The 2011 24-Hours of Moab Live Bicycle Race

October 8th - 9th, 2011

2011 Part 1 - Part 2

Moab, Utah's La Sal Range, from Behind the Rocks race venue, October 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Seventeen Years of Classic Off-Road Bike Racing - Is the 24-Hours of Moab Gone Forever?

     
Sweeping across the roof of my coach, the rain sounded like brushes on a snare drum. Slow to awaken, I realized that I was in Moab, Utah on Saturday, October 8, 2011. As the rain became a steady drone in my consciousness, I thought about the upcoming 24-Hours of Moab off-road bike race, scheduled to start at noon that day. My plan was to create a twenty-four hour internet webcam feed at the race venue, Behind the Rocks. Heavy rainfall could make that task difficult, if not impossible.

Racer Spencer Lacy, of "Rise of the Penguins" team takes off first at the 24-HOM 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)By nine that morning, after traversing several miles of Moab mud, I arrived at the race venue. Under light rain and a threatening sky, I unpacked computers, cables and cameras. Using onsite generator power and a wireless internet connection provided by race promoter Granny Gear Productions, I was soon up and running. Then, a new obstacle arose. For reasons unknown, there was no response from the MoabLive.com servers, collocated in Los Angeles, California. For the next hour, our file transfer protocol (FTP) requests went unanswered. Without cooperation from our servers, there would be no “live feed” that day by Moab Live.

By 11 AM, the rain had stopped and the Moab Live servers began accepting FTP requests. Then, every three seconds, like clockwork, our ancient Dell Windows-XP computer began firing out a new .JPG image to the world. Was anybody watching? Just before race-start at noon on Saturday, the servers again went dark. Rather than fretting about events that I could not control, I headed out to photograph the Le Mans style, running start of the 24 Hours of Moab 2011.

Racer Spencer Lacy has trouble with his right pedal; almost wiping out the BBC America film crew. - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If you have not yet seen it, this may have been your last chance to do so, but more about that later. At noon, a blast from the race gun was so loud that it echoed off the redrocks, half a mile away. Before that echo had returned, hundreds of self-designed athletes began a two-hundred yard foot race. Their goal was to run clockwise around the most famous bush in all of off-road racing, and then back to their bikes, waiting in the racks. Like a lightning bolt of new energy, that lone juniper was point-focus for racer and spectator alike. All had come to experience the universal adrenaline-pump known to the cognoscenti as the 24-HOM.

Sixty-three year old Ray Alters of Team Curly watched as his son, Steve Alters ran in honor of his brother, taken by death in a pedestrian-car accident eighteen months ago. Father Ray would go on later to take his fallen son’s place for two laps of exciting action. With assist from a cane that supported his immobilized left leg, fifty-four year old, separately abled Frank Garduno completed the run. Understandably, he was last to mount up and BBC America film crew in the midst of race action at the 24-HOM 2011, near Moab, UT. - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)ride. Over the next twenty-four hours, Frank completed three 14.93 mile laps, averaging six hours and twenty minutes per lap. With a course elevation between 5,000 and 5,774 feet, Garduno gained 4,080 feet in elevation, all powered by hope, heart and one good leg.

At the morning prerace meeting, Race Director, Laird Knight spoke the words that no one interested in off-road bicycle racing wanted to hear. Registration numbers were down for 2011, resulting in a $50,000 shortfall at the bottom line. Without a quick addition of sponsorship revenue, this would likely be the seventeenth and final 24-Hours of Moab. At Behind the Rocks, stunned silence hung in the cold, damp air. Then, with a shift of energy that lasted for the next full day, Laird Knight encouraged everyone to go out, have fun and to ride this race as if it were his or her last one.

Outside of a few U.S. mountain biking enclaves, like Santa Cruz, California Racer Nick Ybarra mugs for the BBC America film crew at the 24-HOM 2011, near Moab,  UT. - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)and the Front Range in Colorado, traditional U.S. media has largely ignored the sport. Skateboarding gets more live airtime. Soon, I was heartened to see British TV presenter and adventurer Ben Fogle, with his BBC Worldwide. All weekend, they taped footage for a segment of their upcoming, “A Year of Adventures” reality series. Ironically, the Moab segment will not air until after the decision to keep or cancel the 24-Hours of Moab 2012. What the mountain biking sport and the 24-Hours of Moab need is immediate sponsorship by a U.S. television network or other caring sponsor. Although the BBC focus as mainly on Fogle, their upcoming episode might go down in history as the only mass-market television presentation of this fabled event. Either way, everyone knew that this race was history – in the making.

While I ruminated on the economic pressures surrounding this classic race, the gun sounded and the race was on. Spencer Lacy, lead racer on the “Rise of the Penguins” team was first to complete the run and mount his bike. He Separately-abled racer Frank Garduno flashes a smile after completing his first of three laps at the 24-HOM 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)was also first to veer off course, coming almost wiping out the BBC soundman. Maybe that mad penguin atop Spencer's helmet wanted some attention. With physical disaster averted, the Moab-style nuclear dust storm created by one thousand feet pounding the desert ebbed, flowed and then vanished. With their own Ben Fogle already on the course, the BBC team finished their scene with tight focus on photogenic Men’s Solo Rider Nick Ybarra. Famous for winning slow races, Nick exhibited perfect form as he entered the first of his nine laps around the fourteen-mile course. The smile on Nick’s face seemed to say, “Look, Mom, I’m on TV”. Nick’s mother will be proud to know that he did not say. “Look, Ma, no hands!”

In October 2012, what the world needs is a live video-feed from the 24-Hours of Moab. With our limited resources, all that Moab Live could do this year is provide a proof-of-concept, employing a live webcam at race central. From noon until one PM Saturday, I felt like a high school audio-visual monitor who could not get his 16-millimeter film projector to work. During that break, I Eventual Men's Solo Champion enters the scoring tent in second place on Saturday afternoon - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)snapped a picture of then second-place, but eventual Men's Solo winner, Andy Jacques Maynes as he entered the scoring tent. After an hour of racing, the Moab Live internet servers must have heard our plea. Around that time, our servers came back on-line and then stayed up for the remainder of the race.Our thanks go out to Mark Williams of TheHostPros.com. His all-night effort got Moab24Live.com webcam feed online again. Such are the unsung heroes and volunteers who make the 24-Hours of Moab the unique event that it is. 
 
On Sunday morning, after eighteen hours of racing, the Granny Gear wireless connection failed, leaving our webcam offline for over an hour. Checking status on my new LG Thrill smart phone from AT&T, I saw four-bars lit up on the signal indicator. Turning on its Wi-Fi hotspot function, I reconnected to the Moab Live servers. From then until the end of the race, my cobbled-together wireless connection provided an uninterrupted webcam feed at Moab24Live.com. 

Author (Jim McGillis) in the Scoring Tent at the 24-Hours of Moab 2011 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)After the race was over, the whole experience left me pondering the subject of macroeconomics. If I can put together a live internet broadcast for less than two hundred dollars, why cannot ESPN.com, GoDaddy.com or FoxSports.com fork over $100K for broadcast rights. That is all the money it would take to keep this original, classic race where it should be, Behind the Rocks at Moab, Utah in October 2012.

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The 2011 24-Hours of Moab Live Bicycle Race

October 8th - 9th, 2011

2011 Part 1 - Part 2

Laird Knight, race director and promoter of the 24-HOM surveys the scene - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Final Sunset at the 24-Hours of Moab?  

As off-road mountain bike racing aficionados know, Laird Knight, the race director and promoter of the 24-Hours of Moab may have run his last Moab event. After seventeen successful years conducting the 24-HOM, Laird may be ready to absorb his 2011 losses and move on to other events. This year, team entries at the fabled race fell by almost one-third. Some blame the current economy. I believe otherwise.

In 2008, when I discovered the event, pro teams abounded at 24HOM. Talking to old-timers, I discovered that Honda Motors previewed their snazzy Element vehicle at the race in 2002. In 2008, the race was dubbed the BBC America crew taped the scene over a 24-Hour period - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Suzuki 24 Hours of Moab”, in honor of their sponsorship and participation in the success of the event. In 2009, Rebecca Tomaszewski and Dax Massey teamed up to win the Mixed Duo Championship, completing seventeen laps and placing 30th overall in the race. In 2010, Shimano, Specialized, Mavic and Baja Designs all had big booths at the venue. In 2011, Dale’s Pale Ale had their beer-bus parked in a prime location, but rumor has it that they paid no sponsorship fee for that honor.

Heading into 2011, sponsors and racers alike looked at their calendars and said, “Maybe next year… There is always a ‘next year’ at the 24-Hours of Moab”. Now, only months later, a 2012 race is unlikely. Searching my race photos from 2011, I found banners or booths sponsored by Baja Designs, Camelbak, Ellsworth, IMBA, Nutro, Serfas, Specialized and Yakima. Perhaps there were others, but suffice to say there was plenty of safety fencing unadorned by advertising logos and signs. Sponsors, both old and new can help offset costs at the event, but Laird has said that too few sponsors is not what would cause him to cancel the 2012 Moab event.

Michelle Reagan of Broke Bike Mountain team enters the scoring tent Saturday afternoon - Click for larger imageLaird recently said, "My take on the team drop is simply the shift in demographics that is taking place in the sport. Many former Moab racers are getting older, having families and not riding as much, let alone racing. The economy might be 10% or 15% but I think the demographic shift accounts for the vast majority of the no-shows."  While that may be true, the number of needed participants in the race is not all that great. An increase of 100-200 new riders in 2012 might tip the scales in favor of staging the event. If I am interested enough to attend the 24-HOM each October, how many others might be likewise interested? Whether they write about it, post a YouTube video or sponsor a race team (real or phantom), it would help. Sponsoring a youth team would create new energy now and boost future-year attendance.

On October 8-9, 2011, where were most of the stars of U.S. mountain bike racing? Finishing twenty-one grueling laps between them, Colin Osborn, John & Pete Gaston and Len Zanni of the Honey Stingers Bee Team were the only Men’s Pro Team in attendance. In 2010, there were nine Men’s Pro teams and three Eventual Men's Solo winner Andrew Jaques-Maynes reacts to being told he better go back out for a 16th lap at the 24-HOM. Click to see his reaction in a larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Women’s Pro teams in the race. Honey Stinger Bee Team, Rebecca, Dax and all you other hot pros; we need you now to express your interest in racing at the 2012 24_HOM.

Here is an animated GIF image of what may be the final sunset at the 24-Hours of Moab. Using our back-up webcam, MoabLive.com was able to capture thirty-five images at the venue. Our old Logitech “Cue ball Cam” could not color-balance the darkness of the scoring tent and the brightness of the setting sun. As the sequence begins, it is midafternoon on Saturday, October 8, 2011. On frame 27, the disk of the sun appears in the gap between the tent roof and the bluff to the southwest. Over the following five frames, the sun, which appears dark blue, shrinks until it sets Behind the Rocks.

Sundown at the 24-HOM 2011 - Is this the final sunset Behind the Rocks? (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Also visible in the five sun-slides is a bubble of new energy light, emanating from the sun’s corona. Behind the Rocks, new energy flowed to the racers on the course, the scorekeepers, fans and the sponsors in attendance. For a moment, all who were present at the race were of one family, and bathed in new energy. Through the lens of a failing webcam, we can see that new energy showering from the sun. Although rarely documented, plasma-flow events are “real”, meaning that charged particles may strike the Earth in any given location. Present that day, but undetected in the bright light was the 2011 Draconid Meteor Outburst. Less than two hours after the race start, our unknown neighbors in the western sky were lobbing as many as 680 meteorites per hour into the Earth’s atmosphere. If I am not mistaken, stardust fell widely Behind the Rocks near Moab that day and night.

Naysayers will tell you that the 24_HOM is an unmitigated disaster, carving up and destroying a fragile desert environment. Before racing started there in the 1990s, the history of the place included the overgrazing of cattle for almost a century. In addition, four-wheel drive or social roads carved up the high plateau. By connecting several existing desert tracks, Granny Gear Productions created a racecourse that has stood the test of time. Yes, some Perenial sponsor, Yakima showed off a rack system on their Subaru - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)racers ignore or misinterpret the course markers. Few racers, however, wish to exchange the singletrack for an uncertain fate in the sagebrush. Those who go off course, do so mainly at night, when fatigue or poor lighting take their toll.

Environmentalist that I am, I believe that Moab’s annual gathering of gearheads and their greater family is too precious to let fade into the western sunset. If you care about the 24-Hours of Moab in any positive way, now is the time to take action.  Rebecca & Dax, Honey Stinger Bee Team and all you other racers, your fans are waiting to hear that you will be in Moab on October 6-7, 2012. Only if you respond, will there be yet another sunset at the 24-Hours of Moab.

In 2008, it was the "Suzuki 24-Hours of Moab" - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)It is time for me to publish these thoughts and let this story go. The outcome notwithstanding, I will be there, Behind the Rocks at sundown on Saturday, October 6, 2012 beaming a live webcast of the sunset to the world. I only hope that the madcap mayhem of a 24-hour bike race will be going on all around me. Until then, I will see you at Moab24Live.com. Happy trails.

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