Sunday, July 26, 2015

Riverwest 24: One of a kind

Ten days ago I got a brief Facebook message from Kierstin, one of my wonderful Madison cycling friends: “Alright my friend. You are up. Laura just bailed from our RW24 team to train for the Ironman. You were planning on coming out--do you want to race/ride on our team???” I had heard many amazing things about Riverwest 24, that weird hybrid creature of alleycat, endurance bike race, block party, and nieghborhood improvement project, and therefore my plan had been to just ride down to Milwaukee and hang out with my racing/riding friends. In no way had I expected to actually be able to participate, as the sign-up process for the limited spots is long in advance and involves standing in lines for hours on end. And so I was immediately excited about the possibility of joining Kierstin's team.

Dan and Claudine in their garage
After getting the boss's OK to take off early on Friday—despite a impending grant deadline—I told Kierstin I was in. Because another team member and I were first-timers, we planned on getting to Riverwest early in order to familiarize ourselves with the 4.8 mile (7.7 km) course and the race rules. We arrived well in time for sign-up and the dinner prepared by the Riverwest Co-op. It is difficult to put into words the atmosphere that immediately surrounded us. The whole neighborhood seemed to vibrate with positive energy and most everyone I encountered had a smile on their face. The homebase for our two six-person teams was the garage of Dan and Claudine, long-time residents of Riverwest and Volkswagen/Westfalia van enthusiasts.

One of Dan and Claudine's VWs
I somehow hadn't realized how long the breaks between riding would be on a six-person team. We would usually do two laps plus a bonus checkpoint. Bonus checkpoints could be anything from having your portrait taken at sunrise, confessing your sins at a 2 AM "mass" with a "preacher" in a condemned church building, to playing party games with teenagers at a youth center. Laps would take between 15 and 20 minutes, but the bonus checkpoints were rather unpredictable, sometimes taking an hour between standing in line and actually doing them. I was last in the rotation, meaning that the first time I got to ride was four hours after the 7 PM start. I had a lot of pent up energy at that point and was happy to let it all out on the lap. After that it was back to hanging out, chatting, and drinking beers and espresso. I caught an hour or two of sleep and did my second set of laps around sunrise. The neighborhood never really quieted down during night, with people being out and about, bands playing on street corners—and of course the constant stream of cyclists on the streets.

I had a couple lows during the 24 hours, but nothing that another two laps of hard riding wouldn't fix. The final lap we all did together, before heading home to Madison to catch up on proper food, personal hygiene, and sleep. What a wonderful, unique adventure!

Tim, Dan, Kierstin

Sleepiness just before sunset

On top of the reservoir, waiting in line for a bonus checkpoint...

...where our portraits would be taken... front of the Milwaukee skyline

My increasingly disgusting bike hat and gloves, drying out after a sweaty lap

Team  mates Dan and Kierstin

Steve doing post-lap Stava analysis to optimize our strategy :-)

There was a constant come-and-go of friends and neighbors stopping by

The morning was really hot and humid. Everybody was glad when the wind turned and brought some cooler air from across the lake

Highly sophisticated sports nutrition formula to keep me going

24 hours of free espresso shots from Colectivo Coffee

Jacob's and my bike

Final group lap


Packed up and ready to go home