Kyle Robinson and Dave Hammer competed in the National 24-Hour Challenge, one of the nation’s premiere cycling events, June 15–16, 2013 in Middleville, Michigan. Kyle is owner of Kyle’s Bikes in Ankeny, Iowa, and Dave is his long-time friend.On the 8-hour drive to Michigan with our wives, Dave and I discussed our strategies and goals, AKA, our game plan. First thing we did when we pulled in town was find the race venue and set up our screened in tent for our home base. Next we found the hotel about 35 minutes away. The Hammers grew up and started their married life in Grand Rapids so we strolled down memory lane a bit. We ended up at Cindy's (Dave’s wife) mom’s for a quick visit, and then off to dinner. This town is on the very edge of the Eastern Time Zone, so it's still light at 10:00 p.m. It got late on us and we still wanted to get supplies at the grocery store. Finally back at the hotel room, we decided on a 5:45 a.m. wake-up time so we can eat breakfast in the very nice cafe area in our hotel. That gave us almost 5 1/2 hours to sleep, which went well.
The alarm goes off and we both sprint down to the cafe ready to start the day. Not open till 7:00 on the weekends. Argh!! So Dave goes back to the room and eats cold leftovers from the room fridge. I take on a banana, a Powerbar, and coffee. We both quick shower and put on our kits.By this time it's about 7:00. We wake up the girls to drop us off at the venue. Now is when I found out about “Hammer time.” In the shop van at 7:15, we remember it’s a 35-minute drive, and we have just 45 minutes till “go” time. Road crews are out working already and they have our road closed.
Ready to Go (Almost)We get to the race with 5 minutes till start—tandem still in the van with the front wheel not on. Not quite ready for our first loop of 120 miles, the announcer for the race is doing a countdown as we are putting shoes on. The whole National 24-Hour Challenge field of 300 starts. Then Dave and I throw a leg over our tandem for the 3rd time ever. With about 30 miles total on a bike together, we are still learning about each other’s riding style. We are about to become a team: Captain position is Dave and stoker position is Kyle.
Tandems Go FastWe start passing other riders and we hear comments like “overachievers,” “it's a long day,” etc., ‘cause we are flying! Before we know it, we are toward the front of the masses. The terrain is rolling, winds still, pavement smooth, and everything prime for our setup. I look down at my speedo and I'm seeing 30 a lot, so I say to Dave, “I'm just checking, but I'm not working like the speeds we are going. Are you?” He says, “I'm just soft pedaling.” We hit the 2nd checkpoint at mile 70-ish and our average speed is around 22. We still feel great but are getting hungry. About 10 miles after that checkpoint, the course takes us through a small town with a grocery store. Time for lunch! I said to Dave, “In the rush to get started, I forgot some money!” He says, “I think I have a ten,” so we're set! Ham and cheese on a white bun with some very salty chips and a soda hit the spot. Wow, that refuel helped. We carried on to finish the first 120 mile loop back to our camp headquarters in 6 hours 4 minutes. Feeling good about our teamwork, we make the decision to not switch spots on the tandem. The next loop is pretty uneventful. It’s around 30 miles—rolling hills, tree cover, and a bit of a lakefront resort area where it was flat and scenic. We finished this twice. We're about to start a third lap, but we are told that, due to National 24-Hour Challenge rules, if we start another lap and don't finish by the 7:00 p.m. cut-off time for this part of the course, the miles don't count. So, no brainer, we take a break! We eat a bit, put our feet up with no shoes, and pretty much chill for about 20 minutes.
The third loop of this race is mostly flat with probably the steepest hill of the day. It's only about a quarter mile of up, but it requires a shift to the middle chainring. We learn this loop well, as it is only 7 miles long. We rode it the first time and couldn't remember what time we started. It would be nice to know how long it's taking, so we do it again and watch the time: 22 minutes. Not bad considering we are close to a double century mark. We start out on our third time and I say to Dave that this will be my first 200 miles ever.The sun’s going down, the winds are swirling, and the weather is getting crazy. We finish the third lap of this loop and the checkpoint folks tell us a storm is coming (no kidding).
The StormWe made the decision to shower and put on new kits while the storm blew over. While in the shower room, we ran into the other men’s tandem team. We compared notes and figured out they were slightly ahead of us, maybe 10 to 15 miles. The sole reason they were here is to hit a unresolved goal from last year of 300 miles. In clean dry kits we went back to our screen tent to chill for a while, and the storm started raging. Did I mention we were in a screen tent? I mention to Dave, “Let’s take our gravity reclining chairs in the school and not get soaking wet while we rest,” so we did. The storm was so bad that the course was shut down for approximately 3 1/2 hours. We relaxed while the rest of the racers milled around us talking of battle wounds and miles finished. It was evident to us we were In the midst of some very, very, special athletes who love to ride a bike with absolutely no reservations for pain and no giving up attitudes at all. True inspiring stories in each of their individual lives. It's kind of weird that because of that downtime we had a chance to learn what's in the minds of these special endurance-type folks. All had goals that were getting smashed, all had done this before, all didn't want this break at all, all were bent and breaking but wanted to be broken so they could say they left it all on the course with no limitations or excuses at all.
Completing the National 24-Hour ChallengeThe storm clears and the race director re-opens the course after they got the flooded spots safe for riders. Dave and I throw the legs back over the tandem and realize our 300 mile goal is shot. Dave says the new goal is 250. I'm in but it's going to be close—not much time for any more breaks! We are going by my computer as its been close all day, but my miles are just a bit off (like 1.5 miles in that first 120 miles—so close!!). Clicking off these 7-mile loops is kind of fun and hurting just a bit as we are riding strong for the miles behind us. Since we are able to eek out 22–23 mph a few folks catch a draft off us, all of whom thanked us for the pull. Turns out most of these drafters were front runners in the mileage race and in a small way they thought we helped them with the effort they earned themselves. Last lap we have exactly 30 minutes to finish this 7 mile loop—doable, but we are feeling shot. Dave says to me, “Give it your all, we got this.” So 25 minutes later we finish. My speedometer says 254 miles, 18.5 mph average speed on the bike time. Our girls were there at the finish to take our photo and cheer us in, people had gotten to know as "team green machine," so they chanted us in the last few hundred yards. It felt good to be done.
ResultsNext up we had to turn in our race number plates that we had worn on our backs the whole time. Every checkpoint, they hole-punch a spot and then add up your miles at the finish. So my computer said 254 miles, but they officially said 247.5. OUCH, we got deflated. Then to add to our disappointment, they give out mileage pins for each 50-mile interval. We got a 200-mile pin—ARGH!! Oh well, we were here for fun, right? Still proud of our effort and ability to stay friends. It was teamwork we will never forget. Maybe next year?? Oh, I didn't mention, we finished as the National 24-Hour Challenge Men’s Tandem #1 winner. The other guys didn't go out after the storm because it was impossible to hit their 300-mile goal. See what I meant about a special kind of athletes!
“The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary." - Vince Lombardi