I find myself continually replaying the 24 Hours of Moab through my clouded, foggy, and otherwise muddled brain. And I am left wondering if there is a more classic example of the very essence of mountain biking. Not the 2009 iteration specifically, but the event itself. It seems to embody everything that elevates mountain biking into the lofty realm it occupies in the world of sport and adventure and sheer enjoyability. Everything, that is, except for mountains. And perhaps that irony is one more item in the long list of superlatives that comprise the race – indeed Moab itself is otherwise void of traditional mountain terrain, until of course one simply looks up from the sandy bottom and realizes that the skyline is dominated by the towering peaks of the La Sals. And yet, those peaks are largely backdrop for one of the more spectacular places on earth. And in fact, become the backdrop for one of the more spectacular bike races on earth as well.
There is some comfort to be drawn in knowing that in the face of economic, political, and social turmoil that the constant rhythm and routine of this bike race continues forward. It is a moment in time when people of all types and world views and bike riding abilities gather together for one common purpose: to beat the hell out of one another.
Although, not in some violent or vitriolic manner, nor in any overly bitter competitive spirit. But simply in the name of good sport and good racing. And indeed, that is what the race then becomes, year after year, and lap after lap. The back slaps and the handshakes are well met, and easily handed out, even though during the race the pedaling is intense, and the focus narrow – unless it isn’t. Everyone brings their own set of expectations to Moab in October, and it would seem that whatever those might have been, they are invariably exceeded.
And while most events, indeed most things, that are so hyped and so anticipated usually stumble when chasing those expectations, somehow the 24 Hours of Moab rises to the occasion. A perfect storm of people, competition, promotion, and the course itself create an idyll of mountain biking, and mountain bikers.
The race course is one I hate to love. It is brutal and demanding. And yet, incredibly fun. The slickrock and sand and iconic surrounding scenery are the epitome of Moab. And while the best lines on the course are obvious, they still seem to elude riders who slip and stumble and crash through them. Speed is an ally, helping the bike to float and skim over the sharp edges and soft sand. There are places that I love: the cascading descent off one ledge and then another, and another and another, only to be followed by a similar climb. There is a sand filled, high banked decent that is like something out of a primitive amusement park, a mountain biking version of a clown on a motorbike. And of course, there is mile marker 6. It represents the end of the risk-laden technical obstacles and the beginning of smooth, big ring, hammering across the wide open meadows around Prostitute Butte.
Moments from the last several years are flashing through my head and reminding me how much this race dominates memory and monopolizes the season. I can still remember in vivid detail the first lap I did at the race – in 2002. The bedlam and speed of the running start was blinding, and yet, one of the great moments of racing I have ever had. That lap was as fast as I have ever ridden the course, until 2009 when I put 30 seconds into myself. That was pleasing. There have been crashes and flat tires and episodic vomiting. I have felt immortal at times, and others, like the living dead. I’ve seen heat and rain and wind and even survived the biblical floods and mudslides of 2006. In short, the 24 Hours of Moab has become a staple in my racing and storytelling. Every year provides a new chapter, always beginning with “One year at the 24 hours of Moab…”