One thing I noticed about the 24 Hours of Summers Solstice, is that Chico Racing really knows how to put on an event.
When we stepped into the chalet we were promptly greeted by a plethora of smiling faces as the Chico team of volunteers steered us in the appropriate direction for check in.
We were in and out of the chalet within ten minutes and on our way to the hotel for the night.
The decision not to camp the night before was a hard one. On one hand we wanted to enjoy the atmosphere of the race, not to mention trying out the new tent and sleeping bags we had purchased.
But, on the other hand, a comfortable nights sleep away from the hub bub also seemed like a worthy avenue.
Had we known that the "hotel" was really code for "all night trucker country music beer fest" we might have cancelled our reservation sight unseen.
When we rolled up to the hotel, it felt like we were stepping straight into an independent film.
Thankfully, a healthy dose of Zzzquil fixed us both right up and we slept through the all night party.
Race morning we were up, fed and watered by nine and at the pit tent with coffee in hand at ten.
There is something beautiful about a noon start time...
Josh did a final run through on the bike and then sent me off to warm up.
There was a wafting smell of bacon in the air as those that had camped overnight were fixing breakfast. Team riders milled about getting their bikes ready while kids ran back and forth between pits enjoying the freedom that camping brings.
Up at the main chalet, riders were already marking their spots at the starting line.
With the large number of racers going off in the mass start, I definitely did not want to get buried in the back, even with 24 hours of racing ahead of me.
I did something slightly brazen and set myself up just slightly off the starting line. The wide two track off the start went straight into an uphill section that would allow for the hot dog team riders to separate from the pack and should provide ample room for me to maintain a line heading up the hill.
The minutes ticked by and riders continued to fill the chute. It was like a large amoeba as everyone pushed together, waiting in nervous anticipation for it all to begin.
Josh found me on the line and gave me a final good luck high five.
And then we were off!
And it was c-r-a-z-y! Both sides of the two track were lined with screaming onlookers as we made our way up the hill.
The stronger team riders pulled ahead and I found a nice spot following a group of guys into the singletrack.
As we looped back around towards the chalet area we entered a switchback section through the pines. Both sides of the trail were lined with screaming onlookers again and cowbells rang in the air.
That feeling of riding through those screaming onlookers will be in my hall of fame for a long time.
I couldn't help but grin and I especially couldn't help it when they would yell, "Go Vanderkitten! "
As we made our way through the first lap, I felt comfortable with the pace and kept at a good chase pattern with the riders around me.
Before I knew it, I was making my way through the solo pit section and Josh was handing off a new bottle of water and some gels to me.
This first lap was the longest one distance wise, but also my fastest one for the entire race. This would seem counterintuitive to have such a fast first lap and many times it would be considered a huge error in 24 hour racing, but I honestly never felt taxed during that lap.
My second favorite part of the race was coming through the timing tent. You had to dismount, run through the tent, scan your timing chip and then run back down the chute to remount and continue on your lap.
What I liked about it, was that the team riders were corralled in the center and as soon as they would see a solo rider running down their designated chute they would start hooting and hollering, "Goooo solo!!!"
The next few hours were a mixture of good laps and bad ones. Josh and I maintained bottle hand offs and after five or six laps we decided to have me stop for a few minutes so Josh could put my light mount on and I could eat half a pbj.
My main nutrition for the race was an every other bottle rotation of water and Roctane with my all time favorite GU gel pack "Salted Caramel" and some GU chomps to help mix it up.
And I actually found that I loved every flavor of Roctane that we used throughout the race. Not one of them was a bad choice!
I have to give a huge shout out to Drew from GU and Shimano for hooking me up with the Roctane and the GU. Drew is awesome!
Once the light mount was on, we were all set for the night portion of the riding. Thanks to our fabulous friends Cullen, Danni-with-an-i, Brad and Bob we had enough battery power to illuminate the town of Bolton and I was able to run my lights on high without worrying about running out.
Given my terrible night vision, their contribution of battery power was greatly appreciated by myself and Josh.
My third favorite thing about the race was that during the night riding section, when you entered any of the switch backs there was a trail of lights moving up and down as far as the eye could see. The sheer number of riders gave the impression of a bunch of ants on a log.
Now, somewhere in the night laps, Josh and I had decided that I should take a slightly longer pit, somewhere around five to maybe ten minutes so that I could put on a baselayer and to also drink some soup.
Josh hates tomatoes and has never in his life made tomato soup. So when I rolled into the pit and found him boiling a can of tomato paste, he told me that he saw my soul through my sunken in eyes and at that moment my soul hated him.
I do not recall this somewhat evil exchange to be quite so dramatic, but he says it still lingers in his mind.
I remember just desperately wanting something food "like" that was warm to eat and feeling like another pbj would make me want to vomit.
While I switched into my baselayer, Josh was able to dilute a chunk of the paste which I drank and then it was back out on the trail.
By the time I came through the pit again, I didn't even remember any of that having happened. And what was more exciting, was that in a few hours the sun would be coming up and we would be re immersed in daylight.
I've been chasing the sunrise lap for two races now. Both of our 24 hour events at Hanson Hills were overcast and I missed that transition to day.
This time it was all mine and I actually started getting a little misty eyed that it was going to happen. We came all the way to Canada to catch that lap...and it was glorious!
Birds were chirping and the squirrels were coming back out onto the trail...
My butt hurt and the palms of my hands were going numb, but this was as close to a freakin Disney movie in the woods as I am ever likely to get!
As daylight settled in, I started vaguely remembering that I had a conversation with another Vanderkitten during the race...or did I? I thought I had been riding with one of my fellow VKVIP's for a few moments, but had I made that up?
It turns out that it was true! Linda was there riding as part of a team and while our conversation was brief it did happen! Facebook helped to reinforce this several days after the event!
Josh became the world's greatest husband when he brought me a McChico sandwich prior to my last few laps. It was the best breakfast sandwich I have ever had and it disappeared in record time.
This led me into the last few laps of my race and one particularly notable lap through the out and back section of the solo pit area.
All night that section had been abusing me with her little tight climbs and giant rock obstacle. I was so sick of being abused by it that I decided on this last lap to make her pay...or make her pay as much as someone who's been riding all night can make a trail pay (these are the unrational conversations you have with yourself during 24 hour races).
Anyways, I rode through that section like my legs didn't hurt and/or like they couldn't hurt anymore then they already did and it felt wonderful.
Take that trail....take that rock...
And then, just like that the race was over.
We had planned and plotted our trip to Summer Solstice and it was worth every minute and penny we had put forth towards our little adventure.
In addition to the little adventure, we were also able to make some new friends along the way and we hope to cross paths with them again down the road!
For now, it's time to recover and to enjoy a few weeks...or maybe days without a specific goal in mind...and then we will be returning to the drawing board for our next epic adventure!
For anyone out there looking to add an endurance event to their calender, I highly recommend this race and of course want to send a huge thank you out to everyone at Chico Racing for putting it together!
And a big thank you to all of my friends and my Baurhenn and Meske family members for their support and patience during these past few months of training!
In addition to a big shout out to my workplace, Parkway Small Animal & Exotic Hospital, for being so patient with me as I have been commuting to work every day over the past year.
To Cullen, thank you for all of the loaner parts that made sure I would be able to complete this journey without a doubt.
And to husband, thank you for not letting my darkest moments scare you and for laughing at them later when we get to celebrate the high points together!