To some of you, my fascination with endurance racing may seem like it’s a new thing. For people like Kim, though, who have been around me for a while, it was never a question of “if” but of “when.”
See, when I was a kid, there were two events that absolutely captured my imagination: the Tour de France and the Race Across America. For every time I pretended to be Greg Lemond scaling Alpe d’Huez on my Sears Free Spirit, there were 10 times where I was Lon Haldeman, blazing his way across the plains of Kansas on a killer tailwind as he made his way to New York City.
It was probably a good thing that I didn’t realize how close we lived to Haldeman. If I had, there was a good chance I would have tried to ride there to meet him – even at 10 years old, in the year he won RAAM solo and set the transcontinental tandem record with his new wife, Susan Notorangelo, I was just crazy enough to try. (For the record, he lived all of 30 miles away from us.)
I still remember watching Jim Lampley interviewing Haldeman on Wide World of Sports. I remember the year McDonald’s sponsored him, with that gawdawful minivan. To me, his hometown of Harvard, Illinois, was worlds away, because of the dangers of riding on those back roads, even as I turned my bike southward on the newly created Fox River Trail and challenged myself to ride as far as I could.
Nearly every day for entire summers, and most days before school, I would head out and ride. It was fun to reach Carpentersville (Dairy Queen!) and Elgin (8 miles), but there was a world beyond that needed exploring. I risked life and limb to make my way along Rt. 64 to The Bike Rack in St. Charles, having ridden there from Algonquin via the path. And one day when I was 11 or 12, I made it all the way to Aurora – 35 miles. And then turned around and rode back. Riding was all about getting as far as I could in the time I had available.
Then cars, girls and cigarettes intervened, but I never lost my fascination with going long. When I got into running a few years ago, I set my sights on the marathon as my goal distance, with the thought of trying an ultra. And when I started bike racing, my training and focus were on upgrading as far as I could – because the distances were greater, the races longer. At one point, I even considered taking up swimming (and let me tell you, that would be a HUGE step for me) so that I could compete in Ironmans, just because I wanted to race for that long. It just sounds like fun.
So when I started mountain biking, I was OK not purchasing a pure XC machine. I knew the Rush would be a bit of a disadvantage on the super-fast, blitzkrieg WORS circuit, but I also knew that if I had to choose one bike, it would be one that I could ride for hours and hours, and race in endurance events. I even tried to fit in a WEMS race last year, but ‘cross intervened.
So that brings us to the 6 Hours of GEARS. In the meantime, I put in hours of trail riding on my ‘cross bike, and then on my mountain bike, with 4- and 5- and 6-hour days the norm. If you’re going to drive to a trail, you might as well make the most of it, right?! At GEARS, it all came together: the riding, the desire, the crew (thanks Kim!), and I had an absolutely perfect race. It’s not often that happens, and when it does, you celebrate. It was awesome!
Now I’m ready to take the next step. Seventy-one hours from now, on Saturday at 8 a.m., I’ll be lining up for my first-ever 12-hour race. The 12 Hours of John Muir is sort of a home court for me, and while I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting into, I am going there to kick some ass -- even if it's my own. I’m ready to challenge myself in ways I can only imagine at this point, and see what comes out on the other side. This is what it’s always been about for me: climbing on and pedaling as long as you can. Bring it on!
Epilogue: I got to meet Lon Haldeman in Evanston a few years ago at a talk he gave at the Ecology Center. He was fascinating to speak to, and some day I look forward to riding with him, perhaps on a PAC Tour, perhaps on one of the super-concentrated brevet series he sets up in the run-up to PBP. As for RAAM? Who knows … do you know anyone who wants to crew?
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