2011 Dawn til Dusk Mountain Bike Race – Turns out I’m not hardcore, who would’ve thunk it?

Saturday, April 9th was the Dawn til Dusk Mountain Bike race just outside of Gallup, NM.  I previewed the course when I was visiting my dad over Christmas last year.  It’s a hard course.  It’s a 13 mile loop with almost 1700 feet of climbing.  One big climb at the beginning and a lot of short steep climbs scattered across the course.  I’m relatively new to Mountain Biking, my only other real event being the 2010 Tour of the White Mountains in Show Low, Arizona.  And I only did the 35 mile version of that event.  Quite a big jump for me to attempt a 12 hour epic event!

The weather forecast for Saturday was pretty dismal.  High expected to be 44, Low in the low 20’s, strong sustained winds expected to be over 30 mph with gale force 50+ mph gusts and rain expected in the afternoon.  Ouch.  But I’ve ridden my road bike quite a bit in similar weather, so I was concerned, but not concerned enough not to give it a try.  I took Friday off of work to drive down to Tucson to pick up my brother Leo and we stopped in Show Low to pick up my brother Joe.  They would be my pit crew during the event.  But that made a long day driving around the state.  We pulled into Gallup just after 5pm MT and stopped by the course to check things out.  It was windy, but the course looked dry and people were already setting up.  Since I’ve never done a 12 or 24 hour mountain bike event before I didn’t know what to expect, but it looked like people were setting up pit areas along the course, so that’s what we planned to do.  We then headed over to the historic El Morro Theater for packet pickup.  They were very efficient and we were in and out in record time.

We stayed at my dad’s house and had dinner there.  My brother Reuben came by for dinner then we all went to Sammy C’s bar and grill for a drink.  I didn’t want to drink too much before a big event, so I avoided the strong stuff and just had a glass of wine.  We just stayed for the one drink, but it was a pretty neat bar.  It’s built in an old historic building that use to be a J.C. Penny’s way back in the day.  Old bricks with lots of arched entryways.  Reuben introduced us to Sammy and his wife.  They’ve done a great job decorating the bar with signed sports and music memorabilia.  If you are in Gallup looking for a place to spend an evening, Sammy C’s is a pretty nice place.  Not really the best place to go the night before a 12 hour mountain bike event though!  But we didn’t stay too late, just long enough for one drink / glass of wine.

We planned to get up at 5am to ensure we were at the start with enough time to setup and get to the pre-ride announcements at 6:40.  Dad got up at 4:30 (that’s 3:30 for us AZ boys) to start making some oatmeal for breakfast.  My dad is not exactly the quietest guy, so we were all pretty much awake within a few minutes of him getting up.  Leo and I had some fully loaded oatmeal (with craisons, almond slivers, etc…), Joe opted for just a cup of strong coffee before heading to the start.  There were already quite a few people setting up and we didn’t get a great parking spot, but walked over to the solo area and noticed a big unused spot.  I asked the guy setting up there if he minded if we setup next to him and we were good.  Moved the car over to a prime spot and started setting up.  I had a canopy to put over a small table and Leo brought a tent just in case the weather turned bad.  It was pretty brisk at the start, probably in the mid-30’s, but at least it wasn’t too windy yet.

I walked over to the start at 6:40 and listened to the pre-ride meeting.  Some folks apparently were scared off by the weather, but there was still a pretty big turnout.  The morning was expected to be relatively nice, but bad weather was in the forecast for the afternoon.  We were told to check in at the main tent if the weather got really bad.  Then I rode up the hill to the start line.  They start the race down a long dirt road to spread things out a bit before getting onto the single track loop.  My first tactical error was thinking I was stronger than I really was and I slowly made my way closer to the front going down that road.  There was a turn down another dirt road that had a pretty long 7% climb that put me back in my place.  When we turned onto single track, I was in a group that was way faster than me and I was working hard not to slow people down.  I should have immediately pulled off, but I kept my place for quite a while, but eventually pulled off to let the fast guys go by.

After that I rode in a bit of a recovery mode, but you don’t easily recover from that kind of mistake.  I felt pretty good when I got to the pit on that first “lap.”  I was overheating a bit with the jacket I had on, so I stopped to switch to a vest and I also switched gloves and put on some toe covers before heading off for my second loop.  The climb to the top of the mesa is tough.  I don’t have enough experience for a couple of the steeper sections and had to walk a few times, but honestly I did better than I thought I would and didn’t have to get off my bike nearly as many times as I did in December when I previewed the course.  The wind was steadily picking up, but it wasn’t too bad and the course itself is spectacular.  I had a good second lap.  I was probably still working harder than was wise, but was having a good time.  The only real issues were that my feet were still cold and my lower back was starting to bother me.

So I stopped again on the second lap to refuel really quick.  Joe suggested using some chemical warmer pads for my shoes.  GREAT suggestion!  I didn’t need to toe covers anymore so left them.  I also switched gloves again trying to find a pair that were comfortable and warm.  Then I headed off for lap number 3!  I was having a good morning all in all, but I knew I was working a bit harder than I should have.  The wind had really picked up by my third lap.  Dust was starting to become a factor and I was noticing it a lot more when I turned into the wind.  Luckily on the way up it was blowing me away from the cliff edge!  But I had to stop several times on this lap to catch my breath and let my heart rate go down.  Elevation may have played a factor as well because I wasn’t recovering as fast as I normally do.

On the backside of the loop there is a pretty good descent.  While going down that descent a really strong gust of wind hit and the rider in front of me was blown up against a large rock next to him.  He got going again and made a turn on a switchback when another gust hit.  This time he was literally blown off his bike.  I asked if he was ok, but he said he was fine and I kept going.  Several more strong gusts hit and a couple of them knocked me off the trail, but I stayed upright.  That was some really strong wind!

I pulled into my pit area and the canopy had been taken down.  The wind was damaging it, so Leo and Joe were huddled in the tent.  I knew I didn’t have the experience or bike handling skills to deal with that kind of wind, so I decided to hang out in the tent for a bit to see if it would calm down.  Then it started to sprinkle.  I wanted to check the status of the race so I got on my bike and went through the finish area to officially clock my 3d lap and check things out.  The race was still on and a lot of people were starting new laps.  Hmmm….  I went around to my pit area to contemplate things.  The wind died down a bit, but the rain picked up.  Leo checked the hourly forecast and the wind was expected to not only continue, but to get stronger as the afternoon progressed.  I changed into a dry jersey and dry vest, but the temperature, which had gotten up to the mid 50’s, was dropping fast and I wasn’t warming up.  Cycling is a very mental sport.  There’s no reason I shouldn’t have continued.  I’ve done road rides in worse weather and have skied in worse snow conditions.  But for this ride I was done.  Just done.  The weather delivered a one two punch between the high wind and the sleet.  If I had just kept going when I finished that 3d lap I probably would have been ok.  But when I stopped, my core temperature dropped and that’s probably what led to my decision to stop.  I was frickin’ COLD!

There was a light rain when we started packing up and the snow started to fall just as we were finishing.  On the drive back to dad’s place, it started to snow hard.  I was happy not to be out on the course.  I figured they would have cancelled the ride given the weather, but the Dawn til Dusk is a hard core event, so they kept going!  For 5 more hours after the snow started falling!  Wow!  They did wind up cancelling it two hours earlier than expected, but those guys are hardcore!  Check out the AWESOME pictures of the event from Brian Leddy.  The majority of riders kept riding.  I was one of a few that called it due to the weather.  Ouch.  But I’ll be back next year, although instead of doing it solo, I’ll probably be looking to ride with a 2 or 4 person team.  The course is fantastic, the people organizing the event did a great job.  By next year I’ll also have a bit more experience and won’t be quite so intimidated by high wind and foul weather.

Should have brought some ski bibs!

Should have brought some ski bibs!

Brrrr!!!  This is Spring in Gallup?

Brrrr!!! This is Spring in Gallup?

The next morning

My bike the next morning


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