Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rapelje Wrap-up

Last weekend I had the pleasure of participating in the 24 Hours of Rapelje (RAP-el-jay) mountain bike race. Twenty people raced it solo, but I was not one of them. Instead, I was on a team of four that braved the 97-degree heat trading off laps on the 11.6 mile course from 11am Saturday to 11am Sunday.

The inception of this event is a great story of American ingenuity. You see, Rapelje, MT has a population of 60 people, not enough to fully support the Stockman Cafe which is the only joint in town. Even within a 20 mile radius there can't be more than several hundred folks living on the great plains of Big Sky Country.

Elevators in Rapelje, MT

About ten years ago the Stockman was in danger of going out of business so they turned it into a community run co-op. It's open mostly for lunch and is the town's only gathering place besides the church. But even with volunteer help they needed a revenue boost to keep it going, so that's where the idea for a 24-hour bike race came in.

Stockman Cafe in Rapelje, MT

24-hour bike races are becoming more common, but a decade ago this was the first of its kind in Montana. This year 150 racers paid $65 to race, knowing that their money was going to support rural life at a time when rural life in America needs a bit of a boost.

I took the first lap for my team and felt a bit overmatched by the other first-lappers all decked out in their team racing gear and all. None of us really knew what to expect of the course so the first lap was about learning the turns and the terrain. There were a couple sections that were fairly technical for me and I quickly resolved for my goal to be: stay safe in the darkness of night and don't try to ride over your head.

But the second lap was phenomenal, even in the blistering heat. It felt great to know the course and to know where I could push it and where to take it easy. The second lap was my fastest of the event, clocking in at just under an hour.

After each lap our team of four had about three hours to kill before riding again. My team included two married couples (one of whom was sidelined by a concussion) who brought their three kids along. The kids had a blast, except for the movie shown at the church at 8pm that turned out to be a Christianity conversion attempt. They just took their free popcorn and walked out after ten minutes.

On my third lap I started having some mechanical difficulties -- what appeared to be derailleur issues. They slowed me down a bit, but didn't seem serious. It wasn't until my fourth lap at midnight that the issues came to a head and turned out to be more serious than I thought.

The temperature at midnight was finally comfortable and I was just getting into the nighttime riding with my new $120 headlight when my chain broke. Upon further inspection, the reason my chain broke was because it became derailed due to an issue with the rear hub -- something not readily fixable out "in the field". After consulting with a couple other riders who stopped to offer their assistance, it was determined that I'd have to get an ATV ride back to camp. I was bummed, but it was a beautiful night with the stars as visible as I've ever seen. I'd be quite content hanging out and stargazing for a bit.

It turned out I was stargazing for 90 minutes as it took awhile for word to get back and for help to be sent.

At 2am I arrived back in town holding my bike while sitting backwards on the rear of a four-wheeler. Fortunately, they'd started serving pancakes at the Stockman at midnight and a tall stack was waiting for me when I arrived. Teammate Jeff took the opportunity to do 2 late night laps, keeping our momentum even though we were not in contention for the podium.

After grabbing about 3 hours of sleep, I awoke to teammate Mark heading out for a dawn lap, followed by his wife Tamera. This would allow me to get one final lap in before the cut-off.

My final lap was glorious, in part because I brought along a can of Blue Ribbon beer, made by Pabst Brewing Co., and enjoyed it upon a perch of rock atop the highest ridge on the course. Man, do I wish I had my camera along to share the view with you, though there's now way I could have captured it. It was gorgeous and a highlight of the weekend. I'd been borrowing Mark's bike for this final lap as mine was out of commission (see above), and it was a pleasure to ride. I tore up the steepest hills and felt great. Too bad it was almost over.

Thank you to Rapelje, MT and to my teammates for a great time. I look forward to riding it again next year.

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