Gears Racing 24 hours of Summer Solstice

Mountain Biking

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Tails from the Trails

Gears Racing 24 hours of Summer Solstice
by Sean Ruppel (Chico Racing)

Affectionately recounted in racing lore as the 17 hours of H20, the 2000 edition of the 24 hours of Summer Solstice has gone down as the most talked about event in Ontarioís short mountain biking history.

After years of organizing one day mountain bike events, Chico Racing took a gamble in 1998 with the 2-day, 24 hour format. The first year at the Ganaraska forest yielded itís share of stories from the trenches as a constant drizzle reduced the fresh singletrack to a soupy death march. Mother Natureís sick sense of humour certainly provided a stress inducing environment and in hindsight perhaps a chilling foreshadowing of what would occur in later years.

The year 2000 was our third year organizing our 24 hour event and it was our largest yet with over 1200 racers, more than tripling the totals of the first year. The buzz around our event was huge as we had changed venues to Albion Hills Conservation area. With itís beautiful scenery and fantastic amenities, the Chico crew was confident in our new home and were hoping for a smooth event with no surprises from the skies above. This was not to be, as the rainiest spring in Ontarioís recorded history was looking to continue through the summer. With a questionable forecast and the general indecision in the field of meteorology we were hoping the proverbial weatherman would be wrong. He wasnít.

The event started under sunny skies which continued through much of the afternoon. Nobody could agree on what the night would have in store but what would occur in the following hours would make the worst case scenario seem inviting. Even on the best of days managing an event of this size is no easy feat, but when the rains started and the trails muddied we realized we were in for a long night. By midnight the rain was light but steady and most of the course was holding up quite well. The clay-based sections were getting slick but at that rate we were looking to be able to weather the storm. That steady rate, however, would not continue as torrents of rain in the wee hours turned trails into rivers and began drowning out our safety staff, course marshalls, and site/timing staff. Making the best of such a meager situation is tough, but with contingencies in place we were doing all we could to get the event through the night. By 4 in the morning half the teams had turned in their batons in favour of their drenched tents and trailers, and the event site resembled a ghost town, with rain replacing the classic blowing tumbleweed. Calls were coming in of injured and stranded riders so two of us embarked on an impossible journey. The course was a skating rink and even our 4wd vehicle could not move about. After using a backboard as a toboggan to extract an injured rider it was apparent that the course had become too dangerous. The rain was unrelenting, and a decision had to be made.

El presidente Chico had to be awakened from an eternal slumber, but this was not a problem that could so easily rest. After seeing the devastation first hand my decision as the course director was to call the event. The saturated event site was enough to bring Chico to the same conclusion, and the event was officially ended at 5am. The few masochistic riders still on course had the option to continue and many did, easily doubling their lap times while walking their bikes through knee high mud and sliding down the treacherous hills.

By morning a shadow of doubt lingered as the skies cleared and sun shone down on what looked like a post militaristic scene, but as the course marshalls arrived with incredible tales and people awoke to see their tents floating, it was obvious we had made the right decision. Many of the campsites were now lakes, and the trampled transition area made for an impromtu mudslide competition during the eventís closing ceremonies. Awards were handed out for what was then termed the 17 hours of H2O, salvaging what we could from the remnants of the worst rain storm in over 10 years.

Situations like this test the resolve, heart, and determination of your crew, volunteers, and participants. This event resembled a disaster, not a mountain bike event, and after the mud dried up and the clean up began we realized how lucky we were to be surrounded by so many fantastic people in a sport we love!

-- Sean Ruppel

Chico Racing's May races are Ontario Cup #2 and Gears Racing Epic Eight Team Relay, both to be held at Mansfield. More info can be obtained from their website: Chico Racing. -- TheLoneRider

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