My two teammates – both named Erin, both the youngest children in their families, both fairly quiet souls measuring 5’2 and weighing in at 103 pounds a piece – are capable of tooting cute little rainbows every once in awhile. I’ve witnessed it. But racing your bike all night long is disgusting business, and I know neither Erin was able to squeeze out a rainbow during 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest. Sure, they both managed their self-care better than me – cleaning up with baby wipes in between laps, changing their shammies and socks, and avoiding gut bombs like the 12 ounce bag of BBQ chips I destroyed at 2 a.m. – but they were still bloated and covered in a sticky film of snot, sweat and dust by the time it was over. Fortunately, 24-hour racing is also exhilarating, and 24 Hours in the Enchanted Forest hosts a course our Giant bicycles (a Pique, Lust, and Anthem) devoured. So, the three of us were able to channel our stoke the entire race and pretend we were warrior princesses lap after lap.
Unlike the two Erins, I’m the oldest daughter in my family and suffered through most of elementary school with a body mass bigger than the boys, so I’m going to be a bully here and take credit for our win. The Erins initially signed up as a duo, but I was quick to tell them racing duo is painfully hard, they wouldn’t have enough lights for the night laps, and they’d probably hate each other by the end of it. They saw right through me. They knew I was jealous because I’d asked one of them to race duo with me a month prior and she’d said no. I barged my way into the situation by saying unverifiable things like, “I’ve done more 24 hour racing than any other woman in the southwest,” and, “we’ll beat all the men’s teams if we signup as a team of four.” They eventually conceded, because they are nice women and Flagstaff is a small community, not because they were impressed with my 24-hour race reputation, as much as I wanted that to be the case. I talked another fast friend into joining us, and my four-woman dream team was finalized.
Then the fourth woman, intimidated by the tiny Erins, bailed at the last minute. We were left hanging as a team of three in the four-woman category.
A week before the race, one of the Erins broke her finger. The other one drank so much whiskey at a party she had to spend an entire Saturday on the couch. I raced 100 miles that same weekend, got drunk on the beach with my little brother and sister, and then melted into tears two days later while doing a really intense set of intervals on dead-tired legs in 100-degree heat. “I can’t do this,” I texted my boyfriend from the middle of the intervals, “my season is ruined!”
The drama was high going into the race, but since both Erins are fairly introverted, I pretended to be introverted too. This is how we kept our cool.
On race day, the Erin’s talked me into taking the first lap. I resisted, but when they complimented me by saying I’m good at starting fast, I was flattered and told them I would do it. At the start line, I pushed my way into the sea of dudes near the front. “There needs to be at least one woman in here somewhere,” I said, negotiating my bike in-between two guys who didn’t really want to move over for me.
“There’s a woman right there,” one of them said, pointing a few rows up. Yes, there is one woman right there. You are such an observant boy! One woman to fifty men as far as the eye can see. But don’t you think you can spare this space, right here, so that it’s two women to fifty men?
After my inner monolog with the men subsided, I glanced sideways out of my sunglasses to check out the lone woman a few rows in front of me. She looked fast. Her teammate was taking photos of her. I’m sure she saw me staring.
The Erin’s were right: I get a thrill out of starting fast. I hung out behind the other woman for the first stretch of gravel, but when the road turned to pavement and the crowd spread out I shifted into my smallest gear and took off. I jumped on the singletrack behind the first pack of men – led by the boyfriend of one of the Erin’s – and that was that. Twelve miles of super fun singletrack later, filled with rocks, corners and punchy climbs, and we had ourselves a decent lead.
The rest of the race is mostly a blur. Between laps, I filled water bottles and made hashbrowns for my boyfriend who was racing solo. He didn’t eat the hashbrowns, so I scarfed them all before my last lap. I walked my dog, Bender Pork Chop, in circles around our campsite. I crawled into my sleeping bag for an hour in the middle of the night. I farted in my shammies a lot (the sound always makes me giggle). Unfortunately, there was never a rainbow.
During each of my laps, I was convinced I was riding faster than the last. This was never the case, but sports psychologists say there is power in tricking your brain into thinking anything is possible. On one night lap, I passed a few male zombies, and then one woman who was ripping up the singletrack with way more enthusiasm and style than the men. “Are you on one of those pro women’s teams?” she asked me.
“Yeah!” I said, and immediately wondered if that counted as a lie. In reality, I was the only one on the team who races in the pro field, but the little Erins were riding just as fast as me. That seemed too complicated to explain while riding bikes at one in the morning.
Motivating for my last lap was a little painful. In the field of outdoor education, it’s common practice to ask your co-instructor if they wake up in the morning as a fluffy bunny or an angry wolverine. Their response to the question gives you an idea of how to manage yourself around them while the coffee is brewing. The Erins, I’m sure, are rainbow-tooting bunnies every morning. I’m 100% an angry wolverine. Most mornings during the school year, I turn my alarm clock off while grumbling an expletive and then string together a unique combination of swear words directed at my 8 a.m. class while stumbling to the coffee pot. I performed a similar rendition of this while putting on my shoes for my last lap.
At the exchange tent, I slapped some shammie butter between my legs, inhaled a Honey Stinger gel, and swore under my breath while waiting for one of the Erins. When she arrived, my Camelback was tangled in my coat and she had to help me rearrange my layers. I cussed and cussed and cussed. The boyfriend of the other Erin was standing next to me. “It’s going to be okay, Chase,” he said. “You guys have a big a lead.” He didn’t get it. I mean, he dates a rainbow-tooting fluffy bunny, how could he get it? He thought I was stressed out about losing our lead. I wasn’t. I was just trying to wake up enough to ride a fast lap.
I rode a really fast lap. After the race, we all went to Lotta Burger. The little Erin’s each put back burgers they both said helped their digestive systems feel better. I waited for a rainbow, but they disappointed me and failed to produce one.