by Gary Dudney
It’s our team’s third year at the 24 Hours of Adrenalin mountain bike race at Laguna Seca in Monterey, California, and trouble is brewing. Team Mudmen has always cultivated a studied indifference to the results of the race. We’re there for the fun, the camping, the staying up all night. Oh, sure, there’s the riding around on mountain bikes, but we consider that something of a necessary evil. But now we have an issue. Snake, one of our very own, actually cares how we’re doing in the race.
All the signs are there. Checking his lap times. Warming up. Coming back from his loops all spent. Adjusting the air in his tires. It’s sickeningly obvious. Then comes the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We catch him in the results tent checking what place we’re in. I beg to say something to him, but I’m shouted down by the others. “We’re Mudmen, damn it,” they tell me. “We don’t say things!” So I suck it up and keep quiet.
All I can do to deal with the problem is ride. I put in my ten-mile loops
and stew. Between rides, I sit around camp focusing glumly on having
fun while I graze from the mound of junk food on the picnic table.
But then Snake comes back from his loop all, “A guy got in my face!
A guy wouldn’t give me the trail. Some guy threw an elbow.” Who
are these “guys”? I wonder. Most riders are on teams like ours,
enjoying the event, riding for the fun of it. The poor solo riders are
mostly quiet, too intent on their own suffering to bother with us. Sure
there’s some serious competition going on, but out on the trail people
are amazingly polite, especially the pros, and they have the most at
I get into my sleeping bag that night all bent out of shape. I really
want to tell Snake off. I can imagine myself railing at him, “We’ve
built this team up from nothing! We’ve done as badly as anybody out
here! And now you want to compete! Compete!? The word doesn’t exist
in our vocabulary!”
When my turn to ride comes up, I’m fast asleep, snuggled so deep in my
sleeping bag a spelunker couldn’t find me.
“Your loop, Hammer King,” a voice somewhere out there in the cold world
“Someone else go,” I say through my sleeping bag material.
“Your loop, Hammer King. Get up.”
“I’m too old.”
“We’re all too old.”
“I have nothing to wear.”
“That’s a laugh.”
Okay, that is a laugh. Since I lack all bike handling skills and since
I also lack training, speed and courage, I have to pretty much rely on
my wardrobe to make my mark. I get up and pull out a couple of bundles
of carefully packed outfits. Hmm…should I go with the jersey with
the big Pharoah head on it or the one with the big hairy tarantula? Tough
call, but I go with the spider.
My tentmate Blade is on his back snoring loudly. Blade is our ex spook.
At least we thought he was our ex spook until he became very hard
to find during the Iraq war. Now we think maybe he’s our active duty
spook. Blade is all very cool about the race. He just rides and chills,
which is funny because he’s always the most impatient one to get
going when we get together for training rides in front of my house.
He pops wheelies up and down the street. He bounces off my brick
wall. I’ll be sitting on my bike trying to adjust my helmet straps,
or I’ll be stopped cold because one of my gloves has a finger inside
out, and he’ll have a hissy fit.
“Hold your horses,” I tell him.
“Get your shit together,” he’ll suggest helpfully.
I pull on my spider jersey and emerge from the tent all resplendent in
my get up. Out by the campfire, Slug is holding a charcoalized hotdog
over the flame.
“It’s two o’clock in the morning,” I point out.
Slug looks up at me. “I got hungry.” He’s sitting on the wheel
of his bike, which is lying next to the fire in the dirt.
“You’re bending your spokes, Slug.”
“Let ’em bend.”
Slug is our clean up hitter. That is, he rides last because he’s not
too extremely fast. His training has consisted mostly of sitting on his
couch and eating potato chips. We think he keeps his excuses for not
riding on a Rolodex so he can just flip to the next one when we call.
Swede, the heart and soul of our team, volunteers to take me down to
the transition area. He’s been up all night fiddling with our bikes
(a good thing in my case since I can barely change a flat). Swede,
who coincidentally is from Sweden, can outride all of us, but you
never hear him say a thing about it. He’s not looking at lap times
or making a fuss about how fast or slow anybody goes. He could fit
into a much better team but he seems happy with us. “We have
just fun, right?” he always says. I’ve been telling him about
what is happening with Snake but he just puts me off. “It’s
cold,” he says.
“You mean, ‘It’s cool,’ right?”
“Yes, it’s cool.”
I put on my helmet and gloves. The gloves are still damp from my last
ride. We swing over to the table where my lights are charging up. To
get there we have to cross a section of the course that cuts directly
through the camping area. Riders flash by periodically, lights glaring,
their knobby tires ripping at the asphalt. They sound like spaceships
re-entering the atmosphere.
Swede connects up my lights for me. I walk the bike over to the transition
area. Star Wars is playing on an enormous screen, blips and zings blaring
out of a bank of speakers. A few people are sprawled on the grass watching,
but mostly people are focused on the mad crush in the transition tent.
Timekeepers are marking down splits on huge sheets of paper as riders
leap off their bikes and run into the tent like they were announcing
Armageddon, “TWENTY-EIGHT IN! TWENTY-EIGHT IN!” The timekeeper
I try to stay calm by busying myself with a cup of sports drink, but
all the jumpy riders waiting to go out are hyping me up. I decide it
is time to recite the Mudmen creed, which I wrote myself:
the Mudmen, the mighty Mudmen,
Suckin’ down energy gel.
We ride the night on our pricey bikes.
We’re all heart and we never fail.
by mud and bound by blood,
We, uh, shred the gnarly trail.
Beneath the duds and the built up crud,
We’re all heart and we never fail.”
you not say this thing,” Swede says to me, looking
around to see if anybody is listening.
“Okey-dokey, Swede,” I say.
Suddenly here comes Snake, our misguided Mudman, tearing around the last
corner of the course. He’s out of his saddle, jerking his bike back and
forth, and pumping furiously trying to beat the rider in front of him
to the tent. A volunteer has to practically throw herself across Snake’s
path to get him to dismount before he takes out half the timekeepers.
Even Swede looks rattled by this blatant display of machismo.
Snake extracts our baton from underneath the leg of his bike shorts and
flips it to me with a sneer. “I could have beat that guy,” he
I trot out to the bike racks. I momentarily dance around in circles when
I can’t pick my bike out of the jumble of identical bikes. I feel Snake’s
eyes bore into my back as I lose time. I find the bike, stow the baton
in my seatpack, switch on all my lights, and hustle out of the transition
At Laguna Seca, just fifty yards from where
the loop starts, it’s necessary to get off
the bike and run it over a footbridge. Riding
down the steps of this bridge on the return
is something of a gut check. On my first try,
I bounced the handlebars of my bike up on the
handrail and rode that to a momentous crash
at the bottom of the steps. This was quite
discouraging. Then some saint told me that
riding the hard-edged steps could bend a rim.
Now I run my bike down the steps and coolly
tell people, “Oh,
yeah, man. You know you can bend a rim riding those steps.”
Laguna sits down in a bowl so after the bridge it’s necessary to climb
out to the rest of the course. I get out of my saddle and labor up the
bumpy trail. Soon I’m riding free through grassy fields studded with
oak trees under a blanket of stars. I quit thinking about Snake and just
cruise along enjoying the cool night air and watching the trail rush
by under my lights. I marvel in the weird sensation of being up in the
middle of the night riding full tilt on a mountain bike.
My loop does not go by without mishap. I work
my way down one series of tight switchbacks
toward a table where volunteers are checking
numbers and directing riders down the next
trail. “Number 313,” I yell
just as I lose traction trying to make the turn. I slide directly under
the table, bike and all. The volunteers scatter to save themselves. I
pop up and run my bike the hell out of there. “I’m still 313,” I
yell back over my shoulder as I jump back on and disappear down the trail.
On my way back to Laguna, going up an infamous
two mile stretch of the course called “The
find I’m catching the rider in front of me.
A small number on the back of his seat identifies
him as a solo rider. His body language as he
slumps over his bike just screams pain and
exhaustion. Before I reach him, though, another
rider having no trouble with the uphill breezes
by me and pulls up next to the solo guy. They
talk for a minute and then I see the faster
rider’s hand extend out and come to rest on
the small of the solo rider’s back. He’s helping
the guy out, giving him a push up the hill.
Eventually, I make it back to the transition
tent, minus a little blood. For me, any lap
without a mechanical is a good lap. It takes
me awhile to find the baton in my seatpack.
It’s lost among old energy bar wrappers and
disintegrated tire tube boxes. Slug is waiting,
ready to go. He’s already beet red from the
effort of…what?…walking his bike over
here? I give him the baton and he lumbers off toward the bike rakes.
The moments after a night loop are magical. I float along in an easy
gear through a quiet camp. Muffled voices issue from a few tents. A fire
crackles here and there. On the hillside above me, lights appear from
time to time and zigzag down the hill.
I roll into camp. My brakes emit a high pitched
squeal as I stop. I duck into the tent. “We
own the night, man!” I
“Get the hell out of here, you idiot. Your tent is over there,” comes
I go find the correct tent. “We own the night, man!” I yell.
“It’s not my turn, you idiot. Go find Swede.”
Swede is huddled with Snake next to the dying embers of the fire. It’s
looks like they’re having a heart to heart. “How did lap go?” Swede
“Cleaned it,” I say in my best mountain bike lingo shorthand.
“I am telling to Snake,” Swede looks up at me and telecasts the biggest
secret wink I have ever seen in my life, “how I am thinking. He might like
solo riding next year instead of bad team.”
“Oh, yeah,” I say, catching on immediately. “Those solo guys look
like they’re having all the fun.”
“What about the team?” Snake asks.
“Don’t worry. Mudmen okay. It’s cold,” Swede says. “We can find
submarine for you.”
“Substitute,” I suggest.
Snake kicks at the edge of the coals. “Yeah. I’ll probably do it,” he
Soon I’m burrowing back into my sleeping bag with a lightened heart.
It appears that the Mudmen will be restored to their rightful position
in the Pantheon of totally indifferent mountain bike teams. We will ride
oblivious to the tyranny of lap times and the overlordship of the results
tent. We may never place in the top half of the field but we will enjoy
ourselves and eat heartily.
Oh, yes, and do the thing we really came to do-ride our bikes around
in the moonlight.