Race Report: 25 Hours of Halloween



Calcycling, in the shanty-tent

I know it’s long, but bear with me. It’s fun, I swear!

In the middle of a cow-pie-strewn field near the town of Buellton, California, a rancorous bunch of beer-soaked mountain bikers donning various odds and ends of ragged Halloween costumes gathered to do what they do best: something crazy. And by some bizarre chance or ungainly whim of the imagination, I found myself among them, on a team of five women cyclists from UC Berkeley, ready to compete the Santa Barbara Stump Grinder Club’s 25-hour, Halloween weekend, continuous mountain bike race. What was I thinking?

The six hour drive from Berkeley to Buellton felt longer in the darkness of an October Friday. Coasting down the Highway, my own personal history of California rose up before my eyes: the Spanish missions I studied as a child, the stretch of Highway 101 I had ridden on during my bike trip down the State, and little towns I had stayed in and eaten lunch in on the way. A road biker by nature who had just taken up mountain riding a few months before, I couldn’t help but wonder what new adventures lay before me.

We carpooled down with another team from Berkeley, a four men and one woman who opted to ride the entire race on a heavy, suspension-less contraption called the Coffee Bike. Designed for use by Coffee farmers in Rwanda, the Bike is two feet longer than any normal bike. They rode it because one a couple of the team members have volunteered with Project Rwanda, and have traveled there to teach bike mechanics to farmers who use the Bike on a daily basis. Racing on the Coffee Bike was an awareness statement. And not to mention a fantastic challenge.

We reached the encampment that was to be our home for the next day and a half around one in the morning. We spread out our tents, laid out our sleeping bags, and despite the cold, cloudless night, fell instantly asleep.

In the morning, we drew numbers to determine the order of the race, and I drew third. The Nine-mile laps around a fairly non-technical course with two major climbs didn’t seem too daunting at nine in the morning, in the warm light of day. The race proved to bit harder than I imagined, but here is my own account of it, lap by lap.

Lap One: I went out as fast as I could. It was hot out, but I didn’t notice it yet—I was too excited. There was one thing I did notice: descending down the last set of switchbacks, I hit an instantaneous change in temperature-the air became cooler and the stench of death pervaded the air. I would have thought it was ghost, if I hadn’t seen the rotting carcass of a cow rested ominously in the nearby ravine. Now it’s Halloween, I thought.

As we sat carving pumpkins between laps, the moon gradually became visible in the western sky. “Look at that,” said my teammate Mo somewhat mystically, pointing to the full moon. “When that moon travels all the way over there,” she said, tracing her finger in an easterly trajectory across the sky, “we’ll still be riding our bikes.”

Lap Two: At the top of the second climb, the sun finally sank below the edges of the hills, but the moon was so bright I did not notice it was dark until I saw the lights of other riders, bobbing up and down on the crest of the hill above me like ghostly orbs. I switched on my light and raced the rest of the course with a fresh courage found only in darkness and in not being able to see the steep drop-offs on the edge of the trail.

My bike was far better off than the poor Coffee Bike—which somehow completely lost one of its rear chain rings. It just disappeared off of the bike. But on a cycling team of engineers and mechanical geniuses, it got fixed. Even the bike suddenly had seven gears instead of nine, it still rolled, which was all they needed.

Lap Three: 11 PM marked the star of my first lap in total darkness and the start of when I began to ask myself: why am I here? But my doubts were quelled when I rode up the last climb-the windy one, with one of the solo riders (yes, a few guys did the whole 25 hours alone!) and he gave me the inspiration to carry on. As we rounded the top of the hill, glowing jack-o-lanterns lit our way as friendly course marshals

When I got back to camp, the brazen country lyrics “God is Great, Beer tastes good, and people are crazy,” blasted over the PA, that song now in it’s third iteration. No matter how annoying it was I couldn’t bring myself to think of a time when its lyrics had rang more true. I helped myself to a serving of pasta from the massive communal pot, and sat down by the fire to watch a projection mountain bike movie “Roam,” which all true mountain bikers have watched at least fifty times.

Lap Four: The 3 AM lap was by far the hardest of all. It’s not that I was physically fatigued, it is just that I was really tired. Really, really tired. This was my slowest lap- I had to make a concerted effort not to fall asleep at the wheel. When I at long last descended past the dead cow and into camp, I found myself no only in want of sleep but suddenly, inexpressibly hungry. Coffee Bike rider Rob was sitting by the campfire at the finish, nonchalantly eating an apple pie straight out of the tin with a spoon. He asked me if I wanted some pie, and when the answer was resoundingly yes, he spooned off a piece and I ate it with my hands. It was by far the most delicious pie I have ever tasted.

Lap Five: I awoke at 5 AM to Mo pounding on the window of the car I had caught about an hour of wretched sleep in. I pulled on my spandex and stumbled to the start to stand by the fire. I ate two marshmallows for breakfast as the sun rose before riding off into the pinkish sky for the most enjoyable lap of the whole race.

Lap six: Lap six was hot, and not a lot of fun. The race for last place, oddly enough came down to the wire between us and the Coffee Bike Team. On her final lap, my teammate Katie rode off down the opening stretch, yelling “Catch me if you can, Coffee Bike!” Coffee Biker Jacob adjusted the seat on his monstrous contraption and sped off after her. We didn’t get to watch all the drama of the Katie vs. Coffee Bike saga, but Jacob did eventually finish the lap a couple of minutes ahead of her. The Coffee Bike embarrassingly beat us.

“Good race, Coffee Bike,” she high-fived him after the lap, laughing. “You Bastard.”

After showering in an outdoor contraption of rusty water pipes, where modesty had to be abandoned for the sake of cleanliness, I followed the rest of our group to the awards ceremony. The overall team victory went, hilariously, to the team in Lederhosen. The winner of the solo category rode an astounding twenty laps on a single speed bike. What’s even worse, when everyone else at the ceremony looked haggard and dirty, this guy looked unsettlingly put-together, sporting designer jeans and a crisp button up shirt. More surprisingly, he could walk without limping.

When we were announced as last in the co-ed category, Mo walked up to the official and tapped him on the shoulder. “Excuse me, we’re not co-ed,” She announced to the dude matter-of-factly. “We’re all girls.” Cursing his forgetfulness, with the sudden realization that we were the only all-female team, he handed us each a pint glass inscribed with those beautiful words: “First Place.” And so, I won my first mountain bike race, if only by default. It was a small victory, especially in a sport that is so overwhelmingly dominated by men.

Coming from the world of road biking, this whole institution at first seemed like a foreign world to me. I soon discovered that mountain racing is like road racing rude but infinitely cooler cousin. Mountain bikers are a group of people who insist upon living life to the extreme, but never forget to have fun. To employ their own vernacular, mountain biking is all that is sick, epic, gnarly, sweet, and extreme rolled into one dirty, sweaty, dangerous sport. And honestly, I think I love it. After that weekend, I began to call myself a mountain biker with out hesitation.

After the awards ended, we all lagged behind silently, not wanting to return to Berkeley, sad to leave the field that had been our fun and our torture for the past 25 hours. On the drive home, it was silent for a long while. Just as our car grazed the tip of the Salinas Valley, out of nowhere, my teammate said something that really needed to be said: “Wow. What a weird weekend”

Weird, but wonderful. And unlike anything else in the world.

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2 Responses to “Race Report: 25 Hours of Halloween”

  1. Shirley Lei Says:

    Haha. Yes. I have four blogs. You can find them all on Facebook or on my blogger profile.

    I keep forgetting to catch up on your blog from the beginning. And this entry is a long one for sure.

    Thanks for the name! I couldn’t remember his name for the life of me. I just knew there was an “M” in there somewhere. Must change my post in light of the new information. 🙂

    How are you?

  2. Sabrina L Says:

    You made it! The room looks great – I had Berkeley arrange for the tractor outside your window so you would feel at home – ha ha 🙂
    Have fun!

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