Monday, February 17, 2014

24 Hours Bike Sebring with Jon Eggert Gudmundsson

Jon Eggert Gudmundsson is an Everglades Bicycle Club member, and we met him on the weekend club rides. Jon is a randonneur. We've met several EBC riders who are randonneurs, but Jon is the guy we know best. Jon is from Iceland and spends his summers there, but he lives in Miami. Right now he is preparing for some longer randonneuring events. "My longest ride so far was 19 1/2 hours," Jon said. "The 24 Hour Bike Sebring ride will help me get ready for the longer brevets."

Randonneuring events are called brevets. Brevets are distances that must be ridden within a certain cut-off time. For instance, the 200 km (124 mile) brevet must be completed within 13.5 hours. The 300 km (186 miles) brevet must be completed within 20 hours. The 400 km (249 mile) brevet has a cut-off of 27 hours. The 600 km (373 miles) brevet's cut-off is 40 hours. And the 1000 km (621 mile) brevet must be done in 75 hours.

Do you wonder why we call him our crazy viking? (I didn't think so.)

We drove up to Sebring from Miami on Friday with Jon. We had the easy job of SAG (support and gear) which in this case was hauling his two bikes and his food and drink containers. We arrived in Sebring in the late afternoon, checked into a hotel, and went to event site, the Sebring International Raceway, for check in. While Jon checked in, we chatted with some of the event staff, guys from the Highlands Pedalers Bicycle Club. Then it was off to dinner and bed.

The next morning, we headed back to the race track. Dawn was an hour away. The full moon glowed in the western sky. It was a brisk 50 degrees. Jon was wearing his Everglades Bicycle Club retro jersey, over which he layered a jacket. On his back he had a small backpack filled with the necessities for the ride. He put on his helmet, checked the gear on his bike, and headed off. The start was at 6:30 am, about a half hour away. Riders were gathering.

Several types of riders would be doing Bike Sebring. Some were with RAAM (Race Across America). Bike Sebring is a qualifying event for RAAM. Then there are riders that are just doing a 12 hour event. And there are ones doing a 24 hour event. All ride the same course. First, 3 laps of the Sebring International Raceway track. Then out on the roads on a long loop that would take them north as far as Frostproof before returning to Sebring. Then continuous laps of a shorter loop in the Sebring area until the end of the day. At 6:30 pm Saturday the 12 hour event people were done. But the 24 hour people continued riding, only the ride now moved back to the Sebring International Raceway track for continuous loops during the night until the end of the event at 6:30 am on Sunday.

Seven hours into the ride he posted that he had finished 100 miles. That was right on target for the speed he'd been aiming for. We met him near the end of the first 12 hours to bring his night food and drink supplies to his pit area on the track. He was looking pretty good. He said the wind had been a bit of an issue. We talked. He drank a coffee drink. And then he was off again. By this point the riders were shifting to the track of the raceway for the last 12 hours. Around and around the twists and turns of the 3.74 mile track. In the dark.

While Jon pedaled, we chatted with people crewing for other riders, and occasionally had a few words with riders as they stopped briefly with their support folks. We were interested in finding out more about what made these people tick. The variety of their answers was fascinating. On one trip to our hotel, we met two riders we had met heading to their car. They'd been forced to abandon the ride due to mechanical problems. "Next year," they promised, "Next year we'll back and have better luck!" After dark, from the cozy comfort of our hotel room we watched the bike lights circling the track. A constant line of twinkling white headlights came down the track, made the turn in front of our room's window, then continued down the track, a line of twinkling red tail lights. We woke several times through the night, watched the twinkling lights, then went back to sleep.

We were up early on Sunday. The ride ended at 6:30 am. We were planning on being in the pit area where each rider's supplies was kept by 6:00. When we arrived, many of the riders were already in and gathering their things. We went to Jon's area and looked about. We decided to move his things to the car then wait for Jon to appear. Not long after, Jon appeared, carrying a cup of coffee in one hand and a pedal in the other, walking slowly with a slight limp! One of the event guys that we knew from the Highlands Pedalers Bicycle Club was following Jon, shepherding Jon and us into the adjoining building where the awards ceremony was due to start in a while. Jon had some impressive bruising and road rash, but no serious injuries.

Jon explained what had happened. Just 15 minutes before the end of the race, his crank broke! He went down. "So fast I don't even remember going down!" he shook his head smiling. The event guys brought an ice pack and a big cup of soup. Jon settled in, leg up and iced. "My cell phone is out there somewhere, too!" he noted. "I hope someone finds it before it is run over by the race cars." He was right. Race cars started back on the track right after the cyclists were all off the track. It didn't look good for his cell phone.

All was made right in a few minutes when the awards ceremony started. "A cell phone was found on the track! Does it belong to someone here?" asked the master of ceremonies. Jon raised his hand, and the cell phone was returned to him. (And it was still in working order, too.) The awards were given out by event type and age. When Jon's event category came up, we heard "Third place, 234 miles, Jon Gudmundsson!" Then the MC briefly told everyone about Jon's crank breaking right in the last minutes of the 24 hours. There was a nice round of applause as he went up and got his award.
The medal and the pedal.

On the ride home to Miami, Jon was still awake and pumped up from the ride. We talked about the rides he has planned for the rest of the year, about places he's lived, and about Iceland. Jon has done a number of "firsts" in Iceland. Now he was adding first cyclist from Iceland to complete a 24-hour cycling event. I teased him about having this list of firsts and shamelessly questioned him about why they were important to him. He tried several times to answer. Then he rubbed his face with his hand as he thought about how he could express his ideas so I would understand. "I want kids to see what I do and think 'Hey, I can do that, too.' I want them to know there are many things to try and many things they can accomplish if they want to."

That I could understand. And admire.