When I looked down and saw that damn cholla cactus hugging my leg I realized: “Preston, you’re not in Kansas anymore.” Kansas for me is Gunnison, Colo., and I was in warm and sunny Tucson, Ariz., shooting the “24 Hours in the Old Pueblo” Mountain Bike Race. The mountains shriveled and disappear behind me on the drive. It was like my world inverted itself and I found myself gazing more down towards the ground, instead of up at the mountains. Canyons cracked the land while trees changed to cacti on my trek to the race. My stoke level built for the adventure ahead.
This 24-hour race takes place on a 16-mile loop, virtually in the middle of nowhere. Nearly 500 teams were camped deep in the desert, thawing out their frozen bones in the brisk month of February. This is one of the oldest 24-hour races in the world, and 2015 marks its 17th year of epic riding in the Tucson desert.
Although a tad cooler than the year before, temps held in the mid 70’s and t-shirts, sandals and pasty legs were everywhere. Not being a big mountain biker myself, I still felt welcome with the community while visiting the various booths in the hub of the venue, while taking advantage of the free swag and stickers of course. Out on the trail the scenery captivated me as I carelessly hiked for a few miles at a time watching teams send a different rider for every lap.
At night I watched peacefully from a mesa as headlamps danced their way down the trail, while in the distance Tucson burned like the city of Mordor in scene from Lord of the Rings. Back at the venue the scene was alive with shouts of encouragement, along with occasional dude handing out shots of liquid courage as riders pushed down the final stretch.