The drama of the 2008 “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous 24 Hour Race” started the week before, for us unicyclists. Tim Morin, up in North Bay, Ontario, had some interaction with a car door, which left him with a broken rib (or two?) and unable to ride. Then our fellow Albany rider, Perry, came down sick with bad congestion (lung worm?) and also bailed out.
That left Roland (rolandisimo), Vince (Vincelemay), me (steveyo), Brian McKenzie, Marty, and Marissa (UniGirl4). Our problem was how to make up two teams from six riders. It turns out Brian and Marty wanted to take it a bit easier, so they decided to be a team of two. That left the other four of us, all pretty psyched to ride hard.
Marissa, a high school senior, came up with her mom, dad, brother, and boyfriend, and they brought several bikes and unicycles. Jim, Marissa’s dad, and Marty (yes another Marty) , her older brother ended up riding on bike a team that was short-handed. In fact, they both were faster than the riders whose team they joined. As we found out after hanging out with the family for about 5 minutes, they’re quite competitive with each other, as well as any outside challengers.
Roland and I arrived at the race in Mansfield, Ontario around 8PM, after an eight-hour car trip. We cracked a beer and ate some food, then went for a short ride to preview the race course. It was a bit different than last year, and the loop was about 1K shorter at 13K (8 miles). The trail starts in a long undulating uphill, then turns hard left and offers a few logs to hop and some small but rooty ups and downs. After the long drive, what I really wanted was another beer, and not a tiring ride before the race even started. Roland and I cut short our preview, sped back down the hill, opened another beverage, and waited for Brian and Marty to arrive.
We were on our third beers (or was that fourth?) by the time Brian and Marty drove up. Retiring to our deluxe accommodations (a nice warm cabin with comfortable bunks), we continued to party and waited for Vince to arrive. Unfortunately he wasn’t due to get there until 1AM, and, like a teenager on his first drinking binge, I kept downing beer with brainless abandon until that time. I should add that I seldom have more than a single beer in a day, and I’ve often been called a “lightweight”.
Of course, I also had another with Vince when he arrived, and when I awoke early Saturday, I was not even in shape to eat anything, let alone do multiple 13K muni rides. We all drove out to breakfast, even though the only thing I had at the restaurant was coffee and a pounding headache. As the morning wore on, I managed to hydrate and curse my stupidity repeatedly. The race began at noon, and, thankfully, my teammates allowed me to ride last in the order, so I had until mid-afternoon to recover from my idiocy.
Marty started for his team, and Roland led off for ours. Roland scorched around the race course on his KH29, finishing in 1:04:37, and tagged Vince who sped off immediately, also on a KH29. As we stood near the finish, we saw Marty ride in with a time of 1:57:03 and shocked look on his face. He’d never ridden much more than 5k before, and never on a trail that technical. He couldn’t believe how hard it was, but he was awfully proud of himself for having done it, and rightfully so.
We didn’t have long to wait for Vince. Marissa was ready to go, and a good thing, too, as Vince rounded the final turn and ticked off a 0:59:15, faster than many bikers’ laps. Vince tagged Marissa and she took off on her 24-inch muni, pedaling her feet into a blur.
I was feeling mostly human by then, and genuinely psyched for my upcoming lap, with only a slight, residual headache. Judging by the speed she’d started at, we expected Marissa’s time to be fairly fast, and I was ready at the line an hour after she left. Marissa, it turns out, is a monster. She’s a competitive MTBer, riding in many “O-cups”, (which is short for “Ontario-Cup”) and she’s ridden in 24 hour MTB races. I was starting to think she’d be done in around an hour and a half. Nope, I saw her coming and in she rode with a time of 1:17:49. Whoa – I realized I might be our team’s slowest rider.
I cranked off on my own KH29 and sped around a flat loop leading to the first uphill. I surprised myself by climbing the whole thing without a dismount, not bad for a hungover old guy, but when I reached the log-hops, I failed on one after the other. I tried to keep up my speed, but the trail, especially the first 5k or so, is rooty and bumpy. I felt like I couldn’t stay seated and spin easily, instead standing up on the pedals to navigate these portions. This is, of course, more tiring, and I felt my energy waning more quickly than I’d hoped. I sucked down an energy gel and gradually felt better.
The race course has many sections with four or six “S” turns in quick succession, and a nice burm at each turn allows those fast, leaning turns which a cyclist lives for. A few sets of these got me back in the groove, and I even started clearing some log-hops, finally.
Another highly enjoyable portion of the Lifestyles trails is somewhere in the middle of the ridge, where you ride out of the tight forest, and through a more open stand of trees, planted in neat rows. The trail intersects this grove maybe three times during the loop. The ground in this section is firm and smooth and the path weaves around in entertaining patterns, all the more enjoyable because of the better visibility in the open rows. Hitting these sections, I could finally relax and just spin without being tensely poised for a rough trail surface.
I’d heard from my teammates that the trail began a long, straight descent around the 10 or 11k marker and it felt like the end of the loop was approaching. This was followed by a sharp detour back up what was probably the biggest climb of the whole race. I was warned, but I still wasn’t ready for it. The climb started gradually, getting deceptively steeper until, bending right, it got very steep. OK, fine, I thought, I can push up this last hill, then it’s all down to the finish. Wrong. There is a quick downhill to lull you, but then there are two sections of uphill switchbacks, unridable for me and even for most bikers I saw. More pushing brought me finally to the crest of the ridge.
After this is some very steep, very rooted downhill, the first of which offered some fairly puckering exposure off to the riders’ right down into a precipitous ravine. I was glad to have a brake for control, but I still didn’t always make it down without falling. This led to a crazy hairpin turn followed by the final, long downhill, where I was again glad to have my brake.
This last downhill leaves the cyclist on the path next to the road and the last kilometer goes straight into the finish line. Alright! So I spin, spin, spin across the line, dismount, run and tag Roland, and go to see my time. Yep, I’m the slowest on my team with a 1:19:40. Oh well – at least I can blame it on my hangover, for which of course, I have only myself to blame.
Now Roland was determined to beat his first lap, and hopefully, Vince’s too. He said he rode as fast as he could. He beat his time, but not Vince’s, with a 1:04:14. Vince then rode another sub-hour lap with 0:59:12, and Marissa blazed around in 1:18:41. This left me leaving the start around 8PM. It was still light, but I brought a headlamp because I’d be finishing in the dark.
My body still wasn’t performing up to par after my bad night, and I was walking a bunch of uphills. About half way through my second lap I switched on my headlamp and my pace slowed even more. That lap took me 1:28, but I wasn’t expecting any better at that point. I tagged Roland who was waiting for me at the line, raring to go with one foot on the pedal, and he tore off into the night as if was his first lap.
I walked to the cabin, took off all my sweaty clothes, set an alarm for 1AM, and got into my sleeping bag. It took a while to go to sleep, but the next thing I knew there was a knock on the cabin’s door. Roland, long since back from his lap, opened the door. He was surprised to see Marissa standing there, because we expected her to be out riding her lap. It turned out she’d pulled a muscle in a wipe-out on her second lap, and tried to ride her third lap, only to find it too painful.
“Steve, wake up. Marissa can’t ride, so it’s your lap” said Roland, matter-of-factly. I was overjoyed to hear we were now on a 3-man rotation, and I groaned “Unnnnnhh…give me a minute…”. It took me longer than that, but eventually I writhed out of bed, and started sorting out my riding clothes in the dark room. I got all my you-know-what together and got to the starting line around 1:20AM, taking note of the time. I wanted to know my actual riding time separate from the lap time, which would include the time we had no rider on the course.
I plugged away on my lap, following my headlamp’s circle of light down the dark trail. After warming up a bit, I was actually climbing some of the hills I’d wimped out on last time around. I also began to anticipate some of the more fun sections, like the “S” curves and the meanderings through the planted rows of trees. I took my time, reveling in the strangeness and solitude that is a night muni ride.
Toward the end of that lap in the wee hours, I started feeling pretty tired, pushing up the last part of the final climb. I knew I was near the end, and maybe I let down my guard a bit. In any case, I flew off my unicycle a few times on the last descent. If you’d looked at my clothes, it would’ve appeared I’d slid down the whole way on my chest. I was caked with mud head to foot as I creaked up the straightaway to the finish line.
Sure enough, there was Roland, chomping at the bit, ready to fly off again. I checked the time - around 3AM, which meant I’d taken about 1:40 to make the circuit. I shuffled back to the cabin and enjoyed a nice, hot shower before crawling back into bed. This time I “accidentally” forgot to set an alarm for my next lap, and anyway, I figured it would be light by then.
On the other unicycle team, in the meantime, Marty had ridden a second lap around dusk. With a shell-shocked look in his eyes, after way more muni than he’d ever ridden in his life, he declared that he was done. Brian got in a night lap sometime in there, complete with a dying headlamp. He’d managed to ride the second half of his lap by moonlight, an impressive feat in those dense woods.
When morning rolled around, I started preparing to ride again, and gently asked Marty if he was riding again. He seemed pretty hesitant, until I said we could ride together. Then he agreed and got up. All dressed, I went ahead to the dining hall and poured down a couple cups of fresh coffee. Boy did that taste good! Marty limped up, pushing his muni, and had a cup, too. Then, ready as we ever would be, we rode off together, this time not a race lap, just a fun muni ride with a buddy.
We took our time and enjoyed ourselves. I found that I completed more hills and cleared more obstacles than on any previous lap. This may have been because I was taking some breaks, or because I had some rest and no hangover. Also, there’s a feeling of ease riding the first daylight lap after riding in the dark.
Around the 10k marker, Marty said he wanted to walk for a while, and I should go ahead. A biker (not one of the fastest) passed us just then, and, since I was feeling good, I decided to try to hang with him. Since there were a bunch of uphill sections, I stayed with him for a good amount of time. Then I had the inevitable UPD (unplanned dismount), and he finally pulled away. Still, I rode a good pace and finished, tagging Roland, who smiled and pedaled away immediately. Does that guy ever get tired?
Marty finished soon after me. The greatest reward for that dawn lap is that breakfast is being served when you finish. I remembered that from last year, and I wasn’t disappointed. A big, steaming hot stack of blueberry pancakes, sausage, and more good coffee is just what we both needed. We chowed down heartily and went back to the cabin.
Brian was getting ready for another lap, his third, but where was Vince? Roland would be done pretty soon, but Vince was still burrowed deeply in his sleeping bag. “Hey Vince, it’s your turn after Roland gets back”. “I’m done”, came his muffled reply. I was surprised, but also uneasy because Roland would turn right to me and tell me that if Vince wasn’t riding then it was my turn. I was dried off, dressed in warm, fuzzy clothing, and my mind had already assured my body that its work was done.
Roland got back, found out Vince was bailing, and, as predicted, he turned to me with an expectant look. “Noooo way, buddy. You go again if you want to”, I said, putting the onus back on him. Roland’s hardcore, but not enough to do two laps in a row at the end of that race. We ended up just taking it easy and packing our bags.
As always, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous is a fantastic race: the trails are well marked, with snug cabins instead of tents, and good, hot meals instead of do-it-yourself camping food. Also, the limited number of teams make for uncrowded trails, especially nice for a unicyclist. We did 15 laps this year, compared with 11 laps last year, so we were pretty happy with that. If I do it again, I think I’ll do without the heavy drinking and see if I can’t contribute a few faster lap times. I still might be the slowest on our team, because, by then, Marissa will probably have a 29er of her own and her times will be better, too. It seems possible that a good team of munis could do 20 laps. We’ll see.
Here are a few pics Roland took, and hopefully, other folks will add links to more photos.