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Saturday, May 15, 2004 - Sunday, May 16, 2004 -- Fredericksburg, VA
12 Hours of Lodi Farms (iPO Event Id#: 6234)
Story by Brian Kemler

[Details] [Coverage] [Overall Results] [2001 Race Coverage]

My fellow team CityBiker Eric Welp and I debated whether to compete in cross-country mountain bike race or do the annual 12 Hours of Lodi Farms relay.

The rest of the team decided on the later so we let gravity pull us there. After saying farewell to CityBiker, Brian Hoyt, who is off to greener singletrack in Colorado, we headed down to the race late Saturday night.

On the way to the race, we got lost for an hour; fortunately Eric and I discovered we share a similar laid-back demeanor as neither of us got upset as we rapidly approached the race's midnight start time. After finally finding the right Route 201 (there are two), we find the course, the CityBikes contingent, register and decamp. Mike Klasmeier of CityBikes brought a UPS-sized van stocked with every spare part imaginable and enough electricity to air condition the city of Fredericksburg on an August day. Thanks to him, we're now fully-supported just like the Trek pros!

Eric and I briefly convene on race strategy. The race starts at midnight and finishes at noon. The team with the greatest number of laps and the best overall time wins. We decide to enter the "duo" category rather than the more popular three-person or the brutal solo category. Duo means we'll ride more and sleep less (or not at all). Our strategy is to double up our night laps rather than go out one at a time.

I volunteer to start for our Team "Blanch Devareux". This is some sort of television reference which people will find amusing, but falls entirely flat on me (despite Eric's explanation). The first lap commences with a 500 yard run to the bikes which are staged by the start/finish area. This is called a "La Mans style" start after the famous car race.

I line up with Mike and they set us all off using the siren of an ambulance for the starting gun. We bolt for the bikes. I charge to the head of the pack as the crowd, some times by name, cheers me on.

I'm in the woods in the top 10 or 15 and the course dips me into a cool stream and then up a slick, steep hill lined with slippery roots. The course weaves us through tight, windy singletrack. The up and down, undulating course makes repeated hairpin turns. We're forced to constantly focus on getting into a rhythm or suffer fighting the course and having our energy sucked from us dry.

I feel great, am not loosing any places and I think I can maintain this pace for two laps. Mike passes me on his single speed about a third of the way through the course. My light starts flickering, fading and finally it fails. I am in the first stage of grief; denial.

I don't have a back-up light and our strong start is in jeopardy. I slow and wait for the next racer allowing him just near enough my rear wheel that I can leach off his light but not so near that he can pass me. My own shadow blocks the light making the nooks and crannies of the course blind spots. On short order I hit log and am thrown from my bike as he pulls ahead stranding me in the pitch black of night. I am a one-man rolling blackout.

A couple more riders pass, I latch on again, though even if they get a few feet in front of me I can't see anything and I have to stop and wait for more racers. This process continues until I drop back a score of places.

We get to an open field and I hear some noise and feel major tension preventing me from pedaling. I stop to diagnose out the problem, but I can't even see what wrong. I am now in the anger phase. I fiddle with my chain and rear derailleur till it's semi-rideable and, latch on again to passing racers. I make it to the finish of the first lap on my hobbled rig. Mike, Eric and Brian are waiting. Eric rushes to get a new light before he realizes he will either have to go out or I will need an entire new bike to finish lap two.

We've lost what started out to be an amazing start and is rapidly degenerating into a cluster f*&^. Eric's not ready to go out and I can't go out. Mike disappears and returns -- miraculously with a spare top end, full suspension Specialized Mountain Bike. Incredibly, Mike is both racing (and kicking ass!) and supporting us. I take off on my second lap and immediately realize this bike has Shimano's new shifting system that I don't know how to use.

Through trial and error, well mostly error, I discover it functions in precisely the opposite manner as my own old-school shifting system does. It's as intuitive as if someone reversed the brake and gas pedals of your car and forgot to mention it to you.

It's a comfortable ride, it's perfectly tuned and I am thinking it will handle more nimbly on the tight, windy turns of this course than my own bike because it's a couple of sizes too small. I plant the front wheel to make a sharp turn and it doesn't hold. I am body-slammed into the hard pack dirt with a force so intense I feel like I am going to pass out. I am cut, bruised, bleeding and so stunned that I have to pause for minutes to allow the pain to subside (it always does) before I can get back on my ride and finish my second lap.

I shake myself off, continue the riding and finish out the lap making the hand-off of the bracelet that serves as a baton to Eric. All this has happened in an hour and fifty minutes or 55 minutes per lap, which actually isn't so bad given the best lap times are around 40 minutes.

While Eric is ripping it up I am wondering how I am going to come up with another light and a rear derailleur. But when I get back to the van I see my bike on the stand with a new derailleur. Thanks again, Mike! Joel Gwadz proffers his new 15-watt top of the line Night Rider light. Without team CityBikes, I wouldn't have been able to keep racing.

I make some minor adjustments to my ride and make the exchange with Eric less than two hours later at 3:40am. During my second and third laps (our team's 5th and 6th) I can't find a rhythm, am not clearing things that I cleaned with ease earlier, I don't have any music in my head and I am momentarily wondering why the hell I decided to forego a decent night's sleep to ride my bike.

I take a deep breath of the clean air, look at the dark sky and the sliver of the moon, see all the stars and begin to hear dozens of early morning bird calls. Now I know why I am riding. I make the handoff to Eric and go to my tent and set my alarm for an hour later. I crash for 45 minutes of quality sleep, get up again and start alternating one-lap runs with Eric.

By dawn, I have found my rhythm again and we're both banging out consistent, solid sub 50 minute laps. I leave for my 7th and what will probably be my last lap and I hear "Kemler, passing on your right". I turn to find another CityBiker, Marc Gwadz.

Marc's an Olympic-caliber rower and mountain biking is his "second sport" despite that fact that he usually wins his category and has an unbelievable determination and drive in both his sports. I turn around and coyly utter "I don't think so"! I fully expect Marc to pass me on the ensuing climbs, but in the spirit of friendly competition, I decide to make passing me as painful an experience as I possibly can.

Marc trails me by a few yards, but nearly catches me on the first set of climbs. I take a dose of my secret vegan energy bars and wash them down with Vitamin Water. I need all the fuel I can get if I am going to stave off Marc. I use our friendly competition to channel my energy into a rhythm. Mountain biking is as much about conserving energy and using free energy from momentum as it is about exerting energy.

I sync up the course with my own rhythm and efficiently harness all of the output I am capable of. I am experiencing what they call in martial arts "satori", which translates roughly into the state of being entirely in the present moment and entirely in sync with the nature and the universe. I have felt this way in life fewer than a handful of times and only whilst riding. I am feeling it now. In this state, I can harness a wellspring of energy I didn't think was possible on a sleepless night with fifty miles of intense racing on my legs. Call it nirvana, call "satori", call it a vibe, but I am feeling it and this will be my best lap - regardless of what my time is. Paradoxically, although I know I am riding at my highest potential my effort seems simple, natural, relaxed and unstrained.

I am passing a few remaining riders, taking in the course and enjoying what will be my last lap. I finish at 11:40am giving Eric enough time to go out and pull one more lap. By the time Eric gets back, we've completed 14 laps as a team - 7 apiece. No other duo team completes more laps and only two have completed that many in a time better than ours. We've made the podium, had a great time and now have our sites set on the next relay race: 24 Hours of Snowshoe. Double the fun, double the pain.