All day, all night in the desert
October 13, 2007
MOAB, Utah Three years ago, in the forgotten hours of the early morning, Wade Newsom completely lost touch with reality in the Utah desert.Hed been on his mountain bike for 15 hours, grinding, suffering, never losing sight of a singular goal. But nearing the end of yet another 15-mile lap in a night that seemed to drone on forever, Newsom fell off the horse. Just mentally, I didnt think I had it together to spend another hour and a half on my bike, said the 31-year-old Basalt local. You start hallucinating. You start wondering what youre doing and why youre doing it.What Newsom was doing was attempting go a full 24 hours in the saddle in a race hed won the previous year as a member of a four-person team. Instead of just devouring one-lap shifts like he had in 2003, he figured he could stomach the whole 24 Hours of Moab by himself.Fifteen hours in, he realized hed figured wrong.I had to take a couple of hours and rest and get my head back, said Newsom, a regular in the local summer cycling series who races for Basalt Bike and Ski. It was my first year doing the race solo, and its really hard not to get caught up in the moment and hammer the first two laps. I didnt hold back and settle into the thing and look at the big picture.Calling Friday from the Utah desert, on the eve of the 13th annual 24 Hours of Moab the Burning Man of mountain bike races Newsom promised not to make the same mistake twice.After his meltdown in 2004, Newsom took a two-year break from the race. This summer, he decided he wanted another crack at it solo, and devoted nearly all of his training to gaining the endurance needed to go a full 24 in the desert. The urge to go out fast in the cloud of dust that will be todays start at noon will be hard to fight, but Newsom said he has learned his lesson.
Im hoping to push through, he said. This year I know what to expect, and Ive got some great people to help me out. Im just hoping to pull on the reins a little bit at the start, settle in and go round and round for the full 24.There are hundreds of stories like Newsoms all of them testimonials to the spectacle that is 24 Hours of Moab. The first and most storied of full-day races is an event apart and one that has spawned a cult following over the years.This weekend, more than 5,000 people will form a tent city in the desert near the states eastern border, nearly doubling the population of tiny Moab a tourist haven and mountain-biking Mecca.Newsom is one of many valley residents to make the annual exodus to the Utah desert.Most go to race, but there are many others, like Max Taam, who go just to get out of town in the offseason, kick back and soak up some sun.Not that any team of locals wouldnt love to have Taam spinning laps in the desert. The Aspen Mountain ski patroller won the overall title in this years summer biking series for the second year in a row and also finished fourth in the punishing Leadville 100 in August.Ill do it one of these years solo, but I didnt want to do it this year, said Taam earlier this week. I think I might go out and drink and watch.One valley local who is heading to Moab for the first time is 24-year-old Aspenite Tim Clement.An East Coast native who began racing competitively as a teenager and continued competing at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., Clement said a high school friend, now living in Leadville, convinced him to join his four-rider team.Clement, who moved to Aspen two years ago and works at the Ute Moutaineer, said he rides his mountain bike at night often. Hes never bombed singletrack, however, at 4 in the morning.
Its kind of an epic event, one that has a good reputation for fun at the end of the season, Clement said. Physically, this will definitely be a little tougher than a one- or two-hour night ride. Just the sleep deprivation alone should be tough. Most people dont realize how many calories you burn being up all night, let alone exercising.Newsom, like Clement, said the appeal of heading to Moab extends beyond racing. The race presents a challenge, for sure, but its much more than that.There is arguably nothing like being out in the desert, past midnight, churning out laps on slick rock.Im not exactly sure what the appeal is, other than, theres not too many opportunities where you can really go out and push yourself to the limit physically and emotionally, and hopefully persevere, Newsom said.Over the years, Newsom said hes had some interesting encounters in the wee hours of the morning.Ive been out there, and sometimes you come up on somebody at night and their lights are burned out because their batteries are dead, he said. You let them hop in behind you. Theres always some interesting conversations that take place.As Newsom knows, it can get lonely out on the singletrack late at night. While hes had no firsthand experience, he didnt rule out the possibility of romantic late-night interludes in the middle of a lap.I wouldnt be the least bit surprised, he said I dont peak behind rocks when Im out there in the morning, but you never know.Nate Petersons e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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