February 18, 2024

24 Hours in the Old Pueblo: Team ATA

 The 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo, 24HitOP, was now entering its 24th year of doing laps in the desert. I've done the event a couple of times before, both as a duo. Once in 2012 with Seron and again in 2013 as a co-ed duo with Caroline - bur that year I bikepacked to the start with Tim. Both times were fun, logging 7 laps each year. Over the years I've focused more on backcountry endurance races and bikepacking ultra races instead of lap races.

Fast forward to the 2024 edition and the Arizona Trail Association were the event beneficiaries, meaning they were comped a team entry. They tried to keep the 5 person team all in-house, but couldn't quite fill the final slot. I received an email from Matt Nelson about the opportunity to race with the ATA, how could I pass that up? I couldn't. Our team was set: Matt (ATA Director), Shannon (ATA Marketing & Graphic Designer), Jody (ATA GRO Girl GRO Coordinator), Aaron (ATA GIS Director) and myself (ATA Wannabe!! Haha.) You can learn more about each ones roles inside the ATA here.

Good times ahead.

A few things about the event. First, it's nuts. Thousands of riders flock to an otherwise empty piece of desert on the north side of Mt. Lemmon to ride in circles for 24 hours. The race begins at noon on Saturday with a Le Mans style start - quarter mile run to your bike for those doing the first lap. It's a sight to see. The race ends at noon on Sunday. If you reach the exchange tent at 11:59a on Sunday, you can head out for one final lap, if you roll in at 12:01p on Sunday, that's it. Those final minutes before noon can be hectic for those vying for the podium. 

A virtual 24 hour town springs up out there and with it a mad dash for a prime camp location within the confines. Aaron was first on the scene with a camper, but that wasn't until late Thursday, but he did manage to get a decent location a bit higher up in 24 hour town next to the El Grupo racing team from Tucson, who are always a bunch of really fast kids.

24 hour town map, complete with street names in the dirt, plus vendors & expo tents.
My plan was to arrive early on Friday, but I also knew a lot of others would be arriving Friday as well. I opted to drive in the back way, mostly dirt, along Freeman Rd. & Willow Springs Rd. A few days earlier a good sized storm moved over the area preventing access for many who typically try to arrive a week prior. My plan was solid, no traffic whatsoever. However, that storm did cause a couple of tangent drainage ruts on Freeman Rd. One of which I didn't notice until it was too late. BAM!! I hit it doing about 35 mph. Dang. It was loud, car seemed fine, but then I noticed my cracked windshield!! I had a chip in it for months and the tremendous force of hitting the rut caused it to spiderweb in a giant circle about 1 1/2 feet in diameter. It was sort of cool looking, but also a reminder to slow down a bit when going through a dip along the dirt roads!!

Nothing says 'Fast lap' like a framebag clad 36 lb race sled.

I arrived without further incident, paid my two cans of food for entry to 24 hour town and found Aaron. We were on the inside corner of Epic Rides Expressway and Outbound Lighting Way. I wedged my car into a spot next to camp and set up my digs for the weekend. I rode around town for a bit looking for friends when one rode by, Damion.

Damion's team. He's good at self promotion!!
The ATA also had a booth in the expo area and it was up to all of us to help keep it manned during the event. We'd help each other out, take shifts, answer trail questions, hand out stickers/maps and generally promote the awesomeness of the Arizona Trail. If you haven't been out on a section yet, why not? It's good, like real good. Go.

Shannon arrived a few hours after me and we had planned to do a ride before her ATA booth commitment. Our plan was to ride a bit of the course, then shoot off on the legendary Painter Boy trail, link into Bones trail, then back to the course. She'd head to the booth and I would then finish a race lap.

Painter Boy trail is a classic social trail, often thick with catclaw, sliding under barbed wire and some route finding on occasion. In spite of that, it's a really cool trail with fun routing. I hadn't been on it in a while and had never ridden the Bones trail.

We met up and hopped on the course near the whiskey tree, a rowdy spot on race day to partake if the need arises. The trail after the whiskey tree flows well and is generally fast. You start a gradual climb, cross a dirt road then keep climbing under some power lines. The trail will eventually turn left before topping out, but for our ride, we were keeping a watchful eye for a sliver of singletrack on the right. There it is!! Painter Boy.
Locorides board meeting at the Painter Boy split.

I had to ask Shannon, 'Are we on Painter Boy??' We didn't have a scratch from catclaw.

It may look scratchy, but it wasn't.

New part of the trail for me, as I had only ridden the lower half before.

Shannon makes her way back to the start area, while I split off on Bones. Absolutely stunning view of a snowy Mt. Lemmon.

Bones was a bit more well ridden, perhaps because you can easily make a loop using the 24 hour course.

Water, if you need it. I got a little turned around here, should've gone immediately left, I went straight for a bit then figured it out.

Wide open desert. Bones links into the 24 hour course near the end of the Bitches Bypass.
I merged with the course and a few others who were out pre-riding a lap or two. There was another trail which cut a corner of the race course I had never been on, so I checked it out. It was a fast bit of singletrack and hooked up with the route as it passed through a gate.

Bumped into Curtis near the end of my lap, hadn't seen him in a while. Fast rider.

24 hour town from the course.

My warm-up lap, XL style. Regular lap is about 16.2 miles. Strava link.

Matt telling the crowd all about the AZT awesomess, while Todd, Epic Rides Owner, looks on.

Bumped into Kurt too, chatted for a bit about his massive CDT ride last year. Awe inspiring stuff.

Shannon did the design work for the 24 hour event. Always colorful!!

Vendor area. Finally was able to meet Nick, from Rogue Panda.

More vendors. Orange Seal offered to top off anyone who stopped by, pretty cool.

Friday evening sunset. Our camp spot is to the left of the pink pop-up near center. AZT flag.

Fading light over Mt. Lemmon.


Close-up view of our camp location. I found some flat open dirt to the left of Aaron's camper.

Desert sunsets are something special.
Camp was fairly quiet. Matt, Aaron and I hung out sharing stories and generally kicking back most of the evening. I actually got a good night's rest.

Race day!! I made my way into the vendor area for some coffee & breakfast. Things were stirring, bikes gathering for the mass Le Mans style start.
View of the final stretch of trail before the exchange tent.

Shannon all decked out and ready to spin a fast first lap. She also designed those AZT Trail Manos gloves.

The mad dash to the bikes!!

They come in all shapes, sizes, forms and eras!!

That's a lot of teams.

I eventually made my way over to the famed rock drop to watch the action.

'Hit the Kicker!!' was the battle cry for 24 hours!!

The exit can be a bit tricky depending on the line you choose.
I was helping out at the ATA booth most of the afternoon once the race began. We found out that Shannon got tangled with another rider about 3/4 through the lap and she fell into a Prickly Pear cactus. Ouch!! She still finished her lap, in a good time too, but then spent a while plucking as many cactus needles as she could find. Her day was done, but she thought she could do another lap the following day.

I was set to ride the 5th team lap which would then set me up to do the overnight laps I volunteered for. I love night riding, especially the wee hours, so I opted to do back-to-back laps on my second turn so the others could get some sleep.

Most of our laps were in the 1h 30m range +/- 10 minutes. I began my first lap a bit before 6pm, sunset lap!! The first mile or so was a bit blinding with the setting sun. I vowed to do a classic lap on my first circuit. That meant doing the gasline bitches - a series of steeper ups/downs on a dirt road. Those climbs, while not long, had me winded and coughing. I was still feeling the effects of being sick with sinus crud for the past couple of weeks. I also would do the rock drop, even if it was dark. I had to do it at least once during the race.

A cool moment during my lap came on the fast singletrack section after the bitches. I rider in a pink jersey passed by me at a pretty good clip. I recognized the jersey immediately, it was Lachlan Morton. He's a renowned cyclist who has completed some amazing feats. His pedaling was a work of art, steady, smooth, strong and seemingly effortless. I learned later he had entered as a duo with Taylor Lideen. Taylor used to live in the Phoenix area, but has since moved to NW Arkansas. He's another powerhouse rider. They were the clear favorites to win. Spoiler alert: Not only did they win their category, they set a new 24 hour record, besting the previous by 7 minutes - which had been held by a 4 person team. They did 24 laps over the 24 hours, completing the final 24th lap faster than anyone in the event's 24 year history. Amazeballs.

My only professional capture of my 3 laps, mostly because I was riding at night. What? No one wanted to hang out at 3am snapping photos?? Weaksauce.
Earlier in the day Shannon had shown me a sticker she picked up from Ira. He makes funny shit every now and then. As I approached the top of the rock drop I could hear the emcee announcing to the crowd, which was my buddy, Shawn, 'Hit the Kicker, get a sticker!!' Right on, let's do it!! I hit it, got decent air time, at least I think I did!! I finished my lap then made my way over to the rock drop area.

I had been hoping I could do a lap in 1h 30m. I didn't feel too bad out there except for the nagging cough and being winded on the bitches. I was thrilled when I rolled into the exchange tent at 1h 31m!!

On my way to the rock drop, in the vendor area.

Hahaha!!! Got my sticker!! Thanks, Ira.

Lap 1: A traditional Old Pueblo lap. Strava link.

Glo Sticks make cool photos at night.

It doesn't look too intimidating from here.

Got lucky and caught 3 riders dropping in. Neat.

Back at camp, a view from atop a small knob next to camp.
I relaxed for a bit, ate some dinner then hunkered down in my tent in hopes of getting some shuteye before the overnight laps. That didn't really happen, but I did rest my eyelids for a couple of hours. It was now 11p, time to get ready. Aaron was out on course and I thought he'd be finished a bit after midnight.

The late night waiting area in the exchange tent.

Teams are organized by number to help ease the chaos. We were team 608.

Someone put this red eye glowing Sasquatch on course for the overnight laps. I had to stop on lap #2 for a pic. I also took a hit from the whiskey tree around 3:30a.
My second lap, first of the overnight stint, ended up being 1h 50m. I was dragging a bit. I did take the Bitches Bypass route which is a little longer, but really fun singletrack. I let Matt know when I rolled through the exchange tent sometime around 2:30a.

My second lap was even slower!! 2h 10m!! Haha. Each lap was 20 minutes slower than the prior one.

The bewitching hours - 2 laps. Strava link.

That was a fun staff meeting!!

Aaron showing off his shoeless right foot...

It was stuck to his cleat!!

More rock drop shenanigans.
I think it was around 11a and I was scheduled for the final team lap, but wasn't really feeling it. It was getting warm and based on my previous laps, I wasn't too stoked on doing a 2 1/2 hour lap!! Jody to the rescue. She jumped at the chance for another lap and put down another very consistent time. She finished a bit after noon and that was it. We notched 15 team laps, nowhere near a podium finish, but that's not why we were there. Fun was had by all.

Exchange tent sometime after noon. Lachlan and Taylor getting interviewed after their dominant performance.
Time to pack up and head out, maybe on a road with less deep ruts!! I opted for Barkersville Rd. which was much nicer to my car.

I want to thank the ATA for extending an offer to ride on their team, such an honor. It's great to do it with friends too. Manning the ATA booth was fun as well, getting to meet all kinds of folks. If you haven't ridden along the AZT, check it out. There are a bunch of great sections that can easily be done in a few hours.

Get out there. Go ride.

1 comment:

  1. Looks like a great event John. We have even heard of it Down Under! Sadly, 24 hour racing seems to have died in Australia. There used to be 15-20 events each year but now I only know of 1. That 24 hour community spirit was an awesome vibe.
    Thanks for posting it up.