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.
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.
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 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 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 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 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.
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.