There is hot, and there is “Alabama Hot”
If you missed my first shorter post on the race and the effect of the heat there, you can read about it here. If you do not want to go and read that, just know this. There is hot, and then there is “Alabama Hot”. Holy crap. I do not think that you can get any hotter than what it was there. In the shade it was 100 degrees, and it was fleeking crazy high humidity. Like 90% or something like that.
Imagine this, put on your winter clothes – sweatshirt, blue jeans, socks, boots, ski hat, gloves, goggles etc… then, put on your camelbak and go into the sauna. Turn the heat up to about 120 (remember it was 100 in the shade, so who knows how hot it was in the sun). Don’t forget to bring a kettle ball in there with you. Now, while you are in there – workout with the kettle ball. Oh, while you are at it, have a friend throw shovels full of powdery dirt and sand at you, covering your whole body in a film of it. Do that for 1 1/2 hours. Rest for another 1 1/2 hours, but the rest is done in a 2nd sauna that is only 100. Then do that all over again for 24 consecutive hours. You get the picture. Yep, it was like that and it was harder than anything you can ever imagine doing.
I have done a lot of difficult things in my life, GNCC races, National Enduro races, 10 hour road rides in the French Alps, 200 mile road bicycle races, 12 hour solo mountain bike races etc… None of that compares to the Perry Mountain Challenge.
We are planners.
Yep, that would be Scott and I. We started planning to do this race almost 1 year ago. I can remember reading about the Perry Mountain Challenge race last year. I can remember thinking “Damn, that sounds like fun!” Boy do I have a warped sense of fun or what?
So we planned. We started having meetings about the race way back in December. When the registration for the race first opened up, we were the 2nd duo team to sign up. We built workout plans all targeted at being prepared for the race. We organized a crew to go to the race with us and help support us. We set up our bikes specifically for the race. We drove our families crazy.
I can remember my wife laughing at me. “You guys are such dorks. You are having meetings about the race and it is 6 months away”. There was a lot to organize. We had a pit area that had to have lights so that it could function all night, it needed fans as it was going to be hot, it needed a separate generator etc… We needed a mechanic, so we could focus on the riding and the hydration. We also had to organize a camp area, away from the pit across the river. It needed a full kitchen set up, it needed its own generator, it needed to provide an area for us to lie down away from the rest of the crew… It was complicated.
We also planned our ride schedule. We had intended to go for 2 hours each, and then do a long 3 hour stint each during the night. Of course that did not really work out, and we changed the plan before we even got started. We ended up riding for 1.5 hours each, or 3 laps each.
We planned when the lights would go on, we planned how we would drive down there, we planned what we would eat and how much we would need to hydrate.
Of course, none of the plans really worked out.
We had a fantastic crew.
Hanna Vadeboncoeur – documentarian and back up chef. She ran all the cameras and got a ton of great video and photos.
Liz Vadeboncoeur – chef. She stayed up all night, she kept food coming for the crew and riders. She kept the camelbaks full of cold beverage. She made dinner at breakfast time, breakfast 4 different times during the night, peanut butter and jelly when that was all we would eat etc… Liz and Hanna are family, so they kinda had to do the crew thing. But, they did not just do it – they really did it up right.
Matt Pickersgill – logistics. He ran the big white board that kept track of all the riders lap times, how many laps done, when the rider was due back in, when the next rider had to be back to the pits, ran the sign board for the rider etc… It was always comforting to see Matt on the side of the trail or at the start finish area, with the sign board and a smile and encouragement.
Chris Garrison – crew chief. She did everything. A little mechanic work, handled keeping the riders cool, handled my dirty snotty sweaty helmet and goggles, disgusting slobbered on chest protector, Scott throwing up etc… She was a saint through it all. Chris has handled the crew chief for a bunch of mountain bike races, and it shows. Chris and Matt are from the UK, and they actually spent vacation time to come over to the race. I owe them a lot of fun times somewhere else for all they did for us.
Noah Mitchell – mechanic. Noah was the man. He did not sleep, he cleaned bikes, he never missed a beat and our bikes were perfect every time. He cleaned carburetors, mounted and dismounted lights, changed tires, changed oil etc… Scott and I only touched the bikes to ride them. Indispensable. Noah found our website add looking for a mechanic for the race. I cannot tell you how glad we were to have him.
We could not have done it without them – all. If we go back to do it again, I will be bribing them all to be part of our crew again.
Alabama was surprising.
People are really friendly in Alabama. I guess I really didn’t expect them to be UN-friendly, but they surprised me at just how friendly everyone was. Sure the accents sound funny to me, and at times are even hard for me to understand. But, they genuinely wanted to help at all points along the way.
In addition, Alabama is hilly. I am not talking rolling hills of Wisconsin either. I am talking HILLY. Like as in Pennsylvania hilly. Bordering on mountainous. I already mentioned it was hot.
It is really interesting how people view Alabama. Actually, it is really hard to find information about Alabama. If you watch the national news, and watch the national weather presentation, look closely. There is never a mention of Alabama. There is not even a city noted. If I tell people here that we did a race in Alabama, they usually look at you with their head cocked sort of to the side. Like, “Hmmmm… I hear what you said, but I cannot imagine what it is telling me.”
The course was 10 miles around. It was much like a GNCC course. It was ATV wide in places and fast, and had some technical singletrack sections and a super fun outdoor MX course with fun step up jumps and a couple of big table tops. The biggest problem with the course was the dust. There were 200 plus bikes on the course, and it had not rained in Alabama in some time. The dust was so thick that it was hard to see through at times during the day, and hung in the air all the time. Don’t even ask about how it was at night (more on that one later).
Since it was so hot and dusty, when you finished your riding stint you were just covered in a layer of mud. The combination of your sweat and the dust equaled being covered in mud.
Here is how our race unfolded. We had decided that Scott would ride first. We knew he would be fast, so we thought that we should see how he could go at the beginning. The start was a Le Mans style start. The gun went off, and Scott ran to the bike while I was holding it up. He then proceeded to kick the bike 6,7,8,9,10 or more times. It did not start. He was dead last going into the woods. At the end of the 1st lap, Matt reported to me that Scott had moved up to 8th place. Pretty good – 26th to 8th in one lap.
Scott did 4 laps, before he pulled over and let me have the timer. I went out and did 3 laps after that. It was 11:30 and it was about 95 degrees. I could not believe how hot it was. There was mud flowing inside my goggles. My arms and skin were completely brown with mud. After I finished 3, I pulled in for Scott to take over. Noah and I talked about my back brake feeling bad, but decided that it did not really feel bad and he left it alone. We were in 3rd place.
Scott went out at roughly 1:15pm. It was getting hotter. He turned 3 laps in about 76 minutes. He was back at 2:30, and I was not ready. I did get out at about 2:45, but we were still just in 3rd place.
I went out at 2:45 and managed to hold onto 3rd place, all the way through my ride. It was crazy how hot it was, but we were holding up really well. I am amazed now just how fast things went wrong for us out there when they did go wrong. Scott went out at about 4:15 and absolutely poured it on. When he came back in at 5:30 we were leading.
I went out at about 5:45 and I lost the lead. I fell back to 2nd place during my ride. I gave it over to Scott at 7:15 and he went out first with lights on the bike. He did not really need to use the lights, but they were on his bike and running. It was starting to get dark in the woods when he was finishing though.
I went out again at about 8:45 and here is where the wheels came off for me. I did the first set of laps that were completely in the dark. I needed lights from the get go. I noticed just how difficult it was to see when I left the pits. On the very first hill, I was already noting that i could not see anything. When I really got to racing in the woods, I could not see a thing. My lights were too white, and they just reflected off the dust. I got an immediate case of vertigo. The dust was so bad, that I could not tell if I was going uphill or downhill. I would find myself speeding up when I did not expect it, I was on a downhill. I did not know where to put my weight on my bike, I was screwed. I could not read any of the trail. I crashed 4 times on one lap.
By the time i had finished 2 laps, the vertigo was bad enough that I was really struggling. I found the whole thing scary. I did manage to keep us in the lead, but not by much. I had to get myself back to the pits, and lie down. I closed my eyes, and Liz was immediately waking me up, although it was an hour later. I was cooked, and was not sure if I could go back out.
Scott took over from me at about 10pm, but the wheels came off for him as well. He had been struggling to stay up with his hydration, as he had gotten sick and could not keep things down. Once you get behind on hydration in an event like this, your really screwed. Scott managed 3 laps, but he was done after that. He told Noah, “I cannot do anymore night laps.”
So, while being in the lead and contention for the win, we had to sit down. It was a shattering realization. We both got a bit of sleep and then I got myself organized to go back out as things were lightening up.
When I went out at 4:45, we were a long way down in 7th place. I told Matt that we were going to be fast. I gave it over to Scott at about 6:15 and we were in 5th place, but we were more than a lap down on 4th. Scott did 3 laps. I do not know how he managed it, as he was severely dehydrated.
We were 15 minutes down on 4th when he handed it back to me at about 8am. I did 2 laps and had us to about 5 minutes behind 4th and then handed it back to Scott. He was spent at that point and could not go nearly as fast as he was the previous day. But, he still finished the race just 3 minutes down on 4th place.
But, by now the damage was done and Scott was in a bad spot. As we broke down the pits area, it was crazy how hot it was. The crew was toast and Scott and I were almost no help. We tried to help pack the van, but it was just so hot and we were both so toasted there was not much of a sustained effort that we could put out. We all could tell Scott was in a bad way, so we sat him in the shade in front of the fan and got the van loaded. When we had it all loaded, we put him in the passenger seat with the AC on high.
Back at the camp, Liz and Hanna had most of the camp broken down. We sat around the little kiddie pool we had with us with our feet in the water and had lunch. Scott laid in the shade and was really struggling and that is when we decided he needed an EMT.
The EMT’s loaded him in an ambulance and took him to the local hospital, where they admitted him and kept him overnight. During the course of the next 24 hours, they pumped 8 liters of fluid into him to kick start his system and get his kidneys functioning again. Meanwhile, I took the crew to Birmingham and got them on their separate ways home. Chris and Matt on a plane to London, Liz and Hanna in the truck back to Wisconsin.
The Trailer ordeal
At this point you are thinking, “Wow, what else can be added to this adventure?” Well, the next morning I was on the phone with Scott at the hospital, pulled over to the side of the road. He was predicting when he would be ready to go. After the call and a plan was made, I pulled back on the road and looked back to see that the trailer was being drug along behind the van – sideways. The drivers side leaf spring on the trailer had snapped.
Couple hours later the wrecker truck company picked it up, and to my surprise said “No worries, we can fix that.” And even more surprising, they said they could fix it that day! They took the trailer to the shop and told me to come back at the end of the day. I had my doubts, but after driving back down to Clanton to collect Scott from the hospital we returned at 5:30 to see the trailer sitting level and ready to go. They were miracle workers.
Off we went to make the 15 hour drive home to Wisconsin.
Of course that is still the short version of the story. I am not sure the complete version can ever be told. It was epic. Not epic racing, but rather an epic experience. I can get pretty philosophical about the experience and what you learn about yourself after hours of pushing the limits of your abilities. I can get pretty philosophical about a 2 old guys and a little offroad racing team. About all I can tell you that you will almost understand is that putting a big goal down, like this, and then seeing it through is a pretty positive experience – not matter what happens.
I do not know if we have closure on this event though. I suspect we are both wondering our finish would be if:
– if we solved the lighting thing for Joe
– if we helped to make sure Scott was able to stay ahead of his hydration
Stay tuned, maybe we will go back. I wonder what our crew would say?
Photos from the weekend here.
My shorter post here.
Scott’s blog post about the event here.
A few other points to note.
1. I was trying to ride at 80% effort. I think I was doing that. I know that there were a few laps that I really pushed and tried to go faster. If we call those 100% efforts, they only netted a 5% faster lap time. Interesting how that last 20% is a supreme effort, but in my case it only netted such a small gain.
2. Guys from Wisconsin, where it is rarely over 85 degrees, really can struggle at 100 degrees and high humidity.
3. #perrymountainchallenge. The offroad community is great. We come from all parts of the country, we talk differently, but we all love the same things. Challenging ourselves on an extreme offroad condition.
4. Brave Soldier on the hands – not a single blister. DZ-nuts chamois creme on the butt – no problems.
5. They have a rogue saturn rocket along the highway in Alabama.
6. All roads lead to Crawfordsville Indiana for me.
7. We all drive along the highways, and when we were younger there was a chain of restaurants called Stuckey’s. They were restaurants in the gaps between cities and towns. They are long gone, but the buildings are still there. The natural progression of an old Stuckey’s building is – Stuckey’s to antique mall to fireworks outlet to Adult bookstore. In most of the south, they have hit the Adult book store phase.