Race Report: 12 Hours of Mesa Verde

One of my riding goals for 2014 was to do some races, including at least one with my son. When I spotted the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde, I knew I’d found our venue. The race takes place on the delightfully-entertaining Phil’s World trail system, which my son and I have thoroughly enjoyed in the past. So, I figured, if you’re going to put yourself through the pain of racing, you may as well do it on a fun trail network!

Hundreds took advantage of the free on-site camping for the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde Endurance Race
Hundreds took advantage of the free on-site camping for the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde Endurance Race

Like most endurance races, the format is fairly simple: for each category, whoever does the most laps within the allotted time, wins. When more than one team does the same number of laps, the team who does that common number of laps in the least time places higher. While there’s over 25 miles in the Phil’s World trail system, the race route didn’t incorporate the entire system, and our lap measured 16.4 miles. This is longer than the typical endurance race lap, which usually runs closer to the 10-mile mark. The longer lap times would mean fewer laps, which is both good and bad. The good is that, for those who do multiple laps, there is less retracing your own path, so there’s more variety and less repetition. The bad is that the longer laps mean you’re more likely to coming close and just missing the cutoff for being able to add that last lap at the end of the day.

Miniskibum lines up early for the LeMans start ( a 200 yd run to the bikes).  By the time the gun went off, this was an elbow-to-elbow melee.
Miniskibum lines up early for the LeMans start (a 200 yd run to the bikes). By the time the gun went off, this was an elbow-to-elbow melee.

This was a huge race with many categories. There were categories for solo riders, duo teams, and teams of 3 – 4 riders. In addition, there were categories for single-speeders, geezers (50 years old and over for solo riders or an average of 50 or more for teams), men, women, coed, and juniors (18 and under). Knowing we probably weren’t up to entering a 12 hour race as a duo, Miniskibum and I recruited another father/son duo and entered as a 4-person team. Although our team was half youngsters and half geezers, we didn’t qualify for either of those presumably less-challenging categories, and we entered in the open category.

Miniskibum hits the last stretch of dirt road to close his first lap.
Miniskibum hits the last stretch of dirt road to close his first lap.

We almost had some difficulty right from the get-go. A combination of factors delayed our arrival in Cortez, CO where Kokopelli Bike and Board was staying open until 8pm the night before the race for race packet pickup. By about 6pm, it was obvious we weren’t going to make it, but by how much we would miss it remained unknown. I called the shop and asked for instructions. They put one of the race organizers on the line who explained there would be a 15 minute window of opportunity at the race site the next morning between 0630 and 0645. Ouch! She added, however, that it was much easier to handle it the night before and said if we got there by 8:10 or 8:15, we’d probably be alright.

We pressed on as efficiently as we safely could under the rapidly-darkening night skies. We reached the city limits at 8:20 and I called again just in case they were still hanging around—they were. We hit the door at 8:25, and they had our stuff ready and treated us like long-lost friends. They could just as easily been nasty for our tardiness or at least brought out the sourpuss faces, but they were some of the the most genuinely-warm and appreciative people I’d ever encountered. Our first experience with the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde was an overwhelmingly positive one.

Evan closes out his first lap.
Evan closes out his first lap.

The start and end for the race was at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds, just across the street from Phil’s World. The fairgrounds also provided free camping for all racers. By arriving so late, we were relegated to one of the less-desirable campsites and had to set up camp in the dark. It was 10 by the time we were bedded down and we had to get up for an 0700 start gun, which meant a rise-and-shine of about 0530 – ouch!

I had proposed running the strongest rider in the first lap, the second strongest rider in the second lap, and so on until all four of us had ridden, and then rerunning the same rotation. My fellow dad, by far the strongest rider counter proposed letting the kids ride first. Everyone seemed to think that was okay. His son, while a stronger rider than mine, wasn’t keen on going first, so Miniskibum took the first lap. In addition to hitting the trail cold, this also meant having to run the first 200 yards in a frenzied LeMans-style start, getting bounced around like a human pinball on his way to his bike.

The inside of the beef barn at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds, where riders check in at the end of each lap and pass the baton to the next rider.
The inside of the beef barn at the Montezuma County Fairgrounds, where riders check in at the end of each lap and pass the baton to the next rider.

Miniskibum returned from this first lap pretty well whipped, and praying not to have to do another. The other son, Evan, took off and returned with an exceptional lap time, followed by his father who turned in a real scorcher, then it was time for the weak link–me.

Phil’s World is a fun trail system, but it loses some of its appeal about the 40th time you hear “on your left.” I kept pushing harder and harder until I could push no harder. One of the nice things was that there were temporary mile markers to let you know your progress. I saw mile 11 and thought “only 5 to go… over 2/3 there.” As I thought “okay, I should be seeing mile 12 about now,” I came upon a miler marker… 11! Clearly, my mind was playing tricks on me. I must have seen 10 and my mind, in a classic case of wishful thinking, had convinced me it was 11. Seeing 11 “twice” was a bit disheartening. The saving grace was that, at this point, I knew I was getting close to the “Rib Cage,” a portion of Phil’s World that will put an ear-to-ear grin on any riders face no matter how knackered he may be.

My steed, prepositioned for my first lap.
My steed, prepositioned for my first lap.

Upon my return with a somewhat disappointing lap time, it was Miniskibum’s turn and he had overcome his earlier malaise and had his race face on. As we passed the baton, I told him I’d add an extra $20 to his new bike fund (I had already bribed him by offering $1.50 for every minute his lap time was shorter than mine) if he beat his first lap time. He ended up crushing it by a full six minutes and beat me by a full 15! So this race was to cost me an extra $42.50, and I was thrilled to pay every penny.

Evan and Chris both wore themselves out pushing so hard on their first laps such that they were disappointed with their second laps. While still a very respectable lap and far faster than mine, Chris returned 20 minutes past the cutoff for being able to release a team member for a final lap. That rider would have been me. While I would have welcomed the opportunity to up the team’s lap count from 7 to 8, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit relieved about not having to go back into battle. There were teams who completed 9 laps and a good number who completed 8, but 7 was the most common number, as well as a few 6s and 5s. Overall, we finished 24th of 37 in the class and, more importantly, had a great time doing it. The $75 per person ($300 for our entire 4-person team) was a bit steep, but after covering necessary expenses, the balance went to a worthy local charity, so nobody balked.

A rider completes one of the minor features on the Phil's World course.
A rider completes one of the minor features on the Phil’s World course.

We came home with some great swag, including t-shirts, posters, and energy drink mixes. A local restaurant, Lotsa’ Pasta, catered a great spaghetti and meatball dinner for all racers and volunteers.

As part of the fun, the race was given a sci-fi theme, and many racers showed up in costume such as Martian antennae affixed to their helmets or, in one case, a rider decked out in full “Rocket Man” regalia.

At one point, the course became infested with Gremlins!
At one point, the course became infested with Gremlins!

After the race, there was much relief, and the whole campground was in full party mode… until the thunderstorm hit. Again, it seems I can’t go to the desert without it raining. (If you’re in a drought, gimme’ a call and I’ll show up and make it rain… for a nominal fee, of course!). We wanted to get an early start on the 6-hour drive home Sunday to minimize time away from the family on Mother’s Day, and it was a good thing we did. Just as the last of the tents were loaded into Chris’ vehicle, it started to hail! We headed out, slower than desired, and encountered the full gamut of weather conditions on the way home. Mother’s Day we were hit with a full-on blizzard going over Wolf Creek Pass, which had most cars, and especially the semis, at a complete standstill. I love springtime in the Rockies—and I also love four wheel drive!

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Happy Mother’s Day!

The entire experience was a hoot from start to finish. Even when waiting for me to find a place to let them pass, riders were pleasant and friendly, often saying “no rush… when you get around to it.” Even the intensely competitive ones who actually had a chance of winning were agreeable. It was a magnificent display of competitive sportsmanship. If you’re looking for a fun and easy way to break into endurance racing, or if you’re a competitive rider looking for a fun venue in which to push yourself and your competitors, I highly recommend making a run at the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde.

The happy team after the race.
The happy team after the race.

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