The 24 Hours of Rapelje might be the most laid back 24-hour mountain bike race that exists. For the past nine years, the community of Rapelje, Montana opens their doors and lets a group of random mountain bikers pedal around their cow pasture for a whole day. The community consists of maybe 50 people, some houses, a post office, church, a café, and some other old buildings. Over the weekend I heard someone joke that Rapelje was founded when a group of people were trying to make their way to Oregon, but they got stuck in the mud and couldn’t get out (this joke will make more sense in a bit). Anyway this venue serves as Montana’s only 24-hour race, so I decided that it would be the perfect time to make my first 24-hour solo attempt with almost no pressure.
After spending the weeks leading up to the race, trying to prepare, asking previous winners more questions than they wanted to answer, I packed up my car and headed out towards Eastern Montana on Friday afternoon. Hellgate Dave simply told me “don’t fall asleep” before I left town towards the unknown. A stop was made in Bozeman to join forces with some of the Mules, and make sure that there was enough beer to last the weekend. We rolled into what would become 24 hour town, and in due time we were pedaling along the course to get a sneak peak. We skipped the second half of the course, so we could make it back to town and grab some food at the café. With full bellies we headed back to camp, where more of the Mules had gathered. The rest of the evening was spent sharing our upcoming strategies, what food we intended to eat, and drinking beer around the fire. A big topic of conversation was the weather reports, which were calling for rain on Saturday and Sunday, however Muleterro Cory was quick to chime in that he didn’t think it would rain, and then neglected to knock on wood because he is a jackass.
By 10:30 on Saturday racers gathered in front of the café to receive our final instructions for the race. I was starting to feel really nervous, and kept telling myself to just take it easy and not kill myself while the sun was up, remembering the pearl of wisdom I had once heard at the Old Pueblo, “the real race starts at midnight.” At 11 the cannon went off, and we were all running towards our bikes. None other than Bill Schultz had offered to hold my bike for me, and I managed to be in the top 10 after the run, and had moved up to fourth by the time we hit the trail. I am using the term trail very loosely when describing the course, some portions was literally just riding through a field trying while following pink flags. I was later informed by the race organizer that in order to create the trail they drag a bunch of chains behind an ATV, but were not able to do that this year due to rain. The course included obstacles like cow and pig crap, cactus, the occasional gopher hole, and plenty of rough sections that I figured would have my taint rubbed raw by 6 a.m. Climbs were either long (less than three two minutes worth) and gradual, or short (15 seconds long) and steep. Despite all of my preconceived notions about eastern Montana mountain biking, some of the sections of trail were very enjoyable, and by the end of lap one I was the fourth person to come through, and leading the solo category.
Laps two through six went by without incident, the biggest problem I had to encounter was stopping to take a leak after the fourth lap. Bill Martin managed to pass me for the solo lead, and I was doing my best to try and keep a pace that wouldn’t blow my legs up later in the night. I felt like I was doing a good job of eating and drinking during the race, my legs felt surprisingly good, with the only big worry being the dark clouds off on the western horizon. On my fourth lap I passed my friend Meg who was busy putting the hurt on the solo womens field, and we wished each other encouragement before I headed off into the long straightaway with a terrible headwind. Triple Ring Bob was kind enough to fix me a bottle of Gatorade in between laps, which I would consume while in the pits, and would also tell me how far behind Bill I was (about fifteen minutes by the end of lap six).
Right before heading out for my seventh lap I made the decision to bring a rain jacket with me, based on the fact that I was seeing lightning get closer to the town during my sixth lap. I headed out towards the west, riding directly towards the dark clouds, and lightning. I decided to ride the first portion of the course a little faster than I would have liked, mainly because I wanted to start heading east as quickly as possible. Since the bad weather was coming from the west towards the east, I figured if I was heading east I wouldn’t be able to see the lightning, and would be able to trick myself into think that weather was fine. As I rode up one of the longer climbs, the small rain drops began to fall, and once I finished the final short steep climb, the wind had picked up, the raindrops were bigger, the thunder was louder, and the lightning was closer. I stopped to put on my jacket at the top of the final climb, and as I started the final descent the heavens opened up in a manner that required Noah and his arc.
For anyone what has ever ridden in areas of the northern plains, you probably knows that when the soil gets wet out there it will turn into a peanut butter like consistency. My bike collected so much mud that I didn’t even bother to try and carry it because it probably weighed 70 pounds. As the rain kept dumping, the soil became over saturated and the runoff started to form small rivers on the road. I spent a couple minutes removing as much mud as possible, then started to ride in the river, which kicked up enough water so that my bike wasn’t collecting as much mud, and was still rideable. By the time I made my back to the start finish area, the race director was informing everyone that the race was on hold until further notice. The primary concern was the lightning, with the secondary concern being the condition of the course. I made a trip to the showers to warm up, then headed to the café to grab some food while the powers that be tried to decide what to do. By 10 pm we were told that if the race started back up it would be no earlier than 5 a.m. The course would need some time to dry out before we could ride on it, and with the sun having already set, the outlook wasn’t good.
At this point I decided to at least take some time to get my gear set up so that if the race did get started back up I would be ready. A fire was lit, beers were consumed, there was talk of a naked crit, and all who stayed awake were treated to one of the greatest lightning shows I have ever seen. I decided to try to get some sleep, and with my tent having been soaked by the rains, Meg was kind enough to let me sleep in the bed of her truck. Meg woke me up at 4:50, and the first thing I noticed was the sound of more rain. I knew this meant the race wasn’t going to get started again, so I went back to sleep, and an hour and half later official word came down from the director. Despite the racing being called off, the fine people of Rapelje still kept their end of the bargain, and as promised kept serving up free pancakes to racers all night into the morning.
With the race officially cancelled everyone waited for a break in the rain to start to back up gear. The most common complaint that I heard was that no one got to do any sort of night riding, and that the race never got to completely unfold (especially for us solo folk). Despite all this, racers gathered down at the café for the awards ceremony. I was recognized as the winner of the solo singlespeed class, Meg won the solo womens class, and Bill won the overall solo title. Bill and I were the only two solo racers to complete seven laps, and we were only beaten by two other teams. Our pictures were taken which in due time will hang on the café walls, and congratulations were exchanged. With everyone’s vehicle being packed, the community of Rapelje once again returned to be a small uneventful town. I was pretty happy with how things went, although bummed out that I never had a chance to try and ride for the full 24 hours. I did have a blast, and do plan to return again next year, and give the solo attempt one more shot.
That rain sucked the life out of me
Posing with the award in front of the Stockman Cafe