Pre-Interbike Fun: the 24 Hours of Landahl

How stupid is it to start off the week of Interbike, an event known for grueling days and late nights, with a 24-hour race? I got the opportunity to find out. Turns out, it wasn’t too stupid, only a little bit, and it was a lot of fun.

The race in question was Granny Gear’s 24 Hours of Landahl, taking place near Kansas City, Missouri, September 22-23. Part of a team had been formed with three Dirt Rag art contributors: Melissa Dehner, Kevin Nierman, and Clay Crymes. All that was needed was a staffer or two to round out the team. The offer was put on the table at a meeting, and while I really wanted to go, it didn’t seem like the smartest idea, Interbike preparedness-wise—but nobody else could work it out logistically, so I signed myself up. No problem, right? Justin, our resident trip-planning expert, made me think twice: “I don’t know, the thought of packing for both Interbike and a 24-hour race…” That’s OK, I’ll just pack light. “But what about a bike?” Well, I had to return the beautiful Moots singlespeed 29er I’ve been testing anyway—I could just bring it to the race, then return it in person.

Packing the night before it finally dawned on me how much stuff I’d be lugging: a bike box stuffed with not only a bike but some team kit (we had to look like a real team, of course), four sets of lights (for me and a couple teammates), a few tools carefully selected out of the big rolling box I normally bring (painfully few it seemed, but still somehow weighing a lot), bike clothes for racing, casual clothes for flying and lounging, and some dressier clothes for trying to look respectable at the tradeshow.

So at 11:30 Friday night I found myself struggling through the Kansas City rental car pavilion, dragging the bike box with one hand and my two suitcases with the other, overstuffed messenger bag digging into my shoulder, crossing endless miles of polished stone floor to get to a counter. Next I dragged the assembled pile out to the parking lot, looking for a car with a trunk big enough for the box. By the time I was on the road it was an hour later, and there was no way I was going to be able to find our team’s campsite without causing a ruckus, and I hadn’t even met the team yet. A cheap motel room was in order, where I got a few hours of sleep in a real bed.

Next day the weather was beautiful. Driving from the airport, I passed through downtown Kansas City, through some suburbs and out into the country proper in a little under an hour. I found the race venue easily, more easily than a place to fuel up on tea en route… but Landahl Park is a beautiful, gently rolling wooded area; our campsite was an idyllic grassy clearing under picturesque shade trees. Clay and his girlfriend Lisa were there, along with Melissa and her friend Erin, who decided to do the race solo after the rest of her team bailed. Kevin was there, to be joined later by his wife Annette and their two (cute!) kids. Kevin’s friend Mick (rumored to have Viking heritage) rounded out the team.dscn4303.jpg

At the pre-race meeting, it became apparent that there weren’t too many teams at this still-young event (its popularity probably wasn’t helped by the tornado that forced an early end to the race last year), but that the folks who showed up looked fast. Shaven and sculpted calves were everywhere. But also prevalent were tattoos, unusual facial hair configurations and costumes. There were some teams who were traveling the country, doing every race in the Granny Gear series to go for the overall honors; in fact we ended up camping next to Josh “The Toast” Tostado, who was contesting the series solo. From the start this race had that old-school, hardcore flavor of early 24-hour races.

The course is touted as being 95% singletrack, and I’d have to agree on that figure, and add 100% fun. Before the race I had wondered if a singlespeed was the best choice for Missouri, picturing long, flat fire-road sections, but there was none of that; just twisty, turny, swoopy, and sometimes rocky singletrack threading through the woods. And “threading” is the most accurate word—I lost count of the places where I had to thread the needle through two close trees, and wished for shorter handlebars (or at least a sharp hacksaw) by the end. Threading skills were also required through sections of giant slabs of exposed bedrock, where the trail dove between rocks varying from pedal-high to shoulder-high. There was also a surprisingly difficult rock garden of sorts, in which the trail wound tightly on top of these exposed bedrock slabs, but the smooth stone had random channels through it just big enough to catch a wheel and often going off at oblique angles to the trail. No nasty grinding climbs, no long stretches of spinning like mad. Big-wheeled singlespeeds seemed to be the ticket, and my Mooto-X Uno 29er test sled was joined by Kevin and Mick’s Misfit diSSents and other similar breeds. But be careful what you wish for, as so much fun singletrack demanded utmost attention, and over the course of 24 hours, the mental taxation took its toll as much as nasty climbing would tax one’s legs.
Kevin doing the run
Kevin started us off with the run and a fast first lap. He and Melissa both have local knowledge of Landahl Park, as they live in the area, which no doubt helped negotiate the course’s many out-of-nowhere technical obstacles. Clay was fresh off the Leadville 100—in fact he sported his giant sub-12-hour belt buckle in camp—but last month’s hard miles seemed to help him go fast. We all had good, fun laps, free of mechanicals or crashes… except for our Viking, Mick. He seemed to take the role of bad-luck magnet for the team. Among other things, he was plagued with some rim strip issues and had a bunch of flats. But we all had a nice, easy camaraderie, and such things as 2-hour laps were no problem (in fact that meant Melissa and I got to sleep more!). The goal of “fun” remained paramount and easy to reach. And the weather remained absolutely perfect, sunny and not too hot during the day, nice full moon at night with lovely cool air. In fact it’s the best weather I’ve ever experienced at a 24-hour race.

It was impressive to watch Camp Toast in action next door. Amy, Josh’s girlfriend, was a one-woman support team not only for Josh, but for our team as well, fixing us hot water and lending us forgotten items (like a water bottle in my case, duh, all that packing…). She was a bright, chipper presence in the camp all night and didn’t sleep until Josh’s victory was in the bag the next day. She took note of our chart to estimate lap times, and devised one of her own to keep track of what food and water to give Josh from lap to lap. His times were faster than all of ours, and we were sleeping in between! But even Josh had to admit that the course took a lot out of him. He agreed that the lack of long fire road climbs meant that you couldn’t zone out and take a mental break. In fact he quit around 9:30 a.m. after his win was assured, not out of any sort of laziness (if you could possibly accuse someone who’d just done 17 laps of laziness) but because he simply couldn’t go any more. He lay down on a blanket in the middle of camp and didn’t move for quite a while. When he got up his hands had more blisters on them than I’d ever seen in one place, all up and down his fingers. (And I thought mine were bad.)

As it turned out, all three artists on the team had art appearing in the current issue of Dirt Rag (#131, October 1), so as an instant memento we passed around copies and signed them for one another, and gave one to Laird Knight of Granny Gear as well. Another local riding friend, Ken, hung out with us on Sunday afternoon and took some shots of us relaxing.
Mick refueling Emily kicking back dsc_01820001.jpg
We all had a great time, good enough that there was talk of making it an annual event. It was awesome to meet Melissa, Kevin and Clay and their friends and families, and find out that folks whose creative output you’ve admired for years are great people to hang out with. So was it worth it? Even though I was a little rough around the edges during Interbike week, I say yes, most definitely.

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