Getting Weird in the Yukon
When it never truly gets dark, things tend to get weird. Or at least that's what I learned at the 24 Hours of Light, a grassroots race in Whitehorse, Yukon where bike lights are against the rules. Hosted on the weekend closest to the Summer Solstice, the sun doesn't set until the early morning, and rises shortly after.
Myself and teammate, Coleman, entered a 2 person team with the goal of working out some strategies on how to race in Canmore's 24 Hour race, which falls just 3 weeks after the 24HOL. Due to the amount of gear we needed, we also decided to make the 2000+ km drive to Whitehorse. Foolish? Maybe, but it sure was some epic scenery. (Flying would have been nice...)
Epic scenery made the drive pretty great!
We had also somehow convinced my Dad to fly up and meet us there to play support crew for the weekend. I'm glad he could be convinced, because he played a huge role in helping us save our energy for racing, instead of doing the mundane things that come along with wrapping up a lap and hanging out in the pits.
After 2 solid days of driving, we arrived in Whitehorse on Thursday evening with just enough time to grab some dinner and hit the sack. We spent Friday in full-prep mode, doing some grocery shopping, attempting to pre-ride the course, and organizing all of our gear. Oh, and we spent some time discussing the rumored and dreaded 'naked lap' bonus challenge.
You see, a legend exists that at the 24 Hours of Light, at a certain point in time during the night (which never really gets dark enough to be called night I might add) where you can ride a lap naked. If you complete a naked lap, it counts as if you had completed 2. Not a bad bonus, but also something we were dreading. Have you ever thought of how a bike seat might feel without a chamois? Me neither, that is until I heard the rumors and rumblings of the bonus lap challenge at the 24 Hours of Light.
After the racers meeting Friday evening, we learned the details: as many laps as you wanted could be done naked between 11 pm and 6 am. 7 hours of potential nudie laps! We agreed to only do 1 each (because why travel all that way and not be able to say you rode in the Yukon mountains in your birthday suit?), but couldn't rule out doing multiples, all hinging on what the other 2 person teams would be doing. If we were in a race for the podium and a team in the mix started doing naked laps, we'd have to reconsider our strategy.
Anyways, with that clarification, and our pit area set-up, it was off for a restless sleep.
PS - please don't try to picture me naked on a bike!
Coleman started for us, so I spent the first 40 minutes relaxing in the pits. The course hadn't been marked on Friday, so we only had a very vague idea of what to expect. Coleman rolled through in about 44 minutes, and as we tagged off had just enough time to say 'sorry, I flatted.' No issue - I had been watching the number plates that were crossing the line, and even with Coleman's flat, we were in 3rd place, with only a couple of minutes separating us from 1st place. I took off, at a relatively high endurance pace, hoping to make back some time.
Now if you're thinking "Evan, isn't 45 minutes into a 24 hour race pretty early to be worrying about catching other racers in your category?" you'd be right. However, I did try to keep the pace moderate enough to know I'd have legs left later. About halfway into that lap, I had vaulted us into the lead by a slim margin.
After a couple laps each, myself and Coleman made the call to double up on laps, riding 2 each before swapping off. Lap times were under 45 minutes at this point, so it made more sense to double up, giving the resting rider enough time to truly rest, eat some food, and even get out of their chamois! We started to slowly open up the gap to 2nd place, creating at least somewhat of a cushion for time.
By 10 pm, the sun had still not set, which was weird enough in itself, and myself and Coleman were well into the groove of double-laps. So far things had been going smooth - I had been staying on top of fueling and the legs were feeling fine.
This is an unfiltered shot of the sky a bit after 10 pm. 24 Hours of Light indeed.
Around 10:30 I was off on my 1st of 2 laps in a row. The climbs were definitely starting to hurt at this point, and focusing on line selection, picking my way down the rooty, braking-bump strewn descents, and just keeping the pace high, was becoming much more difficult. I was starting to hit the wall, but managed to salvage a quick enough time to keep us in 1st place.
Around midnight, Coleman left to start 3 laps in a row, a strategy we had discussed to give some real time for a quick nap to the resting rider. We were expecting lap times to be 45-50 minutes, so this left around 2.5 hours for the resting rider to relax. I begrudgingly ate some food (after 12 hours of constant calorie intake, your stomach starts to need a break) before laying down in the tent to try to sleep.
1:16 am - still light out. Oh, and riders were now allowed to be riding naked on course for a bonus lap...
Of course, as I should have known, I wouldn't be able to truly fall asleep, but at least I wasn't sitting on a bike seat! It was also at this point that I discovered the team that was in second place had went out on a naked lap, meaning they received an extra lap to their count, vaulting them to a half-lap ahead of us. Coleman knew, and was planning to do his naked lap on the last of his 3 lap block he was in the midst of.
Riding a bike naked through the Yukon for 12.5 km had never been on my bucket list, yet as my turn to go out came up, I found myself sitting in a camp chair, naked, wrapped in a blanket, waiting for Coleman to come through the transition area. I'm told riding at least one naked lap is an integral experience at the 24 Hours of Light, so I guess that factored in. Not to mention the mental state I was in at that time - sleep deprived and physically drained, I probably could have been convinced to do just about anything at that point.
And so I was off! The novelty of riding naked had me throw down one of my faster laps of the last few. I'm incredibly happy to report there was no crashes, incidents, or otherwise notable moments to talk about from that lap. That being said, I was happy to learn the team in 2nd place hadn't gone out on any more naked laps, so we could return to riding in normal bike gear (if you call lycra normal that is...)
I ripped into the pits, tossed on some shorts and a jersey, and took off, back on the race course.
It was during lap 3 of this block that things started to go sideways for me. It felt like the temperatures had plummeted over 10 degrees, and I was without any leg/arm warmers or vest. Not the end of the world, but it had stacked up on my lack of proper hydration. I had been drinking enough water, however during this block of riding I had not been drinking any electrolyte replacements. No idea why - just dumb lack of awareness on my part - I kept grabbing water bottles and restocking race foods, but no hydration mix. I crossed the line totally wrecked, shivering and a total mess. It was my slowest lap yet, closer to an hour than the 45 minute mark we had been hitting earlier.
The plan was to now switch to 1 lap each until the end of the race, so while Coleman was out on course, I was trying my best to muscle down drink mix and trying to find some food I felt like I could stomach through a new-found nausea that wouldn't shake off. 24 Hour Racing is not a glamorous site in case you were wondering. I chugged a bottle of Skratch Rescue Hydration mix (a electrolyte mix with a larger amount of sodium than normal) with the goal of bringing myself back to life.
I shoveled down whatever food that seemed remotely palpable and tried to shake off the uncontrollable shivers that had taken over me. Coleman came in, and I set out, in full leg warmers and arm warmers, as well as a thermal winter riding jacket. I must have looked ridiculous, as Coleman came in wearing arm warmers and normal kit, tagging off with me, fully kitted out to take on my next lap.
After the first major chunk of climbing was done, I was slowly starting to feel normal. I came through and sent Coleman out on his 13th lap. In the pits, it was always the same series of events: take off cycling shoes and shorts, cram food down, drink some fluids, lube the bike drivetrain/clean as needed, sit down and relax for a short period of time, get dressed up in a new kit, and then back to the transition area to wait to be tagged in and head back out on course.
My 13th lap would be the ugliest one. As far as time went, it still wasn't my slowest, but it was an ugly lap. The combined effects of less than adequate fueling and hydration earlier were stacking up. I made it through the lap, but certainly didn't look pretty doing it. I had done the math in my head and knew I would have to go out one more lap.
I wasn't feeling up to it, but it's a 24 hour race - after hour 12, you seldom feel up to anything. It was really just damage control at this point - trying to come around enough to feel up for another lap. My stomach wasn't having any of it though - after some violent stomach emptying that I will spare you the details of, I was in the fetal position under the tent, hoping I would come around like I usually do after vomiting (because apparently that's just what I do at 24 hour races...)
Unbeknownst to me, Coleman and my Dad had already discussed this scenario - apparently I hadn't look too good coming across the line a few laps ago. I'm glad they had talked about it already, because we were in the unfortunate position of having to complete a 28th lap to win the race. Coleman came through the pits thinking he was finished for good, only to be sent back out for the team's final lap.
He deserves all the props I can give, because that couldn't have been a good feeling. Gives an entirely new meaning to what many call the 'hero lap' at a 24 Hour race. He completed our 28th lap with about 30 minutes of race time left, sealing the victory.
If I were Coleman, I'd have yelled at me, but he's far too nice for that. After spending some time in what felt like a short coma, I came around enough to make the podium and help us tear down the pits, with 22 hours of driving back to Edmonton to look forward to...
A serious thanks needs to go out to:
The 24HOL Race Organizers - somehow you pulled off the biggest grassroots event I've ever been a part of. It might be as grassroots as an event gets, yet somehow still felt 'big.' I had an amazing time, and I will forever speak incredibly highly of the event you put on. If you're reading this and are on the fence about making the trip to try out this race one day, stop hesitating and go! You won't regret it!
Coleman - duh. It's a 2 person team first of all, but also his late race double laps are the only reason we won. He was the driving engine in this race.
My Dad - Originally, we had conned you to come up to film for a future video. But your work in the pits, bike maintenance, cooking/prepping, and about a million other things I'm sure we asked you to do were truly the difference maker in the race. I know for a fact without a support crew we would not have finished where we did.
The usual list of sponsors
The Base by River Valley Health - treatment and training goes a long way to keeping the body in better shape when riding the kind of miles a 24 Hour race demands, and this one was no exception. Part of what kept us going is definitely credited to the staff at RVH.
Pedalhead - Our Norco Revolvers held up great!
JHM Fuels - The only reason I had nutrition issues was because I foolishly strayed from drinking the skratch...