Tuesday, December 3, 2013

1993 24 Hours of Canaan (Rhymes with Insane)

1993 24 Hours of Canaan (Rhymes with Insane)

By Chris Kostman

Originally published in Bicycle Guide in 1993, although they basically ruined it when they edited it. This is what I really wrote.

Above, L-R: Harry Winand, Gene Oberpriller, John Stamstad, and the author, Chris Kostman at the 24 Hours of Canaan. Photo by Grant Petersen.

I was in the shower with one shaved leg. Suddenly my teammate Harry Winand bursts in the door and tells me that I've been bumped up from fourth rider out to third. I've got five minutes until I have to hit the trail. So with one hairy leg and one shaved, I throw on my clothes and head over to the start/finish line. What an auspicious start it would prove to be. Not having had the luxury of pre-riding the course, I had little idea of what to expect. Let's just say that 11.5 miles of mud, swampy bog, puddles, rocks, five crashes, and six river crossings was not what I'd expected.

In common parlance this 24 hour four or five rider relay race held in the Canaan Valley of West Virginia is called the 24 Hours of Canaan, but it's more like the 24 Hours of Insane. Why? Well, there was a LeMans start with the first riders out all lined up across a river from their bikes. At the gunshot, they sprinted across the river, scrambled up the bank to mount their bikes, then turned around and pedaled straight back into the running masses to ford the river yet again. Each lap would start and finish with this river crossing. Got the picture?

The 11.5 mile loop was something like The Longest Mile, eleven point five times in a row. There's mile after mile of solid mud fireroad (how could there be a fire with this much water on the ground?) and singletrack that's worn down and rutted out with every passing rider (factor in 98 teams doing from twelve to nineteen loops each). Puddle after puddle of indeterminate depth would force two options: ride high on the edge of the trail and risk having your tyres slide right out and dumping you in the water, or blasting hell be damned through the puddles. Sometimes you'd plow through like Moses in the Red Sea, other times it was an over the bars projection lesson. Oh yeah, some of these "puddles" were 50 yards long and up to three feet deep.

Then there were hills so steep that crawling up on all fours would be difficult. With a bike, in the mud, in a race, turned one of the hills into a medieval torture machine. I glued Ritchey Z-Max tyre treads to my Vittoria shoes to try to get more traction. Teammate Gene Oberpriller, who passed up a ride in the CoreStates PRO Championships to join the rest of us from Team Bridgestone in this mayhem, swears that the tree roots were glowing flourescent green when he scrambled up The Hill on his last lap. In daylight, no less... (Of course, he did post the fastest lap average of the event, so maybe he just pushed a little TOO hard...)

Then there's Moonrocks. Huge expanses of slab rock on this downhill stretch had water eroded ruts covering it that never headed in the desired direction. It was all but unrideable and I for one didn't even try. I just shouldered my bike and sprinted down, down, down. The 300 yard mud bog prior to Moonrocks sometimes added twenty pounds to my XO-1, making this stretch even more brutal and treacherous

And the six river crossings? They were actually the highlight of the course, for they cleaned the gobs of mud and blood off of the bike, making it lighter and functional again. It got to the point where  we couldn't wait to ford the icy waters, even if we did face plant occasionally. Heck, when else would we get our face clean, anyway?

That brings up the best part of the race, the four hour stints between rides. Some camped out in the mud, cleaning themselves and their bikes in the river. Some of us had the luxury of cruising back to a hotel, showering, putting on clean clothes, eating warm food, having our bikes cleaned, lubed, and tuned by Grant and Ernie from Bridgestone, then napping or watching Beavis and Butthead on MTV. What a life!

"I'm just paranoid the whole time I'm out there," said teammate John Stamstad at one point, summing up the common theme of the weekend. There's paranoia about crashing. Paranoia about getting lost. Paranoia about a major mechanical necessitating a long walk out. Paranoia about getting passed. Paranoia about losing the baton that needed to be handed off each lap. (You get to go back out and look for it!) Paranoia about all of the above happening to the teammate that's out riding while you're trying to relax and get ready for another 70 to 90 minute interval session. Paranoia? INSANE!

Oh yeah, about the race... The local heroes, Teams Black and White and Nukey Boys, edged us out for first and second. They're tough riders with the homecourt advantage of knowing the best lines, not to mention the alternate routes to avoid some of the more impassable sections, but they claimed to have won fair and square. (Late in the race, both teams passes us without actually passing us...) Still, we're happy with third, considering that we're composed of a crit racer, a roadie, an ultra marathon weenie, and a triathageek, and that we rode bikes (XO-1's with Moustache bars) that one magazine called "suitable only for riding to and from the trailhead, but not on the trail." To slightly modify Arny Schwarzenegger's famous line: "We'll be back, and so will our 'road bikes.'"