One of these guys is taller than the others. He also appears to be turned around telling jokes. Can you find the WTB rider?
Weaverville, where men are men and Smokey the Bear looks onward longingly:
Where original Overlanding happened, before it was cool:
And where horses and cyclists happily get along:
In this beautiful wonderland nestled against the Trinity Alps of California, the World Endurance Mountain Bike Organisation, WEMBO, held the 24 hour world championships. An event of serious proportions, it brought serious athletes:
Correct, that is the Tinker Juarez, who sadly suffered a migraine that began shutting down his vision, forcing him to call it before sundown. WEMBO is the event for 24 hour racing. Each year it travels to a different country but the theme is the same - amass as many laps as you can, endlessly and solo within a 24 hour period. Riders got to know this course quite well, too well:
12.4 miles and 2,018 feet of climbing per lap. There was a big climb, that was cursed, and a steady uphill singletrack section, at just the right grade to be frustrated on a singlespeed, and just the right mix of rockiness to be referred to as a "fanny puncher," though I'm sure I've got the exact lingo wrong. So who would come to this fest of the suffers?
Our night in shining armor, Australian WTB racer Brett Bellchambers, of course. And, gent that he is, he brought his family along too, who were his very pit crew:
And the goofball writing this even got to attend, under the guise of Official Tire Changer In Case of Emergency though with Brett's Nine Line 2.25 TCS Light: Fast Rolling front and Nine Line 2.0 TCS Light: Fast Rolling rear matched to a Frequency i19 TCS and KOM i23 TCS combo of tires and rims, there was little to be afraid of. Worry not, I feared anyway.
It started with a regressive showing of horsepower:
In the front, mad ponies yo; in the middle, who you callin' a pony?; in the back - what's this talk of ponies, I came to race
And after the Mustang led riders down the first stretch, the race was on. Forever. It was on forever.
It got dark. Shapes appeared. I could no longer see number plates due to light searing lumens piercing the night. The windy became cold and windy.
The shapes became riders. The night lengthened. Eventually, the music died down. Riders kept grinding past, ghosts mindlessly pedaling. The grandstand was deserted, tireless announcer off sleeping somewhere - everything had a surreal, vacant heaviness to it. Brett continued to pit without even getting off his bike.
It became hard to stay awake and I wasn't even riding. I witnessed things I kind of wish I hadn't. Ok, things I really wish I hadn't. Things that happened in the pits. What I assumed could only be the husband, handed palm fulls of chamois cream to what I assumed could only be the wife racing. She scooped, dug in shorts, rescooped, dug again. He kissed her. Away she rode. A high strung, voice commanding male rider took off his shorts, put on a fresh pair, maybe 20 feet away from my lounge chair. I didn't look.
Daylight struck. I had wimped out and taken a few hours' snooze in the back of the truck. Brett's family didn't skip a beat all night. Marie, Brett's mom scouted the number plates of approaching racers. Lorrie, Brett's dad, constantly calculated the lap times separating Brett and the three riders nearest him. Janecke, Brett's wife, prepared and handed each bottle while ceaselessly refreshing the iPad's leader list. His well behaved kids slept in the RV, having set aside their own lap logbooks.
Thank you all night coffee stand complete with American flags.
The race came to a close. It finally sadly looked like Brett may not be able to take first. The whole race is like a long, drawn out baseball game in the height of tense competition. There is so much strategy, so much uncertainty, incremental gain then dramatic change. The young local single speed rider who was killing it earlier nearly collapsed around midnight. I watched him stagger off his bike and noodle about his pit. He appeared to be trying to carry a conversation though I don't think was saying anything. One or two pits down, Scott Nicholas did a 20 second, don't leave the bike pit stop. "That's the difference between still racing it and just now riding it,"Alex Cousins explained to me. Alex helped organize, house racers and their families, shuttle officials, and ensure that everybody, even non-racers, was taken care of. He is entirely too nice of a guy.
Brett was still decidedly upbeat, funny, and positive before his final lap. He knew Scott Nicholas had it in the bag but he said it was ok, sometimes that's how it goes. He really seemed ok with it, I couldn't believe it after he'd put in so much. He joked about having his final way with the hill before heading out. His final lap took an eternity and I wondered why.
Brett congratulating Steven Mills on a great race. This was Mills' first 24 hour race and the Redding local took home 6th!
Brett thanked every volunteer, course official, and rowdy cheering squad member on his final lap. His mom later told me he couldn't help himself, that's just how he is. After shaking fellow single speeder Steven Mills' hand, he promptly went to Scott Nicholas and gave him a proper congratulations. This was the first time in six years Brett hadn't won the single speed title. Both Brett and Scott pedaled over 235 miles and climbed well over 38,000 feet.
Brett and Scott must be talking about how fun that climb was, 19 times in a row. I kid.
I am blown away with Brett's modesty and still kind of reeling in the enormity of it all. He only got off his bike twice - once to clean his own chain (I should have done that, pretty sure that service fell under the guise of my title) and before the final lap to tell us it'd been great and that this was now the easy going lap where he'd show the hill who was boss. He didn't eat fancy food, he didn't even come close to breaking his cool and he never lost his sense of humor. He drove the RV ten hours up there the day after the Trail Boss and I showed him our favorite nuances of Mt. Tam's trails.
I couldn't be more thankful to Brett and the Bellchambers family, thank you. You won't find a kinder racer nor family. A big thanks also goes to the people of Weaverville for housing racers and their families, and to the organizers for making such a great and amazing event. There is something raw and profound about witnessing sheer determination and unyielding devotion as racers relentlessly press onward, it is beyond real. Here's to all who raced, organized, attended and made it happen!