Field report from GrassMoots rider Dave Gensch:
I am often asked, “Why do you do 24 hour bike races?” The answer usually varies in length and depth depending how much the person really wants to hear. After last years suffer fest at Old Pueblo with constant rain, cold temps, and a 13-hour drive, I swore I would never do that race again. 5 weeks before this year’s race, my buddy from Moots, Matty offered me a free entry and without a single hesitation, I said, “Hell Yeah”.
So what is it? What is it in me that truly loves this, drives me to want more? It’s a question I am still answering with each race. The layers of the answer are like the desert striations of the last million millennia stacked upon each other telling a clear story yet unequivocally hard to grasp.
Leading up to the race, our late arriving winter provided me with some good weather windows to put in a few miles. The week leading up to the race unfortunately presented me with two very sick kids home from school that wanted to sleep in my bed. Additionally, I slipped on some ice and took the brunt of the fall on my wrist and thumb. Fighting a cold with my wrist taped up, we headed out across the desert Southwest.
This slice of the earth is stunning as the high desert of Western Colorado down through Moab, showcases sandstone spires and rock formation from the old seabed. The high plains at the foot of the Blue Mountains with sleepy somber towns like Blanding and Monticello reminisce of a time many years ago. The Reservation Land of Monument Valley is beyond bitter sweet as the stark beauty is tarnished with the shocking reality of the relocated impoverished true natives of our country. The tall pines around Flagstaff and the sudden drop of 6000 feet to the Saguaro cactus lined and craggy outskirts of the Phoenix Metropolis, lunge you from nature to true urban sprawl. The gated communities water their grass with what’s left from the upstream tributaries of where we just came. The foliage all seems to turn to some form of cacti and the color of the air mirrors the dirt but is manufactured mechanically. We must be getting close.
Arriving in the rain Thursday afternoon we set up our camp very close to the finish tent and settled in. The rain continued through the following day and I was praying that it would clear by morning. I was not ready for another wet and cold race in the desert in February. On Saturday morning, as the fog lifted and the sun came out, the vapors rose up through the very content and nourished cacti and the energy dramatically shifted.
Pre race butterflies are one of the reasons I continue to do this. I have been here dozens, even hundreds of times. Remembering the first time I felt them as a very young kid ski racing. It is a feeling that I cannot artificially fabricate. It is completely circumstantial and however confident I might be, the proverbial unknown stimulates and intrigues my soul.
The first few laps were very mellow, as I prefer to work from the back of the pack forward. It’s a long 24 hours and energy put into hurrying seems a waste to me. The cumulative kinetic buzz can be so fulfilling. This is another reason why I am here. Everybody seems to be working out his or her nerves, there is an unbalanced anxiousness mixed with optimism with what’s to come. It is very invigorating and fascinating to both witness in others and personally experience.
A quarter of the way through, no matter how much I check myself, things start to get very real. This is when my body starts to speak up. My mind compartmentalizes its compulsive thoughts and I get to live out the pain and pleasure of associating them appropriately. Is this real, and how real? Can I observe this and not personalize it? Is this here to stay or will it pass? How will I do moving into the night? I find that I get to know myself more each time I get to experience this.
The night laps bring anticipation and introspection, but also a sense of relief and intrigue. Watching the day end and night begin while riding has a primal component that fulfills me. From the outward visuals of the sun setting and the light dimming, to the inner sensations of the temperature dropping and the air smelling of dusk. This is the start of when I begin to wander into the place of my brain not often visited. Each time I do these races I both crave and wince for this experience. The inner dialogue is fascinating ranging from dread and self doubt to optimism and hope.
By 2:00 A.M. the ensuing sick bug and my very sore hand found me lying down as the repetitive yawns from the last lap had my eyes watering so profusely that simply seeing the trail was a tall task. I slept for a bit and was back on the bike by 4:00. This is the “Witching hour” for me as my body screams at my mind and my mind questions my drive and ability. Yet I carry on, right leg left leg, watch the cacti, right leg left leg, I hear an “on your left” again, right leg left leg. The fundamental simplicity contrasted with the personal complexity during these pre dawn times is fascinating. My tired brain oscillates between agreeing and arguing with my body but all I am doing is simply peddling a bike.
The sunrise lap is always something that I feel from my toes to the top of my head as the realization that the actual and internal darkness can float away. No matter how bad I hurt or how dark my mind had gotten, it all seems to fade away with the changing color of sky. The way that celestial sky and the changing of the light spectrum can effect my entire constitution is a fun experience to witness.
The second…or often third, or even fourth wind in the closing hours of the race entertains me. What hurt, no longer does, what was a question, no longer is, what was a struggle is now a goal again. A full circle takes place from the pre race butterflies to a now soul soaring bird. As I still struggle to answer why I do these races I wonder how analytical I can get and conversely, I wonder how very rudimentary is might be. Why does a dog wag its tail? As the sun rises and sets and rises again, I look forward to my next 24-hour race.
I finished the race completing 11 laps totaling 183.8 miles and 10,949’ of climbing. The field was stacked and I only ended up in 14th place in a large men’s Solo Single Speed class. Jason was my crewman and he crushed it with great support and fresh food throughout. Light & Motion kept the trail lit up like it was daytime and Skratch Labs kept my internal system working good. My Moots YBB, as always took everything I asked of her and gave me twice as much in return.