Dirt Rag World Tour: Kona 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo
By Justin Steiner
When the opportunity to travel to the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo for the third leg of the 2008 Dirt Rag World Tour came about the office, Shannon and I wasted no time in signing ourselves up. I heard great things about this event in the past, and heading to the desert in February sounded like a fantastic idea. Preparing for the Dirt Rag inter-office cage match wasn't necessary, it seemed as though no one else was interested. Fine with us, more time to prepare for fun in the sun.
Shannon picked me up for an early Valentine's Day departure. As we skittered around on the ice loading my overweight luggage into his car, it was apparent that we were both looking forward to sunny skies and 60°-70° highs. Making it to the airport with plenty of time to spare, we settled in for a day of traveling. The only noteworthy travel experience on the trip out, came in the form of airport security at Chicago/Midway airport. Unfortunately, I wasn't quick enough to get a photo of the Segway-mounted airport security officer rolling around without bothering to buckle his skate-style helmet. Quite a scene it was, typical American physique; over-weight with a little blue leather cop vest doing its best to cover the massive belly spilling out from underneath. Note to self: keep the camera handy.
Arriving in Tucson, it was apparent the weather forecast had changed drastically since we last looked. A cold front was coming through with wind gusting to 40 mph, rain, snow, and cold temps. Great, we were hoping to leave all of that crap back in the 'Burgh. Since the sun was setting and we hadn't yet setup camp, we graciously accepted CJ and MaryEllen's invitation to crash at their Bed and Breakfast; Way Out West. There, we had the pleasure of meeting Judy and Roy, who had traveled from England to race the Old Pueblo for Roy's 50th birthday. We all settled in for the evening, partaking in a few beverages, and enjoying a wonderful meal prepared by CJ.
We awoke Friday morning to steady precipitation fluctuating between rain and snow about every 20 minutes. After a stupendous breakfast by CJ including quiche, homemade muffins, fresh fruit, and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, we packed up the cars for the trip to the race venue. The nearly 10 mile dirt road (read: mud road) drive back to the venue was a blast, but we were certainly happy to be driving a rental as we drifted all four wheels around some of those muddy corners. While setting up camp, it didn't take long for both Shannon and I to realize that you can't touch anything in desert without painful results. We both managed to get a leg full of cactus before the van was unloaded. Another note to self: keep the bike on-trail, hitting a cactus at speed might hurt worse than a medieval torture device.
Fast forward to Saturday morning, were we awoke to snow-covered tents. Yikes, guess it is still February. While MaryEllen and CJ held down the booth, Shannon and I secured our bicycles for the race. Kona was gracious enough to provide Shannon with a Kula Deluxe 2-9 and myself with a Hei Hei 2-9. The Hei Hei is an all new bike, while the Kula Deluxe has been added to the Kula line for 2008. Kona's Kevin Hall had our bikes setup nicely; all we needed to do was dial in our riding positions and tune suspension settings to taste. Stay tuned for first-ride impressions of both bikes to appear on the Dirt Rag website.
As the Noon race start rolled around, overcast skies began to break, allowing the sun to peek through. Mother nature was right on schedule. Shannon took one for the Dirt Rag dynamic duo, opting (wink, wink) to slog through the run. We busted out 3 laps apiece before deciding to catch some shut-eye around midnight, since we still had to work, and all. Waking Sunday morning, Shannon decided he would work the booth—allowing me the opportunity to enjoy two more relaxed laps of the Old Pueblo course. And, what a wonderful course it was. Fast and flowing, certainly a power rider's course. Dodging cacti kept things interesting, at times the course felt like a cactus slalom. Other sections of the course felt like a pump track—to the extent that I was able to pump my way up some of the short risers. Though most of the course could be best described as "tacky" in the early laps, things continued to dry throughout the race. Eventually the ground was firm enough for the racing line to take on a black hew due the accumulated rubber on the trail. The downhill run back to the start/finish was truly a treat, had me wishing for a few more miles of similarly fast downhill. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the free-range cattle that call the Old Pueblo home.
All in all, the 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo was a marvelous event. Todd Sadow and his team at Epic Rides put on a wonderful show. It was hard for me to imagine the amount of work, and planning, required for an event with 3,000+ people in attendance and 1650 racers to go off so smoothly. Special thanks to MaryEllen and CJ for all of their hard work and help. Also, thanks to Panaracer, WTB, Kenda, and Jagwire for providing tires and cable sets for new and renewing subscribers. Thanks to all of you who stopped by the booth to say hello and provide words of support and encouragement, we wouldn't be here without you.
Ed note: Visit the Dirt Rag Blog for Shannon and Justin's "first ride" reports on the new Kona Kula Deluxe 2-9 and Hei Hei 2-9.
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