Friday, June 6, 2014

24 Hours in the Canyon

I attended my absolute favorite bicycling fundraising event this past weekend.

One of the most beautiful things about cycling is that we're a truly generous bunch.  All an organizer has to do is set up a safe route, provide support at 15 mile intervals, give out t-shirts, and hundreds (or thousands) of cyclists will pay $30-40 for the privilege to ride.  These little rides put a few thousand dollars into the pockets of valued local charity organizations every weekend.

There's even national events touring around the US.  These events are enabled by major sponsorships and attract tens of thousands of riders who cover tens of millions of miles, raising millions of dollars every year to support worthy causes.

Bike MS150
Tour de Cure
Ride to Defeat ALS

Great events, great people, great causes.  As cyclists, we're a truly giving group of people.

There's one event that's unique.  This event provides for riders of every type, gives the opportunity for each participant to push themselves as hard as they want, and is set in one of the most beautiful places in Texas.  And it's the only combined and simultaneous road and mountain bicycle racing event in the US.

It's a race against the clock, just like the disease it fights.  It has races ranging from 6 hours to 24 hours, with awards for those covering the largest distance.

That's right.  24 hours of racing.  Cancer never sleeps.  Why should we?

24 Hours in the Canyon

Ryan Parnell, the event director, is a gift to humanity.  He's truly a great man, an all-around good guy; I have an immense amount of respect for him.  It's clear he puts a tremendous amount of time and effort into making his event, 24 Hours in the Canyon, happen...flawlessly.  The attention to detail, the personal touch for every person who comes in contact with him, the selection of such high quality, wonderful people to help him make it happen.

I just wish I knew more names!

Ryan leads a huge team of volunteers to put on the 24 Hours in the Canyon event every year.  They handle every detail, make sure everything is sorted, make sure everyone (racers and support) are informed.  They have great sponsors, enabling Ryan to put on a variety of events throughout the weekend while giving him access to resources that make his event far and away the best I've ever experienced.

If Ryan and his team make the event, the attendees make the event even better.  These are some of the best people in cycling, people who sincerely believe in giving, work hard to raise money to support the cause and the event.  These are people who sincerely believe in using the bicycle as a way to give a little more.

Even more, there are many cancer survivors among the competitors.  I have the greatest respect for them, they are truly the most hard-core riders I'll ever meet.  The very fact they come out and push after such challenges is amazing; that they do it to help others going through what they survived is truly inspiring.

For many of us, cancer strikes close to home.  One of the members of our 4-person 24-hour mountain bike team is a survivor.  He had the second fastest laps on the team, and put in 7 laps over the 24 hour race, day and night, with little sleep.  I passed many survivors on the course, most riding 12 and 24 hour events, and was awed by their sheer will.

I have nothing but the greatest respect.

As the host location, Palo Duro Canyon State Park is home to some of best, most accessible MTB riding in Texas - a nearly perfect package trail quality and scenery, all within reasonable distance of civilization.

It has roads, too.  There is no discounting the road portion of the event, or the beauty seen from those roads.  For me, the trails are the main attraction.

24 Hours in the Canyon provides no shortage of opportunity for personal challenge.  Friday has a hill climb, a 1 mile race up the 10% average grade switchbacks leading out of the canyon.  There are categories for both men and women, and categories for road bikes, geared mountain bikes, and single-speed mountain bikes.

I can't imagine doing that climb on a single speed, particularly not a single-speed mountain bike.  That's truly hard-core.

There are cash awards for the fastest climbers, but that's really not the point.  A good friend of mine was the last one up the climb last year.  He is fighting cancer, yet still rides 3-4 days a week and rode in the 2013 two-man 12 hour race after finishing the hillclimb.  For him, finishing the climb without stopping was a great accomplishment, one that I give immense respect.

Then there's the main events: solo or team, all male / all female or mixed, 6, 12, 24 hours, road or mountain, single speed or geared.  It's almost guaranteed there is an event for you.  You don't have to be there to win; the fact you're there, the fact you're challenging yourself, is a victory itself.

The starts for the main events is staggered through Saturday and Sunday, culminating in a common end at noon on Sunday.  The start of each new event infuses new life into the course, adding a palpable excitement even as fatigue begins to wear at the longer-distance racers.  As 6 hour racers begin to pass the 12 and 24 hour racers, you can feel the transfer of excitement, an increase in will; the pace picks up.

If you're looking for an exceptional event, with truly wonderful support and exceptional participants; if you're looking for a personal challenge with opportunity to race your own race, as you want to race; if you want to support a worthy cause and know that everything you do is going to support that cause, this is your event.

Ryan and his team of volunteers run 24 Hours in the Canyon as one of the best organized, friendliest, professional, and beautiful endurance races in Texas.  Don't take my word for it.  Come down and see for yourself.

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