Dirty Words: The 24 Hours of Junk Food

A weekly Bike rant by Sal Ruibal.

By Sal Ruibal

People ask me why I ride my bike. I should say that it is a healthy lifestyle and I'm out there with nature and all, but the principal reason is that I like to eat food and drink beer. The more I ride, the more I can eat and drink.

I've never been a fast racer, but I am consistent, as in consistently slow over long periods. I've had several decent age-group finishes in 12-hour and 24-hour mountain bike races: fifth in 45+ at 2002 World Solo 24-hour championships, 1st in men's 55+ and 9th in men's open at 2008 24-Hours of Big Bear Lake and some top-10 finishes at local 12-hour events.

I was a proud member of four 24-Hours of Canaan race teams (Team USA TODAY) that didn't win much but partied hard with Team Hugh Jass and tried to keep up with John Stamstad and his three alter-egos in the days before solo 24s.

That said, I was really there for the party. An army marches on its stomach, they say, and so do endurance riders. 24-hour races are a license to eat and drink a lot while sleeping very little.

In the late 90's heyday of the USA TODAY teams, we eschewed tent dwelling during races and rented semi-posh condos so we could watch the NBA Finals while consuming mass quantities of roasted chicken, spaghetti, Italian bread, cookies, brownies, potato chips and dips, beer, soda, hamburgers, hot dogs and a few GU packs.

On a four-person team, you get about three hours sleep before you have to get ready for your next lap. Piece of cake. And pie with ice cream.

Our motto was "Eat what you like as much as you like" because the Canaan (and later, Snowshoe and Big Bear) courses were absurdly difficult and often dangerous. The big downhill run from the top was like falling down a mineshaft on a mountain bike. The cries and screams and crashes in the pitch black forest were horrible, with helmet lights flashing to and fro and the sound of V-brakes screeching before that thud against a tree or rock.

My teammates fought to get the slot after me because I was so slow they could party even more. We never had the panache of Team Hugh Jass and their shared pair of bike shorts, disco-inferno campsite with strobe lights and go-go dancers and hands trusting big plastic cups of vodka and cranberry juice at you along the trail. Otheritems were passed around in those days, but the least said about that the better. Little pitchers have big ears.

In 2002 I went to the 24 Hours of Adrenaline Solo 24 Hour World Championships in Canada. This is was quite different, with big signs by our pit tents declaring our numbers and nationalities. I was USA 13. A lucky number I still seek out, although upside-down.

I shared a pit tent with Tinker Juarez and our neighbor was Rishi Grewahl. I was like a Little Leaguer at the All-Star Game. We had mechanics, cooks and massage.

It all seemed wrong to me. Where was the big bowl of M&Ms?

In the middle of the night a blizzard blew into the Silver Star Resort like a frozen hurricane. I was in the middle of a lap near the top of the course when everything went white. I huddled with a course marshal under an avalanche barrier for a few hours until the storm subsided and a bit of light appeared. I pedaled slowly through the soggy and chilly woods. When I finished that lap and headed to the tents, I saw that ours was gone. Not really gone, but it was a now just a plastic sheet with my gear totally soaked beneath it. Tinker was being treated at the clinic for hypothermia and his family was with him. Rishi was also gone.

I went back to my hotel room and changed shorts and jersey and grabbed a rain jacket even though the sky was now blue.

That last lap before the noon cutoff was painful and cold, with the night's snow turned to ice water running down the trails. I had never been so hungry and there were more miles to ride. Then I noticed a little shack just off the fence that surrounded the ski area. It was a small grocery store and it had a sign that said: "Breakfast Burritos." It could have said "free diamonds" and I would not have been happier. I climbed over the fence and stashed my bike. I had enough soggy bills in my pack to buy a fat flour tortilla surrounding a pound of fried potatoes, cheese, scrambled eggs, bacon bits, onion and green peppers. It was like eating God.

I limped to the finish line and later got my medal for fifth place in men 45+. The medal is cool, but the burrito was my Olympic gold.

So yeah, that's why I ride.