Twenty-four hours, what can you do in a day? The basics – sleeping, eating, exercising / working, doing the dishes, building relationships, paying your bills, running errands, cleaning the house, etc. – you can do it all in one day. Could you go mountain biking for 24 hours? Yes, it is also possible if you have registered for the 24 Hours of Great Glen, scheduled for this weekend, Saturday 7th and Sunday 8th August. You can pack it all in one day!
Twenty-three years ago some older runners decided to do just that. They formed the “Half Century Golden Cranks” team. In 1998, these “more than 50” cyclists entered the 24 Hours of Great Glen (24HOGG). This first team consisted of four guys from the valley with a lot of cycling experience between them: Steve Swenson, Phil Ostroski, Peter Minnich and Steve Burdette. Somehow I was forced to be their support team.
The Cranks settle in the Great Glen field. They had tents, food, grills, lawn chairs and coolers – the job! Bicycle accessories were strewn over the pop-up tent and vans. Steve Swenson brought the banner his wife Sally made, declaring them the “Golden Cranks”. He proudly hung it on the tent.
I doubt any of them have ever done a race like this. After registering and receiving their race records, they had a quick team meeting to work out the race strategy and starting order. Who knows who went first? The first runners take part in a “Le Mans” start. Bikers walk a certain distance before getting on their bikes. During this weekend’s race, participants will walk around the pond before getting on their bikes. The best strategy is to put your fastest runner first.
In the “old days”, team riders did not have their own race numbers with timing chips. They had a numbered short stick that each rider had to carry and pass to the next rider. The trick was not to lose it in the woods!
Some of the team previewed the course, while others made sure their headlamps were charged and that they had batteries and emergency lights. The race requirements for night riding are that each rider has a primary light source on their bike or helmet, with a secondary light source in the event of a breakdown. Doing this route in the dark without light would be dangerous.
Once the cannon shot at noon, the riders got into rhythm. Race, rest, hydrate, eat and race again when it’s your turn. For team riders, they had to complete at least one lap, before changing riders. They could do more laps if they felt up to it. Peter thought the laps in 1998 were about 7 miles long. This year’s tours are 9 miles long on challenging drivable roads and singletracks, with a significant amount of uphill. I think one turn at a time would be enough for me.
After sunset, the headlights and lights were ready. Those who weren’t next to run took some time to take a nap. My job was to support the runners. I wasn’t a mechanic, but I could go get snacks, tools, and water if they needed it.
This year’s rules state: “Teams can bring as many support people as they want, but their support is limited to the start / finish area or the teams pit area (not on the course. ). “
My other job was to be a “wake-up call”. As the start time of the next rider approached, I had to wake them up. It’s no fun getting tired old people out of bed in the middle of the night! There were quite a few moans and protests. I have often heard: “Should I do this?” and “I don’t want to.” Eventually the runners got out of their warm sleeping bags and got the job done. As soon as their turns were over, they came back to them.
The weather that year was good for the runners. It was neither too hot nor too cold and it was not raining! When the sun rose the next morning, the sky was clear. Little by little, the runners woke up, stretched out and called for coffee. Everyone was happy to have survived the night. Now all they had to do was survive the morning – six more hours!
At the end of the 24 hours, the last cannon shot. No new round starts after this. Many teams and riders waited just before that to start their final laps. Their strategy was to do as many laps as possible before the final end. If you were “running” when the cannon fired, that round still counted.
The Golden Cranks finished the race. No one remembers how many laps they did and I don’t think they won any awards but they brought home some powerful memories.
Steve Swenson remembers driving through the woods at 3 am “The moon was out and it was beautiful! “
Peter Minnich recalled being followed by the hoots of an owl on his nighttime stroll – a surreal experience.
Somewhere in the forest, he encountered a horsewoman trying to find her way in the dark when her lights went out. He doesn’t remember if he helped her, but I suspect he lent her his extra light.
In 1999, another Golden Crank team was formed, consisting of Peter, Marc Jenks, Chuck Brooks and Mark Barlow. Mark was replacing Phil O., who broke his ankle just before the race. This time they had a better strategy. They didn’t need to run all night. Each runner only had to make a night trip. After their nightly turns were over, everyone went to bed, reserving for the morning.
There was a thunderstorm that night and things crept in quickly! Mark remembers walking on slippery parts, his glasses misting up and finishing his knees as muddy and sandy as they’ve ever been. He asked himself: “Are we having fun? “
The Golden Cranks held on. They did as many laps as they could and managed to beat the only opposing team in their class. Finally, they won a trophy!
This Saturday and Sunday the Great Glen 24 Hours is back after a six-year hiatus. This year’s “Return to the Land of Oz” program will share some of the same elements as these past races, but there are also many changes. There will still be night riding, solo and team competitions, field camping and lots of riding, 24 hours for some or 12 hours for others. Families are now involved, there is a “24 minute” option for the kids, great music, food trucks and Moat Mountain drinks. It will be more of a 24 hour mountain bike festival than a 24 hour race.
What started as a race with a modest 11 teams in 1995, the 24 Hours of Great Glen (24HOGG) has evolved and grown. This year’s event is sold out with a field of 500 runners. It will be an even bigger festival as everyone celebrates both the return of 24 HOGG in its 21st year and the 21st anniversary of Moat Mountain Smokehouse and Brewing Company. They all happen in 2021!
Head over to Great Glen Trails this weekend to join in the celebration.
On the horizon is the 48th Mt. Washington Auto Road Bicycle Hillclimb, scheduled for Saturday, August 21. It benefits the Tin Mountain Conservation Center. For more information on the race or to register, please visit the race website: mwarbh.org.
Sally McMurdo is a bicycle safety instructor and cyclist who lives in Conway.