After a two-year hiatus, 24-hour mountain bike racing returns to Riverside State Park in Spokane. The original organizers of the legendary 24 Hours Round the Clock event, Wendy Zupan and Gino Lisiecki, ran that race from 1999 to 2019. Then, quite magically, they called it quits right before the whole world ground to a halt for the pandemic, thus avoiding the economic ruination from which many large cycling events never returned. But the 24-hour race here in Spokane had become a regional institution, so conversations began almost immediately about who would take over this event even while our very survival was in question.
A few concerned riders stepped up to the plate, and the 24 Hours of Riverside was back for Memorial Day weekend 2022. I was at a bikepacking race in the Oregon Coast Range that weekend, so I was unable to attend the triumphant return of this perfect mix of competition, party, and family weekend to the local race scene. But, this year my event calendar accommodated this race perfectly, and I was able to attend my fourth ever 24-hour race.
If Spokane’s Midnight Century was my gateway drug into gravel riding, it was the 24-hour mountain bike race in Riverside that sparked my fascination with night riding. I had been working mostly at night since moving to Spokane in 2012. My friend Dave, co-owner of Acceleration Physical Therapy, drafted me onto his 10-person team, and I very naturally gravitated toward the night laps. The race had been going for more than 8 hours when I lined up at the finish line tent to wait for the previous rider on our team to cross the line, at which point we would fumble with the Velcro wrist band time chip for a brief eternity to get that thing from the other rider’s wrist onto mine. I then pedaled off into a literal sunset.
The sunset lap is arguably the second best lap of the whole race, dawn being the very best. You find yourself riding straight into an explosion of colors framed by canopies, tents, and RV’s as well as the iconic Riverside pines. Riders and their friends and families lining the course are still enthusiastic enough at this point to give you a little cheer as you zoom down the 7 Mile Airstrip before hanging a hard left into your first steep little climb. As the race course, which is a little different every year, snakes off into the woods in a disorienting fashion, you are left with fewer and fewer clues as to where you could be as the twilight colors of the sky breaking through the trees taper into darkness.
At this point, you’re riding into “the tunnel of gloom,” in which the only things you can see are the trail immediately in front of you and the vegetation to the left and the right. Periodically, lights and blinkies from other riders break through the trees, making you feel like you’re not alone. Occasionally, some high school team riders go flying by, calling out “on your left” as they speed off into the night. The views from atop the high points of the course are my personal favorite, seeing headlights dance through the trees far below while stars and perhaps a sliver of moon shine above. It’s moments like this that I realize, “oh yeah, I’m riding around in a universe right now,” and an otherwise fun bike ride takes on the mystery of intergalactic travel. I think that’s what hooked me, and I experience that giddy wonderment every time.
I hardly knew a soul in the Spokane bike community when I showed up for my first 24-hour race in 2016. At one point, I was waiting for my turn at some absurd hour of the night when one of the people waiting by the finish line tent began to look familiar. It was Angela Luckey, whom I had met on a bike trip down the Olympic Peninsula in 2002. Her son, Evan, had ridden a lap that day. Several years later, he would embark on his first midnight lap at the ripe old age of 14, and was quite understandably a little terrified about heading out into the inky black darkness of night. I know adults who are nervous about this, and even I get a little anxiety if I’m dropping into the Hiawatha at midnight. He came back saying, “Mom, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done!”
This year, Angela and I met up sometime after midnight at the finish line tent in some bizarre Déjà vu experience. Evan was chomping at the bit for his next lap. I was beginning my first. Chris White of Mt. Spokane finished his lap and sent me on my way for 4 straight laps. I never saw Evan out there (there was no catching him), but I ran into a lot of other friends on the course, reminding me why I am so utterly stoked that 24-hour racing is back in Spokane. To enter, volunteer, or hang out at next year’s race, check out 24hoursofriverside.com. //
Justin Short has a BA in English from California University of Pennsylvania and is basically a self-taught trucker. He has been doing high intensity fish n’ chips intervals in preparation for a bikepacking trip in England with his wife this summer.