for everyone. I demo'd their Hangover helmet light during the race and plan to buy their upcoming Portal light, which offers even longer run times. Great lights. Great service.

I enjoyed all the food vendors, but especially Single Speed Coffee Lab, which also provided high quality means to make it through the night. They even offered their "Wake Up And Kiss Me" specialty coffee in single serve steeped coffee bags to make back at your camp site. Nice. I bought an extra box to take home for #CoffeeOutside rides.

The 24 Hour Town expo additionally featured several non-profits and other organizations that contributed to the community spirit of the event. I particularly loved meeting and talking with Abby Wrent, an artist who painted, on site, four bike frame sets that would later be auctioned for charity. I recently found a short YouTube video she made of her experience, which includes the bikes she painted, some of the expo, and even the Whiskey Tree. Thanks for your positive presence, Abby!

Painting Bikes at Two Four HOP.
AbbyWrentArtistry.com

Many others contributed to my experience and to the overall vibe of the event. The 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo attracts special kinds of people. I'd love to return.


Sunday, March 17, 2024

24 Hours In The Old Pueblo - Whiskey Tree

One thing's for sure, we're all just passin' through
No, we're not gonna live forever, not me and you
But, Lord, I've had a good time, yes, Lord, I've had a good life
I've just one thing to say, this is all that matters anyway
Good Friends, Good Whiskey, and Good Lovin', Hank Williams, Jr. (1990)

Two Four HOP appropriate hydration dangles in front of racers at the Whiskey Tree.
(image by EpicRides.com)

Over its 24 years, the 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo ("Two Four HOP") has earned a well-deserved reputation as a good time for everyone from professional racers and hard core enthusiasts to weekend warriors and pajama adventurers. The Whiskey Tree is part of that legacy.

A little more than half way around the 16.7 mile lap at Two Four HOP, the race course veers back toward the event venue near the Start/Finish area. Just a bit short of that, the course twists through a relatively flat, low lying area and swings 270 degrees to dive back into the distant desert. It's a natural spot for teammates and crew to walk over from the venue to cheer on passing racers.

From the Start/Finish, it's a short cut walk to the Whiskey Tree for crowds to cheer on racers.
(image by EpicRides.com)

Very early in race history, rambunctious fans brought various forms of liquid refreshment to that spot and offered shots of fortitude to the racers for the remaining miles. Word spread, the crowds grew, and the party was on.

It's a race that goes on all night and into the next day, however, and fans that returned to their camps started to leave behind bottles of whiskey tied to trees. Even in the dead of night, with few fans there, racers could stop for replenishment. The Whiskey Tree was born.

Whiskey Tree wizard replenishes supply as the crowd looks for the next racer.
(image from an unknown year)

On my first lap, the Whiskey Tree tribe is already large and in charge. Whooping, hollering, cheering. This party is started! I ride into the scene in the midst of another dozen racers or so. Some stop for a quick snort, others linger for more, but most add to the clamor while riding straight through. It's a hoot.

On my second lap, the Whiskey Tree crowd still numbers maybe 40-50 people and Happy Hour is well under way with raucous cheering and now jeering. Bottles appear from all sides, with more aggressive encouragement to join the party. Now more like a cyclocross race, a few rowdy heckles mix with cheers when a racer ahead of me waves off their offers.

As I wind through the throng, I enthusiastically thank them but decline to a chorus of disappointment.

Then a persistent voice rings out, "Hey! We have a Senior Citizen's Discount!"

The crowd howls.

Best Heckle Of The Race.


Good Friends, Good Whiskey & Good Lovin'
Hank Williams, Jr. (1990)


Sunday, March 10, 2024

24 Hours In The Old Pueblo - Race Report


You go back, Jack, do it again
Wheel turnin' 'round and 'round
You go back, Jack, do it again
Do It Again, Walter Becker & Donald Began

Sunrise at 24 Hour Town on race day at Two Four HOP.
(image by Sportograf.com)

The 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo ("Two Four HOP") is an iconic 24 hour mountain bike race in a patch of remote desert somewhere north of Tucson, Arizona. Way back in 2003, I raced it on a Duo Team with friend Dan Cook. For some reason, I now decide to return to race it solo. 24 HOP-Back At It

It's a hoot. It's a holler. I'm not going to wait another 21 years to go back.

Sunrise waking up 24 Hour Town on race day.

My modest solo campsite on race day.

Shortly before noon on a bright Saturday in February, I stand in the middle of a milling mass of excited, maybe a bit nervous, cyclists bracing for the start of this 24 hour mountain bike race. As if that isn't hard enough, before starting the first lap, racers must run about 800 meters down a dirt road just to reach their bikes. My knees hurt thinking about it.

Most all of the 2000+ cyclists race as part of a relay team of 2, 4, 5, or 6-10 members. However, 165 intrepid souls race solo. For the first time, I'm one of them. And I'm doing it self-supported, i.e., without a support crew. But I'm certainly not alone. This is one big, friendly group of enthusiastic cyclists and crews.

Crowd gathers for the LeMans start, an (unreasonably long!) dirt road run to the start of the bike race.
(image by Sportograf.com)

Lead runners of the LeMans start approach their bikes.
(image by Sportograf.com)

Another view of the start, showing the big white transition tent and orange finishing arch.
(image by Sportograf.com)

My plan is to ride each lap in a way to give myself a chance to ride the next lap. For me, that means to work to maintain bike, sustain body, and don't dig such an energy hole that I can't recover to ride the next lap. Yes, that's a compressed version of the mindset for my successful through-ride of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 2021, where I rode each day in a way to give myself a chance to ride the next day. The Great Divide - Give Yourself A Chance.

To be an Official Finisher of this 24 hour race, one must finish the last lap after noon on Sunday. There is no minimum number of laps or maximum length of time for breaks. My goal to ride as many laps as I can, taking the breaks I need, to pedal through that Finish Line after noon on Sunday.

A lap is 16.7 miles of relatively fast single track and some double track that I rode, on average, 1:30/lap for 7 laps on my Duo Team in 2003. At my moderated solo pace 21 years later, I expect more like 2-2.5 hours per lap. After each lap, I plan to return to my camp site to take whatever break I need to be able to complete the next lap. Change clothes, add/subtract layers, eat, drink, check bike, and, finally, get off my feet for a bit. Go back out there when I can successfully ride another lap.

Visualizing the race beforehand, I think that 2 Saturday afternoon laps, 2 night laps, and 2 Sunday morning laps would be a solid result for me at this time. That would make 6 laps total and right at 100 miles of mountain bike racing in one long day. If all went really well, maybe 3 night laps, which would make 7 laps and 117 miles total. A shoot-for-the-moon target would be 4 night laps to make 8 laps and 134 miles total.

But those are just numbers. For me, this event is about riding as many laps as I can while having fun, managing effort and recovery, and riding across that Finish Line after noon on Sunday. Take care of that, and the number of laps will take care of itself. Well, that's the plan, anyhow.

Ultra trail runner extraordinaire Kristen Schindler cheers at the start, while crewing for husband Colin.
(image by Colin Schindler)

A shot gun blast jolts me back to the start. The packed herd of anxious cyclists streaks down a rough dirt road to their waiting bikes somewhere in the unseen distance. The leaders sprint for glory and prizes, while everyone else settles into a sustainable rhythm, much like what's necessary for the long bike race ahead. 

I find myself trotting among an ever-changing mix of characters, including an eclectic assortment of people in costume. Yes, in costume. A full body panda outfit, with a 3 foot diameter head (like a sports team mascot). A Roman Legionnaire in full battle regalia, waving a plastic sword and riding a stick horse. An otherwise conventional looking kit accessorized with a flashing neon tutu, which I later learn was passed from teammate to teammate like a relay baton. Many more. And more face paint than I can recount. All a bit nuts.

As runners approach their bikes, the frenzied horde of teammates and crew leans into the road, waving signs, screaming encouragement, and clanging noise makers of all kinds. The accumulated craziness elevates the energy of everyone and everything. Even the cactus seem to be moving.

I eventually find my bike and weave through the madness, relieved to be pedaling with knees intact.

Attacking a short pitch on Lap 1.
(image by Sportograf.com)

The first lap flies by, in a never-ending series of passing and being passed on fast, twisty single track snaking between various species of heavily armed plants with bad intent. Seemingly every desert plant out here has the means and intent to inflict pain. Fortunately, only one cholla impales me on that first lap.

Rounding out that first lap at a modest 1:58, I stick to the plan and veer off to my campsite. I add sunscreen and gloves, chug a bottle of Recoverite, snarf a Snickers bar and some peanut butter crackers, and plop down into my comfy lounge chair for a moment. Solid first lap. Recovery according to plan. After about 20 minutes total, I hop back on the bike for another lap. Nice start.

Charging up a short hill on Lap 2. (I didn't change clothes, but added gloves).
(image by Sportograf.com)

Dancing with the cactus on Lap 2.
(image by Sportograf.com)

Somewhere up there must be the finish of Lap 2.
(image by Sportograf.com)

Lap 2 smoothly settles into a good rhythm, with racers more spread out and the edginess of the start sanded off a bit. Bright sunshine boosts temperatures into a comfortable mid-70's with little breeze. For this South Dakotan, there's nothing quite like racing a mountain bike in mid-February while wearing shorts and short sleeves.

I spin through Lap 2 in 2:08 feeling pretty good or, more accurately, feeling "normal tired." With upcoming Lap 3 extending through sunset, I stop at camp to add lights, eat, drink, and be merry. I learned last night how quickly temperatures drop in the desert when the sun disappears, so I also add arm warmers, heavier gloves, tights, and a light jacket. After 4 hours of pedaling, that comfy camp chair feels even more comfy. My second break extends to 1:25 before I finally feel recovered enough to start Lap 3. 

Sunset on Lap 3. I just had to stop for this picture.

The first half of the 16.7 mile course is relatively non-technical and generally trends downhill. So, it's easy to think you're feeling good covering those miles. And, early on Lap 3, I did feel good.

The second half turns more uphill and more rocky. At about Mile 14, when you've had about enough of this lap, the course climbs steadily for about 2 miles, then drops through a more techy rock garden for the final half mile to the Finish. It's a jarring end to what has been a smooth ride.

Accumulated fatigue manifests in more labored effort about half way through Lap 3, as the sun finally sets and some harsh reality sets in. I'm losing steam, and a long night lies ahead.

Coasting into camp after a 2:14 Lap 3, I methodically work through my routine, but at a noticeably slower pace. Everything simply takes longer alone in the chill dark. I cook some substantial hot food and take a substantial break. I'm slowing down, even in camp, but work to stay on the recovery plan. So, I fret not as time slips away. After almost 2 hours (1:55), I finally spin into the deepening darkness for another lap.

A menacing cholla forest around midnight on Lap 4.

Once pedaling out on Lap 4, I am rejuvenated, at least emotionally. Boisterous banter fills the air, as many team relay racers enthusiastically crank out their first night lap. Passing and being passed on twisty single track through cactus forests at night requires a higher level of communication and cooperation. Somehow, it all seems to work and it helps the miles pass.

Lap 4 flows, in a deliberate, unstoppable way, like hot fudge over ice cream. I'm tired and pedaling hard, but relaxed at a sustainable pace. This is good. This is fun. I feel like I could do this all night, at least after another break.

I cruise into camp after a 2:23 Lap 4 and, again, focus on my routine to recover and return to riding. It's now past midnight with temperatures dropping into the 40's. I eat some hot food, add more layers, including a down puffy jacket, and head out after a 1:39 break. I'm still diligently working the plan.

"Son, your ego's writing checks your body can't cash."
Sometime after 2 am on Lap 5.
(image by Sportograf.com)

With 4 laps in the books shortly after midnight, I feed a fleeting thought of finishing 8 laps. Adrenalin and ambition boost my effort through the easier first half of Lap 5. Bad idea. I push far too hard. With diminished focus and control, I overcook a sweeping turn and T-bone a big cholla. The rougher terrain in the second half empties my reserves. On the final 2 mile climb, I plummet into survival mode. The plan teeters on the edge. 

Barely soft-pedaling into camp after a 2:30 Lap 5, I am zoned out. It's now 4:42 am and a breezy 40 degrees. I desperately need to change into dry clothes, re-hydrate, and eat a big pile of hot, hearty food. I do none of the above. Instead, I plop in that comfy camp chair for, you know, just a minute. A chill breeze prompts me to grab a sleeping bag.

Hopping on the night train halfway around Lap 5, with 24 Hour Town in sight.

Big mistake. The next thing I hear is the sound of a truck pumping out some nearby porta-potties. What? The sun is up and it's 7:30! I'm still in those sweaty clothes and have not done anything since riding into camp. My carefully constructed race plan, so well managed for so long, lies shattered on the desert floor.

Just like that, I lose an entire lap. I start to stand up, but my legs scream. Over the last 2 and a half hours of sleeping in a camp chair, my body somehow gets the message that my big race is over. Nothing wants to move. Everything hurts when I do. Legs, in particular, are toast. Soggy, burnt toast.

Right now, I don't know if I can even get on the bike. My race may well be over. Under Two Four HOP rules, I would still be an Official Finisher by simply finishing that Lap 5 after noon. That is, I could stay at my camp, drink coffee, clean up, socialize with neighbors, even go back to sleep, as long as I return to the course and finish the last hundred meters of Lap 5 after noon. That sounds sensible. 

I recognize that this decision at this moment will define my race.

OK. Back to the basics. Give yourself a chance.

How do I give myself a chance to ride another lap?

I start with a short prayer of praise and thanks for the opportunity and ability to be here for this experience. Then I force myself to change clothes, then brew a big pot of coffee, then cook some oatmeal, then ready my bike, and then stretch a bit. Each little task makes the next task less difficult, both to start and to perform. To loosen things up a little more, I gingerly walk around and talk with some neighbors, most of whom are already packing up to leave. Finally, at about 8:30 am (about an hour after waking up and 4 hours after riding into camp), I convince myself that I'm bound to feel better once back on the bike. I decide to pedal out for a Lap 6 and somehow get around that course, however slow, however challenging.

Oh, but Lap 6 was hard.
(image by Sportograf.com)

I do feel better. Not strong, not fast, not even close to normal. I'm far too spent for that. Just better than I was back at camp and better than expected. I realize that I'm back riding, where I belong.

I settle into a sustainable rhythm. Slow, mind you. But steady, and moving, and sustainable, at least for the next 16.7 miles. I chug around the now familiar course, looking forward to the Finish. It's a long, long lap.

Eventually dropping down the final descent to record a surprisingly steady 2:20 Lap 6, I realize I have another decision to make. That lap was hard, I'm barely moving, and it's well after 11:00 am. I could pull off course now, wait a little until noon, then cross the line to be an Official Finisher with 6 laps. Or, I could cross that Finish line now and go out for a Lap 7.

Friendly sprint to the top of the climb on Lap 6.
(image by Sportograf.com)

Paying for that sprint on Lap 6. 😎
(image by Sportograf.com)

No hesitation. I'm back. If I can turn pedals, I'm going to turn pedals. 

But first, I stop by my camp site to ditch a few layers. The morning sun long ago burned off the overnight cold and I'm still wearing some of those heavy clothes. I switch back to shorts and short sleeves, and then add sun screen and lip balm. Following the sage counsel of renowned endurance cyclist Paul Brasby, I chug an ice cold bottle of fully leaded COKE and tuck another one in a cage. Let's roll.

It's almost 11:30 am Sunday when I head out for Lap 7. Very few racers are still on the course. Now, they tend to be either crazy fast pushing hard for placement or very deliberately riding to finish. Many, many teams must have decided that they'd had enough fun and were waiting at their camp sites for noon.

Back out for a Lap 7 in the gnawing fatigue and building heat.
(image by Sportograf.com)

Where did everyone go? Not many out there after noon.
(image by Sportograf.com)

This is it. If I finish this lap, I cannot go out for another. The race is over. If I don't finish this lap for any reason, I'm not an Official Finisher. The race is over. So, this is it, no matter what.

Now, there's no reason to leave anything in the tank. I push the pace right from the start. The first half flies by, as I attack the twisty flats and sprint up the short pitches. No, 24 hours into the race, I'm not suddenly fast. I'm just focused on finishing strong, knowing that not a single pedal stroke awaits after crossing the Finish Line. Every bit of this effort hurts, but at least the course here is relatively friendly.

As I hit the rougher, more uphill second half in the building heat, Lap 7 morphs from hard to brutal. Every little uphill drops my gears a bit lower, along with my spirits. I struggle to control the occasional descents, bouncing all over. I keep pushing, knowing that this is finally the final lap, but the bear is on my back. It's a slugfest.

Looking up the final climb, I drop to my lowest gear, drop my head, and just spin. I'm all in. Just 2 miles to the top. Just 2 miles. Keep pedaling. At long last, the High Point sign appears. Big exhale and big shake of head. Too whupped to whoop. Now, a half mile rocky drop to the finish. Just don't biff here. It all passes in a slow motion, foggy blur.

I finish Lap 7 in 2:08. Wow. Only my first lap was faster. I stagger through the transition tent, grab a spot in the shade, and collapse. Elation. Relief. Fatigue. I'm done.

There's the train home to 24 Hour Town in the distance. Same spot as the Night Train image above.

Over an hour later, I pull myself up and drag my bike back to my campsite. Every few, small steps I have to stop to collect myself, like pushing up Trail #1 on the BackBone Grande. I also wander a bit, as the landscape has changed and I can't seem to spot my camp site. Well over half the entire 24 Hour Town is gone. I eventually stumble toward that white popup tent to find all my neighbors gone. 

Back at camp, I drink yet another bottle of Recoverite, change into casual clothes, climb into my tent, and fall asleep. Maybe I'll just stay here another night. 

One happy camper at the end of Lap 7.
(image by unknown willing bystander)

Weathered bib after 117 miles of racing in the desert.


Craig Groseth (G-Man), sponsored by ChristianCycling.org

Official Finisher of the 2024 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo
7 laps at 1:36 pm, 55th Solo Men (out of 113 starters)

16.7 miles/lap x 7 laps
Total distance = 116.9 miles

1,150 feet of elevation gain/lap x 7 laps
Total elevation gain = 8,050 feet

Lap times:  1:58 / 2:08 / 2:14 / 2:23 / 2:30 / 2:20 / 2:08
Total riding time = 15 hours, 41 minutes
Average Lap = 2:14

Non-riding times:  0:05 (Le Mans start) / 0:25 / 1:25 / 1:55 / 1:39 / 4:06 / 0:20
Total non-riding time = 9 hours, 50 minutes


Do It Again, Steely Dan (1972).


Sunday, March 3, 2024

24 Hours In The Old Pueblo - Sticker Smiles

While preparing for the 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo ("Two Four HOP"), I dug out some old files from racing 24 hour team relays back in 1999-2003. I found a number of helpful outlines, check lists, and notes, including a file from my Duo Team race at Two Four HOP in 2003. From that file, a small, circular sticker fell out. It merely said "24," with a small mountain biker, mountain, and cactus in the background.

What a cool find. I remembered liking that sticker at the time, but not knowing what to do with it. Now, 21 years later, I decided to mount it on a prominent spot on my bike rack. So, I'm returning to Two Four HOP with a piece of my own history on my bike rack.

My 2003 and 2024 Two Four HOP stickers, showing some wear from my 2,840 mile road trip.

Weeks later, I received my racer packet at 24 Hour Town on the day before the race. Sifting through an assortment of samples and promotional pieces, I found a number of Two Four HOP items splashed in flashy 80's-inspired neon and PAC-MAN artwork. The t-shirt and poster are such a fine sight to see.

Then a small, black and white something caught my eye. It was a simple, circular white sticker with black lettering proclaiming "24 Hours In The Old Pueblo 2024." No way! It even looks like my old one! Wait, there's two! 

Splash Two! I immediately cleaned the bike rack enough to stick on a new Two Four HOP sticker near the old one. I didn't know what to do with the other new one, so it went into the 24 hour file.

A big smile only begins to describe the emotions evoked when I first saw those stickers before the race. So many memories from the old 24 hour team relays and so much excitement for the solo experience ahead. It made my day, in a day of days.

Now, after experiencing 24 HOP this year with so many new and old friends, that smile is broader and deeper. And likely to broaden and deepen more over time.

Cleaned up Jeep updated with 24 HOP stickers.

Bonus image of the 2024 24 HOP poster.





Sunday, February 25, 2024

24 Hours In The Old Pueblo - Back At It

The 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo ("Two Four HOP") is an iconic 24 hour long mountain bike race heralded for its fun, fast course, thorough organization, enthusiastic volunteers, unique expo, rambunctious riders, and rowdy fans. For 24 years now, about 4,000 people have gathered each year over Presidents Day weekend in an expanse of open Arizona desert to race, ride, and simply celebrate a shared passion of mountain biking. It's a big party.

Most of the 2,000-some riders race as a member of a relay team, where one team member rides the 16.7 mile lap while the other teammates hang out at the team camp or at the race venue. The other team members then take turns riding laps for up to 24 hours. There is no minimum number of laps, but to be an Official Finisher, a team's final lap must be completed AFTER 12:00 noon on Sunday. Many do not make that finish line.

This year, 165 riders lined up to race solo, that is, a team of one. Like the team relays, the solo rider races laps from noon Saturday until after noon on Sunday, taking breaks as necessary or desired. However, the solo rider does not pass the baton to a teammate. It's all on the individual rider to race those laps.

Desert forest at the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo.
Lean carefully through those turns.

In 2003, I raced Two Four HOP with friend Dan Cook as a Duo Team, finishing 13 laps to place 18th out of 45 teams. We both believed we left several laps out on the course and promised to return to race it better. But racing Duo Team meant that we saw each other only in the transition tent, so we decided to return as solo racers to have the option of riding together.

Years passed. Dan moved to Northern California and spent his limited spare time sailing competitively. I continued to ride, but drifted away from mountain bike racing. Now, 21 years later, I finally returned to Two Four HOP for my first 24 hour solo race.

It wasn't fast. It wasn't pretty. No lap was easy. That last lap was brutal. But I found a way to keep pedaling when I could have stopped short. 

Official Finisher. 7 laps (117 miles). 25 hours, 36 minutes. 55th out of 113 male solo starters (no age groups).

That's the same number of laps that I rode all those years ago on that Duo Team. 

I'm not done yet.


Full race report, people stories, venue/course details, and images ahead, after I get home and recover. For more event information, go to the 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo website and the 2024 Results.


Monday, February 19, 2024

Bikepacking the DED Dirt Ride

Tucked within the thickly forested, rugged remoteness of the Black Hills of South Dakota lies a treasure trove of seldom traveled single track trails, dirt paths, logging roads, gravel roads, and pavement. A walloping number of public roads and acres of public land create practically unlimited opportunities to explore. 

Among all those possibilities, two iconic off-road trails span much of the North-South length of the Black Hills. The oldest is the 111 mile single track Centennial Trail (Trail 89), built by the Boy Scouts as a hiking trail in 1989 to commemorate 100 years of South Dakota statehood. Running roughly parallel to the West is the Mickelson Trail, a 109 mile crushed limestone path on a 19th Century railroad bed. A person traversing these two trails would experience a large dose of the best of the Black Hills. 

The DED Dirt Ride. Deadwood to Edgemont to Deadwood, 
via the Centennial Trail, the Mickelson Trail, and primarily gravel connectors.
330 miles of iconic Black Hills trails.

Somewhere in the midst of a long bike ride over 10 years ago, I formed the concept of riding the length of the Centennial Trail and the length of the Mickelson Trail, connected by primarily gravel roads, in one continuous loop. I shared the idea with a handful of family and friends, who didn't seem to react to this any differently than others I toss into the air. In fact, one regular cycling partner, Shaun Arritola, seemed downright excited to start riding it as soon as possible. Several other locals enthusiastically asked of details and options to ride for a day here or there. When I invited some old friends, my college roommate Rob Sorge committed to fly in from Houston for the occasion. Before I knew it, I had a ride for 2014.

Over the course of that winter, the details changed, but the concept endured. Eventually, I called it the DED Dirt Ride to reflect the overall route from Deadwood to Edgemont to Deadwood, mostly on dirt.

Although originally envisioned as a continuous, self-supported bikepacking ride, we did not have suitable bikes, gear, or experience for such an endeavor in 2014. So, we caught a ride to Deadwood from my wife Colleen, a ride from the finish from Shaun's sister Dachia, and self-shuttled overnight gear and supplies every day with Shaun's vehicles. That is, we rode the route on a series of consecutive day rides. 

But we rode it. 5 days. 330 miles. Pretty evenly split between single track, rail-to-trail, and gravel. 2014 DED Dirt Ride (Epilogue).

Shaun Arritola, Craig Groseth & Rob Sorge at the finish of our 2014 DED Dirt Ride.
(image by Dachia Arritola)

Now, 10 years and many bikepacking miles later, it's time for me to ride the DED Dirt Ride as originally envisioned. Self-supported bikepacking. 

Summer of 2024. 



DED Dirt Ride in 4 files.
Deadwood to Bear Butte, Centennial Trail, Centennial Trail to Edgemont, Mickelson Trail.




Sunday, February 11, 2024

BackBone Grande - Yes, Point-to-Point

Almost immediately after I published my 400 mile BackBone Grande bikepacking route last year, several people asked for a return route. Recently, the issue arose again. Really?

The short answer is no. A better answer is not yet. A more complete answer is that the BackBone Grande results from of years of riding remote gravel/dirt roads throughout the Black Hills, creating many routes for a variety of ride experiences, and receiving valuable feedback from seasoned cyclists. That process took some time. A return route, if any, deserves the same.

So, point-to-point it is, even with the logistical challenge of getting to the start and from the finish.

The Southern terminus of the BackBone Grande.
County gravel begins in just two miles at the practically abandoned town of Ardmore.

I designed the BackBone Grande to create an experience akin to the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which is a point-to-point route across the entire country. Most through-riders of the Great Divide somehow find a way to shuttle to the relatively remote start and from the even more remote finish. If that works for the 2,500 mile Great Divide, then it should work for the 400 mile BackBone Grande.

Also, nothing prohibits one from pedaling to the start from anywhere. In fact, many Great Divide through-riders start their ride from a more accessible location than the start of the route, like a relatively close town with public transportation. Same with returning home from the finish. I've read of riders taking Amtrak to Glacier National Park and then riding a couple of days to Roosville. From the finish, many simply ride to El Paso for public transportation home. On my 2021 Great Divide ride, I even met a couple riding north bound who started from their home in San Diego, rode to Antelope Wells, north to Roosville, and then back home to San Diego. Again, such logistics are much more simple on the much shorter BackBone Grande. 

The northern terminus of the BackBone Grande.
A multi-purposed sign sits at the unmarked border of North Dakota.

An occasional Great Divide through-rider will even turn around at the finish and ride back to the start. The vast range of weather conditions over those 2,500 miles, times two, limit start/finish options for such an endeavor. However, at 50 miles or so per day, a touring cyclist could successfully complete such a yo-yo ride by riding northbound during June and July and then southbound during August and September. So, it's possible.

The much shorter BackBone Grande offers a wider weather window and many more options for start/finish locations and times. Indeed, the start/finish need not even be at one of the state borders. For example, one could start at the very accessible town of Hill City in the heart of the Black Hills, ride the BackBone Grande route to one end, turn around to ride the entire route to the other end, and then ride back to Hill City. 

That actually sounds fun.

Perhaps a return route worthy of the BackBone Grande may be in the future. For now, enjoy that beautiful point-to-point.


Sunday, February 4, 2024

Cloud Peak 500 Page - 2024 Bump

The Cloud Peak 500. A unique ride through the Old West. And a great shake out ride for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route.

In late 2019, compadre Lucas Haan alerted me to the Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking route in the Big Horn Mountains of Central Wyoming. I immediately recognized its potential as a primo shake out ride as part of my long running preparations to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. The Cloud Peak 500 offered about 20 percent of the distance and elevation gain of the Great Divide on a seemingly similar variety of remote roads and terrain, with occasional small towns for re-supply. As a bonus, the Big Horns are but a few hours from Rapid City. I marked it as a priority ride for 2020. 

Meanwhile, cycling friend Paul Brasby of North Platte, Nebraska caught wind of my Cloud Peak 500 plans. As a lifetime, successful road racer, Paul is an enthusiastic gravel racer and bikepacker with both eyes fixed on riding the Great Divide. He also concluded that the Cloud Peak 500 looks to be an ideal ride to prepare for that, as well as a great ride on its own. We decided to start together and see how it goes. 

Dropping off Dude's Downhill on the Cloud Peak 500.
(image by Paul Brasby)

Over seven long, hot days in August, we rode the Cloud Peak 500 route, which was my longest, hardest, and overall biggest ride of 2020. Although I stopped short of 500 miles, Paul rode on, through a gauntlet of challenges, to become the first, and still only, official finisher of the Cloud Peak 500 bikepacking race.

I then wrote a series of blog posts about our experience, primarily as a scrapbook for me and any friends that might enjoy it, but also as a resource for others who may be intrigued. Those Daily Ride reports describe our experience and the Logistics reports reveal much to help plan such a ride. 

Eventually, I compiled all those blog posts onto a single Page called Cloud Peak 500 Page (2020) that appears within a column of Pages on the right side of the Black Hills BackBone blog. If you're looking for a shake out ride to prepare for the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, or just looking for a unique 500 mile bikepacking adventure in Central Wyoming, take a look at the Cloud Peak 500.