Ignacio always gives the play-by-play, but it is my turn. Why? Because for the first time I got to experience for myself what I have been “making” youth riders do for years. I rode in the 24 hours in Old Pueblo mountain bike event this past weekend as part of one of the four 5-person co-ed teams that El Grupo supported out there (plus one awesome El Grupo “groupies” team). Together with parents, siblings, other riders and friends all as “support crew” volunteers, we had a camp of over 50 people just for El Grupo – AMAZING!
It is amazing what it takes to make this event happen for El Grupo, and without all the people there to help it would not have been possible. A HUGE THANK YOU TO ALL!!!
Even MORE amazing is what it takes to ride the event – and that is what I got to experience first hand this year, and in a more EPIC fashion than in years past. Sure, it is always cold camping in Oracle at this time of year. And yes, it did snow the first time El Grupo did this in 2008. BUT, we had NEVER seen weather like we did this weekend. It kinda made you feel bad for those traveling to sunny AZ for a nice break from their winter. Ha!
We endured sustained 30mph winds, sleeting rain, and very, very cold temperatures all while camping outside for 3 days! Oh, and we had to ride our mountain bikes for 24 hours through the thick of it, by the way.
For those who don’t know, this works like a relay event. The first rider comes back from her lap and hands off the “baton” to the second and so forth. We always make sure that the next rider is ready so there is no gap in between – in other words, there is ALWAYS an El Grupo rider out there on the course from each team throughout the 24 hours. This is made possible by three OUTSTANDING team captains: Chad, Julia and Ashley (who came back to help even though she was air lifted out of the event last year!). You three were completely professional and indispensable – we could not have done it without you. Period. You are needed next year. Period.
As I was fourth in line for my team, my first lap came up around 4pm or so. The winds had been going strong all day, and only getting stronger. As I waited in the tent, “ready” to embark on my first time racing a mountain bike, not to mention the fact that it was the 4th time EVER on a mountain bike, I started to go through the names and faces. I had encouraged male and female youth, as young as 12 years old, for the past several years to brave this event without thinking twice. If they could do it, surely I could. This would soon become my mantra.
At the last minute, I decided that I should have a light “just in case” and we managed to get that set up before Tyler came in from his lap. We exchanged high fives and I was off. If they could do it, surely I could. Not five minutes into my lap and the rain started to spit on me. Then, it fell harder, and harder. Or maybe it was that 30mph sustained wind with gusts upwards of who knows what that kept bringing me back to my mantra. Who else on El Grupo is out here in this mess? I pedaled on, mud spraying everywhere, short-fingered gloves, toes completely frozen, everything soaked, I pedaled on. If they could do it, surely I could.
After 1 hour and 45 minutes I arrived back at the (glorious) tent only to exchange the baton with Skywalker and send him out into the hell I just came from. What??!! That’s right, I endured and then I said, “It’s your turn.” I got back to camp, shed my wet clothes, ate warm food, and didn’t leave my sleeping bag until Ignacio told me it was my turn again. What? I have to do this again?!
I have to be honest. I wanted to throw in the towel. Give up. One lap was enough. BUT, I knew that there were El Grupo riders out there right then, others getting ready to go out, and not one of them said they couldn’t do it. Amazing.
At least the rain had stopped, and the wind had died down. All I had to deal with was the cold on my first time riding at night – yes riding mountain bikes in the dark at 3am. I had joked a few weeks earlier that I would not be doing the 3am lap, and yet there I was going out at 1:40am to experience what I had encouraged 12 year olds with negative body fat to do for years. There were some out there now. If they could do it…
So I did it, I survived, and maybe even enjoyed the feeling of being out there at night a bit, maybe. But then I was done, completely spent after 2 laps. Feeling guilty, I asked Tyler if he was ready for a third lap in the morning and he said, “I’m still hoping to go under 1:30!” My response: you are my hero! Not only was he not ready to be done, he wanted to make his 3rd lap his personal best! And he was not alone – several El Grupo riders did make their 3rd and 4th laps their fastest times! El Grupo youth riders – YOU ARE ALL MY HEROES!
El Grupo Uno (A Team): Logan, Donovan, Lizzy, Nathan and Marcos. You all are fast and strong and impressive. You certainly deserved to be on that podium, finishing in 3rd place with 18 laps!
El Grupo Dos (B Team): Newgan, D’son, Tyler, me(Daniela), and Skywalker. Comparing our 14 laps to previous year’s records, we would have been on the podium any other year. Competition was stiff this year and the weather even crazier, and yet you all rocked it like you were pro’s – even though for each one of us this was our first time at this event. Watch out for us next year! And thanks to Ben for stepping up when needed – a true team member.
El Grupo Tres (C Team): David, Mose, Sam, Sabina, and Keenan. All 14 and under. All first time out at this event. All completely inspiring in their courage and enthusiasm for riding their bikes, even when the sky started to fall apart. You should hold your heads a bit higher knowing you accomplished what you did this weekend.
El Grupo Coaches: Richard, Alex, Ignacio, Lauren and Colin. We know who we all have to look up to. You rocked it, all while making sure that everyone else was on track, bikes were working and things were still running as smooth as they can given the circumstances. Take note that our coaches got 4th place behind all PROFESSIONAL mountain bikers. Just think what they could do if riding their bikes was their day jobs! Way to go!
And now for the thank you’s: I cannot begin to remember everyone (so I am not naming names) and everything done, but I will do my best. To all the parents who made food, bought food, prepared food. To the others who stayed up all night making sure riders were fed, warm and sleeping, or the fire was still going. To those who helped take riders to the tent, cheer them on as they came in and went out, brought them cookies, fixed their bicycles, and encouraged them to go for another. To those who helped shepherd riders when needed, set up and break down camp, and tote tons of food, water, wood and more to and from the event. NONE OF THIS WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE WITHOUT YOU! THANKS!
The biggest thanks needs to go to Ignacio, though. He always gets to say that I am the one reason this team works, but now is my turn. It is his fault that I had to ride in this event AND that I will want to do it again every year that we go. Thanks for allowing us all to understand why this is your favorite event of the year. Thanks for the hours of preparation, planning, and coaching. Most of all, thanks for believing in each and every one of us. You helped us all believe in ourselves and come out of this weekend way stronger individuals than we went in. Thanks for an unforgettable, awesome, successful weekend!
And once we get our fantastic photos from Kathleen, you can see for yourselves.