Logan's car is parked next to me. We've been friends since 2014, and he's seen me at my lowest and has been there for good times on and off the bike. "Okay... We're going to drive back to Kory's and get her mom's car, then come back here and keep on going to Spokane."
Kory and her family have done too much for me. Kory and I joined the Western Washington University Cycling Team back in Fall 2013, and have been friends ever since. Her family has fed me, housed me, and even taken care of me when I was sick on multiple occasions.
I pump my body full of hot cheetos in an attempt to drown out the anxiety. My brother Gus buys the guilty pleasure snacks. I wouldn't be in this mess if it weren't for him. I mean that in the best way possible. Ever since I was six I was chasing after him on his much cooler, shinier bike.
All three of them are here to support me before, during, and after. We wait patiently for the tow truck to arrive to bring us back west... Then finally we will be back on our way to Spokane.
I am on my way to Eastern Washington to participate in a 24 Hour Mountain Bike Race. In the months leading up to this, I've told myself that the goal was just to finish. But wouldn't it be nice to be competitive? Why am I doing this? Why not?
Just one day later after my car kicked the bucket, I proved my self-worth, my willingness to ask for help, my mental fortitude, my persistence, and my commitment to self-improvement.
I mean no insult to past family and friends when I say that this is the most important thing that I have accomplished.
"Jim-BOR-ee?" An older man scratches his head at the banner being held up behind me as I pedal at a walking pace towards the start line. Like jamboree.
A sea of white faces surrounds me and I look for any shade of black or brown. I'm donning the black and orange Major Taylor Project jersey. It stands for strength and camaraderie amongst young people of color. Marshall "Major" Taylor rode 1732 miles in six days without stopping hardly at all. In 1899 he had the entire white cycling community rooting against him. If he could do that, then I can do this.
I roll up with my hardtail. Most everyone else has full suspension bikes with fancier, lighter, more precise components. I'm ready for a good thrashing. There are eyes on me. I usually shy away from being in the spotlight. But this is my moment to represent my community. This is my moment to show exactly why my parents sacrificed so much in order to create a better life for me.
|On your left|
I start to walk, then comfortably jog. I hold my GPS computer and phone in one hand to prevent it from flying out of the pockets on my lower back. There's a Lärabar in my back left pocket, and a mocha flavored energy gel hugging my skin underneath my jersey. The downhill section is so backed up that we have to walk. When I get back to the start, I start to walk again. "Making it look easy," someone says! I retrieve my bike and calmly pedal off to start the first lap of many around this 12.66 mile course.
The course starts with a hill steep enough to cause me to strain. My heart rate elevates beyond what is sustainable -- 172 BPM. The gradient levels out. I try to ease up but a line of riders has formed and I am sandwiched in the middle. I hold their pace in fear of sacrificing my spot.
The next section is labeled "New Rocky Uphill to Fast Single Track." Stones twice the size of a fist are planted across the trail, and the only way through is over them. Riders can power their way through without being methodical about their line choice and get lucky (especially with dual suspension). Obviously the intelligent thing to do is to think about your line long before it is necessary. The technicality slows the line to a crawl and I have to stop several times, attempting not to put my foot down. Unsuccessful.
The trail weaves between ponderosa pines. I'm granted a false sense of security by the beauty of this place. It's punctuated by the jagged rocks of "Troll Pavement." A left hook turn brings me to "5 Minute Hill," which I clean in 5:01 with a spirited pace. Finally the line of riders breaks and I am able to have some breathing room and flex my pace.
The "Fast and Fun Single Track" that follows means that Checkpoint #1 is ahead. I see the familiar face of Fiona, who raced in the same collegiate cycling conference as I did. What follows immediately afterwards is "Devil's Up," a short but steep kicker hill that increases in gradient as it goes along. Oh, and rocks. Lots of inconveniently placed ones. Two more hills follow.
Three red arrows pointed down signify "Devil's Down" to the left -- a rocky and uneven face that narrows to a loosely packed chute. A crash here would certainly end someone's race. "Angel's Down" is the easier option to the right, which I take for the first lap, not having pre-ridden the course at all.
"Bill and Ted's Adventure" soon becomes the bane of my wrists' existence. Rocks, roots, and rapidly changing surface textures make this trail a place for the faint of heart to throw in the towel.
Just when I think the difficulty is over, and I can enjoy a downhill to the finish line, the gradient kicks up again on "No Little Vietnam For You" and "Pre Spine Hill." Thankfully a water stop is in between with enthusiastic volunteers.
"Gas Line Down" is an anticlimactic downhill not steep enough to carry speed with exhilaration. I wait patiently and coast, eager to pedal. But I should save every ounce of energy I have. The forest opens up to the "Old Shooting Range." I stare up at the sky. I'm sure it will be a magnificent scene during the night.
I reenter the forest and take a bend to the left. The sight of tents and RVs along the finishing straight is comforting.
I press the lap button on my GPS computer as I duck under the gate to get into the finishing tent. My computer reads 1:06:33. The time has been set. "Number six!" The announcer reads the number plate on the front of my bike. "Jim --" I expect him to say my last name incorrectly. "La-BAY-an." There it is. No one ever gets it right. I nod towards him. "'Scuse me. It's La-bi-en with a long 'I' sound." He nods to me. "Sorry."
I continue to press the lap button every lap and my confidence grows. 1:02:38. Climb "5 Minute Hill." 1:07:19. Clean "Devil's Up." 1:05:57. Descend "Devil's Down." 1:05:42. Take a stretch break at the "Old Shooting Range." 1:08:27. My consistency fuels my ego.
I reach around to the back of my seat to check if it's still there. A tag with specks of mud flaps around. "SOLO," it reads. Lap after lap, riders politely pass and say, "Go solo!" Even the most winded racers mutter it politely. I feel like a celebrity.
"Keep it up solo! Are you Jim?"
"Thank you!" I smile. "Uh yeah. Who are you?"
"I'm Tara. Your brother told me all about you when I was sitting with my team. You're doing so great! Keep it up!"
Her positivity is contagious.
"Yeaaaaaaah I'm gonna take my horse to the old town road. I'm gonna riiiiiide 'til I can't no more..."
Logan's speaker plays "Old Town Road" absurdly loud as he and Gus chase after me down the finishing straight. Logan spanks my right side and it stings. Giddy up. I had just told my team that I would stop in three laps to change into my warmer clothes for the night shift. I run my timing chip over the sensor and it registers the beginning of my 8th lap.
|Climbing "First Hill"|
Autopilot kicks in. I'm no longer trying hard to concentrate or to pedal or even to steer. I can't feel the fatigue in my legs or the numbness in the outside of my palms. Flow. The only thing that pulls me out of this state is the emptiness in my stomach. My nutrition cycle becomes something I am unfamiliar with. Eat even just one granola bar and my body rejects it. The margin between feeling bloated and bonking is becoming smaller. I chew methodically on a quarter of a PROBAR, which I consider to be the holy grail of cycling food. The taste is lost on me, and I feel like throwing up.
I push the button to activate my lights. There are isolated twinkles of water in the air. It can't be... I'm in denial and decide to push my luck right until the rain hits.
Logan stands at the corner before the finishing straight, signaling with a megaphone that Gus and Kory have my jersey and a water bottle further down on the right side. It could be an easy grab. I could do it without stopping. I see a familiar blue jersey waving in the air. I put my hand up to wave: "Next lap."
The only thing in my head is the desire to keep this sensation going. I come to the finishing straight again, but I make out Gus's purple jacket over by the tent. They must be expecting me to pull in. I don't.
I pull out my phone during at the bottom of "First Hill," and text the group, "one more lap." While my phone is out, I take the opportunity to look at the live results. All great except... One lap reads 1:56:00. That's wrong. That's impossible. I run the scenario of each break I took through my head. That can't be right.
The rain settles in, and I start to get soaked to the core. I look down at my thighs and they are glistening. My socks are soggy. I should be cold.
"I'm an idiot," I state as I turn left towards the team canopy.
"We have a nice clean jersey for you sitting in this chair." Kory makes a change of clothes sound enticing.
"I dunno. If I change into that now and it keeps on raining, I won't have anything else to change into if I want to." I've never had any more conviction than I do in that moment. "Okay, I'm actually going to take a nap now." I make the decision to sleep in my wet clothes, hoping that it will be dry when I wake up.
The rain picks up. The team guides me to Logan's car. I make it halfway onto my sleeping pad and close my eyes. I moan at how this pad has never felt this good. "Noooo Jiiimm," Logan's voice ascends with each word. "You have to get in the sleeping bag." I groan and climb in, transferring one body part at a time, leaving it unzipped.
I'm afraid that my body will finally register that it's okay to ease up and that it's time to use the restroom. In that event, I wouldn't be able run to the porta-potty and peel off my clothes in time.2
I pull the blanket to cover my backside, and I fade. Thunk. The trunk shuts.
"Jim... Nobody's even out there. The rain's stopped. And you're still in third place." Kory's voice is calm and convincing. She's lying, I think. There's no way. I listen carefully for the hollow sound of rain hitting Logan's rooftop. It's only a sprinkle. Regret tingles down my spine. I'm furious at the world right now. I unfold myself and kneel up. I have to.
Gus helps me through the sleeves of his black Gortex jacket. Kory hands me a beanie and I pull it on. I put on wool gloves and a second pair of gel-padded gloves. I psych myself up and pedal away.
3:04 AM: The beanie is long and I have it folded up. The excess fabric causes my helmet to shift which causes my headlight to shift which causes the beanie to droop and cover my eyes.
I walk through the finishing tent, officially finishing my 10th lap. I do a slow cyclocross remount at the exit of the tent but a man steps in front of me. He's holding a clipboard.
"Stop," he says sternly, but without raising his voice. "You can't ride in here." I stumble as I hit the brakes.
Are you serious? I wasn't even in the tent unless you count my back tire. He makes me wait 5 seconds. It seems like some kind of power trip. "Ok you can go."
I had been doing this every single lap, and no one had bothered to mention this to me.
I look back at him as I do another cyclocross remount (slower this time). We lock eyes. Lashing out in anger or arguing wasn't going to help my case. "Sorry..." I say. No response.
It's moments like these -- when I admit fault -- that my morale begins to die and I start to believe myself incapable.
The tightness in my legs between when I went to bed and now is night and day. I don't feel any fatigue. I climb "First Hill" and think to myself how much I don't want to do this. I want to be asleep. I feel water coming down my face, and I recognize that I am crying. I sob, but continue to ride.
A rider with a gruff voice pulls up alongside me. "How's you're night going," he asks?
"Awww, y'know... Just sorting out some personal problems. I just woke up."
"Yeah, me too. Frankly, I was hustling to catch you just so I could have someone to talk to..."
"I feel you," I almost start crying again. He can't hold my pace any longer and drops back.
I make another left hook turn and refuse to even try. I dismount my bike at the bottom of "5 Minute Hill." I hear easy breathing behind me. It's a younger woman this time. "You know you paid for this right?!" I don't take it personally, but I could have.
"Ha, yeah. That's what I'm doing this for. In it for a bad time."
I see headlamps at Checkpoint #1. "six," I mutter. "Go six!" The two checkpoint volunteers cheer.3
As usual, Checkpoint #1 signals the impending doom of "Devil's Up." I muster all the fortitude I am capable of, and begin a steady yet urgent climb. But I see 1:56:00. I see the man at the tent. I see the fresh pair of clothes I refused to change into. I hear my last name being pronounced incorrectly. A poor and unfocused line choice causes my rear wheel to slip out and my right foot comes off the pedal. I roar with anger.
I'm fueled by my emotions to get up the next two rises. Finally I see the three red arrows pointed down on a white sign, and I steer to the right. "Angel's Down" seems like the more prudent choice.
6:07 A.M.: My mouth doesn't work properly anymore as I feed myself minestrone soup. I have to open wide. My stomach is ravenous but my brain and gag reflex tell me to slow down. It takes all my concentration not to throw up. Gus assures me that it will be okay. I'm 18 hours in.
|Minestrone soup featuring textbook example of helmet hair|
"It feels good to hear that number!" I brighten up. Three quarters of the way through. Now it's the home stretch. I'm greeted by the air getting warmer and the glow of the sun on my neck.
I finally change into a fresh pair of clothes and take off my lights. The mud is wiped from my bike and the doubt is flushed from my mind. I victoriously swipe my timing chip over the sensor and begin lap number 12.
My times become consistent again and I fall into the rhythm. 1:14:17. 1:24:20. 1:19:06.
Some number crunching takes place and I realize that I can do 17 laps. Not that there is much significance in numbers, but I am 24, and this is a 24 hour race. I was born on December 17. My dad's birthday is January 17. It would only be appropriate to do 17 laps. If I make it back by 11:59:59 A.M. I will be allowed one last timed lap. But why would I do another one just to not have it count?
11:59 A.M.: The announcements over the P.A. system get louder and I make the final bend. I stand up and sprint conservatively, leaving some energy left in the tank -- just in case.
"Let's hear it for number six! Solo rider Jim La-BAY-an."
I take a sharp left after exiting the finish line tent to head back towards my team. 16 laps. I still feel cautious letting this last lap escape me. I know I have at least one more left in me. Then I remember why I did this -- why I'll continue to do things like this. It's not for other people. Not for numbers. Not for podiums. It's for me. And that is enough.
We walk back towards our tent, and I'm congratulated every few steps.
|Solo Men Age 19-39 podium accompanied by Kory, Gus, and Logan|
Altogether, I rode for a total of 19 hours 32 minutes and 51 seconds. I rode over 200 miles and climbed over 11,000 feet. I got two hours of sleep, and the rest of the time was spent taking small breaks. I narrowly earned third place by finishing 9 minutes ahead of fourth place -- and extremely narrow margin for a 24 hour race. More data can be found here for all you cyclists, data nerds, or for those curious enough...
That being said, I could have done better. If I had not slept and ridden through the rain, I might be sitting in second place. But that is not the point. I laid everything that I was willing to offer down on the line. And that is enough.
I chose cycling as my method of self-empowerment at a young age. I picked up cycling as a competitive sport in 2013. I traveled all across the Western United States. I trained for 15 hours a week since the end of February. I developed neurotic sleeping habits. I sacrificed my car, which will take $3600 or more to repair. My wrists and back were in extreme pain for a few days after the event. All to chase this dream.
As for my team: I cannot thank Gus, Kory, and Logan enough for their support, care, and love. I don't deserve the treatment they gave me.
This was just the beginning. Now that I know what I am capable of, I am hungry for more. Here are a few sparks:
- Cross-Washington Mountain Bike Route -- a rugged and self supported 683 mile race from Washington Coast to Idaho Border
- Cascade Ultra -- a 452 mile mixed terrain race around Washington
- Dirty Kanza XL -- a 350 mile race through the Flint Hills region of east-central Kansas
- Tour Divide -- a 2745 mile self supported mountain bike race from Canada to Mexico along the U.S. Continental Divide
- Paris Brest Paris -- one of the oldest and most prestigious ultra-endurance cycling events in the world
Whatever it is, it will be something dumb and only a little fun.
Again, thank you for reading. Thank you to the people who helped fund this experience. Thank you to the people who trained with me. Thank you to the people who supported me. And thank you for being a part of this. I couldn't have done this without you.
1Before their first lap only, all riders have to complete a running course.↩
2 It's common to wear bib shorts while cycling. The spandex shorts are held up by suspender straps. In order to use the bathroom, you have to take off your top layer, remove the suspender straps, then pull down the shorts. Clearly going to the bathroom or changing takes a long time.↩
3 Racer numbers are recorded at each of the three checkpoints to ensure that riders are staying on course. During the dark hours, racers had to call out their numbers to make sure checkpoint volunteers were recording the correct numbers.↩