Story by Jacquie Hafner
I hesitated to go back to Bessie’s Creek 12/24 this year after my velo fiasco last year but John Schlitter had 500 mile intentions in the 24 hr race and I couldn’t let him get ahead of me in Big Dog miles. We packed the bikes and gear in Lola (the Bacchettamobile) and Kent Polk and I decided we would get in on the 24hr fun too. Kent’s wife Judy kindly came along to help with driving and to crew for us. Instead of arriving an hour before race time like last year, we arrived Thursday evening so we had a chance to go out and ride the 21 mile course at night to see if I could see the road well enough with the light set up we had planned. We then had all day Friday to get the bikes ready, go for a spin, and watch the weather forecast for the following day’s race. The forecast called for wind, wind and more wind, heat, and an increasing chance of thunderstorms with more wind throughout the day. It did not sound good to me at all. It was my 2nd attempt at a 24hr race but my first non-drafting and the thought of fighting 20-35mph winds with stronger gusts for 24 hrs did not excite me one bit. I tried suggesting (they call it whining) to John and Kent that perhaps I should switch to the 12 hr race but it didn’t get me anywhere. It never does but I keep trying just in case.
The race began at 6:45am. I started close to the front but behind John, Kent, Kurt Searvogel, and Larry Ide. The first four crazies all took off like I knew they would so I tried my best to shut them out of my mind. Larry and I sat back and just grinned and shook our heads as they sprinted away. I am so used to riding with John and Kent and doing whatever it takes to stay with them, it is very difficult for me to watch them leave me behind. To know that I could be there but shouldn’t be there made horrible sense to me. Luckily the separation anxiety didn’t last long because they got far enough ahead that I couldn’t see them anymore. Larry also rode ahead of me but remained within sight. I kept an eye on the rear view mirror and didn’t have anyone closing in on me so I was able to settle in to a comfortable pace. I knew this would be a long, hard, lonely race and I didn’t want to take myself out of the running before I had a chance to warm up.
The first few laps went fairly well. I kept a 21+ average pace and nobody passed me, which let me believe I was holding my own. I knew I was still in 4th place (24hr). The headwind section was brutal and my speed would drop into the teens. On the tail wind section (which sure seemed a lot shorter) I could power up to 27-31mph to make up some time. On the 3rd lap I slowed to get a bottle handoff in the pits and dropped the darn bottle. I was completely empty and not looking forward to completing a lap without liquid but I refused to waste time stopping and turning around. Larry Ide had been in the pits and had seen me drop the bottle. I soon saw him coming up behind me with my bottle in hand. I owe him big time for that one.
When I came through the timer to start the 4th lap, I saw Larry had stopped for something. My plan was to keep going unless a stop was absolutely necessary so I just continued on through. I knew I was now in 3rd place behind John and Kent in the 24hr and I did not want to give that up by getting passed. Stopping for anything would allow that to happen. I had convinced myself that I would be the ultimate loser if I allowed John and Kent to lap me in this race so I was ready and willing to lay it all out there before I let that happen.
Judy was doing a fantastic job of crewing for all three of us as we remained staggered enough for her to get our bottles ready for a moving handoff. Greg Gross and his wife Alexis came over to help her after Greg finished racing and we appreciated everything they did. I tried to remember to say thank you as I came through but am pretty sure my brain did not relay that to my mouth enough.
I think it was the 4th or 5th lap we encountered an impressive dust storm along a couple of miles of the head wind stretch. I have not experienced anything like this before and it took me entirely too long to realize that my mouth should be as close to shut as possible during such an event. A couple of seconds is all it took to build up a thick mucosal layer of chalky grime. I was left with a difficult decision. Either breath or eat dirt. I love this ultra racing stuff.
This racing nirvana continued for well over 150 miles until my ipod abruptly died. The music in one ear had been the only thing keeping me going and the sudden silence was deafening. I never imagined that on such a short repeating course (21 miles) I would be riding alone for as long as I was but as we were all holding our positions, it stayed that way. I got desperate and stopped on the next lap to try to find the battery charger for the ipod. I spent way too much time doing this with no reward. I still couldn’t get it going and left again with no music.
I tried to get back in the swing but I had lost my oomph. Stopping is never a good idea for me so why do I keep doing it? The windy section hit during the first half of the course and it seemed to increase in intensity every time I went through. At mile 175 I neared the traffic light before the tracks and the light turned red yet again. I swear it had a sensor for me. As I sat at the light and looked in my rear view mirror I caught site of what was definitely another bent rider about to take me down. I couldn’t believe it. I was so mad at myself for slowing down enough to let somebody pass me. I crossed the tracks and made the right turn out of the wind. As I did, Steve Petty kindly slowed a little to say hi before he flew off in front of me. This was all I needed to fire me back up. I knew better than to kill myself trying to keep up with Steve who was riding as a relay team with his wife Peggy but he certainly inspired me to pick up the pace. He was motoring and it looked completely effortless, dang it. I was tired. Too tired for 10 hours into the race and it was showing. I knew the wind was taking it’s toll and I would have to start focusing on fuel and hydration or I was not going to be able to maintain this pace and those bad boy teammates of mine were going to lap me.
I had been using liquid fuel as my primary source of calories and I felt like I was bottoming out. My entire body was cramping and my feet were on fire. I ate a Honey Stinger waffle and a gel and tried to control my developing paranoia. I just knew that those two Bacchettas were going to appear in my rear view. I swear I thought I would see them and then they would disappear and then reappear. I was convinced I was hallucinating and started to worry about my ability to hold up for the 2nd half of the race. Luckily Greg Gross had my ipod up and running the next time I went through the pits. The music took my mind off the fact that I was scared riding alone in the dark on those isolated country roads. There was a bar along the route that had fairly constant traffic. I tried to get through there as quickly as possible so as not to attract any attention from people pulling in to or out of the lighted parking lot. Although the course was easy to navigate I felt like I had a target on my back with my braids hanging down. I tried to tuck them under my helmet so it would not be so obvious that I was a female riding alone. My pit stops were becoming regular and progressively longer as the night wore on. I just kept hoping that something in the basket of food would appeal to me but it never did. I also spent a couple of minutes each lap waiting for someone leaving at the same time as me but it didn’t happen.
On the next lap I pulled in to see Kent’s bike parked against Lola. I couldn’t believe it. No one was there to explain why. I looked around for John or his bike. Nothing. I was worried. I hoped there had not been a crash. Kent’s bike did not look damaged so I hoped for the best and grabbed new bottles from the cooler. I looked around for anyone who might be leaving from the pits so I would have someone to ride with but nobody was there. We had been told that we were allowed to ride side by side with another rider during the night for safety but I had not been able to find anyone to pace with. I had passed a couple of riders that I was tempted to stay close to but it just didn’t work. Even in the interest of safety I was not willing to slow down in case John lapped me. As I was leaving the pits I heard Judy calling me. She told me Kent was out, that he was not feeling well and cramping and that he could not continue. I felt really bad for him but understood completely. I was so close to that myself. I asked how far John was ahead and she said 12 minutes. That was at the 300 mile mark I think. She was worried about me continuing on alone and asked if I wanted her to radio John and ask him to soft pedal so I could catch up. I said no, that he needed to stay on course at his pace. I did not want to be responsible for him getting less miles than he could but I secretly wished he was riding with me. As I was coming in to the last mile of that lap at about mile 320, I saw John coming towards me from the entrance to the hotel. He had obviously waited for me. I was mad at him for doing so but so very relieved to see him.
From mile 320 forward we kept each other in sight most of the time. He would let me get ahead when I felt the need and he would do the same. We spent some time riding side by side but there continued to be vehicle traffic through the night so it was not feasible to do that except on the road with the wide shoulder. I also didn’t want to take the chance that anyone might think there was any drafting or assistance going on between the two of us. I know I probably didn’t need to worry about that but I did and rode like there was a drafting spy hiding behind every bush. I was really tired and trying my best to ride with my dim light setting so I wouldn’t run out of batteries. I was not doing a great job of riding in a straight line. John would normally have given me a hard time for this but he just kept his distance and let me ride. Maybe he was too tired to care. Even though we didn’t converse very much it was nice knowing he was out there and would know if something went wrong. He also happened to be the keeper of the DOTS candy and every once in a while he would ride by with a hand off. Thank you John. I’m pretty sure I survived that last 80 miles because of the dots and a few pretzel sticks you handed me. We no longer had anyone in the pits to do hand offs because we had asked Judy to go to bed after Kent stopped. We knew she was tired and would need some rest if she were going to help us drive home in the morning. On the 19th lap John got a flat. He was riding a good distance behind me and hollered out to let me know. I backed off and turned around to wait with him while he changed his tire. It was the rear disk and it was really dark in the area where we stopped. After he had taken the wheel off and tried to find what he needed with only the light from my bike to guide him he decided to just put some air in and try to make it back to the pits so he could change it with better light.
As I neared the end of lap 19 my computer read 402 miles. I still had an hour on the clock but I knew I had met the RAAM qualifier mileage and would not have time to complete another lap at the pace I had been riding. I yelled out to John who was ahead of me at that time and told him I was going to stop. He said that he was going to keep riding after he changed his tire. As I went through the timer my computer read 402.55 and I called out my number and said done.
I parked my bike and went past the timing desk in to the hotel to take a shower. I came back out with 25 minutes still on the clock and waited for John. At 5 minutes before the 24hr stop time, Ken Jessup told me he had me logged for 399 miles. I honestly thought he was joking and laughed. He confirmed that he only had me logged for 399 miles for 19 laps and that he was surprised that I stopped with an hour on the clock and 1 mile short of the RAAM qualifier. I was told to get on my bike and ride quickly out of the parking lot and onto the course to get my prorated mile while I still had time. I did so, not really believing this was happening. I rode an additional 2 miles and came back in with 404.5 on my computer but was given credit for 400 for the race which was good for the RAAM qualify and first place women, 2nd place overall. Apparently the official course distance was .3 miles shorter than the actual course distance so everyone did more miles than was recorded. I was the only person who did not prorate the last lap and was asked when I came back in why I had not just yelled out prorate and kept going or headed over to Denny’s so I would have been given credit for the full prorated lap. I did not understand this was how it worked as other races I have participated in either had a rule that the last lap must be completed in full or had mile markers that you had to reach for that mileage to be counted. Yet another lesson learned. Do they never end?
This race proved to be incredibly challenging because of the relentless wind but I have to think it will help my performance during our 4 man RAAM in June. It seems that every time I push myself through a new level of pain and exhaustion it lets me know that I have not yet reached my limits. It also doesn’t hurt that I am sharing my life with someone who understands and can relate to the ongoing desire to stretch those limits. May the fun continue!
Filed Under: Race Stories
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