He Like Bike

Craig Savage is EXTREME (duh!)

In addition to having a wicked name, Craig Savage also indulges in one of the wickedest conceivable extreme sports: 24-hour mountain biking. The concept is to ride through as many racecourse laps as you can before 1,440 minutes go by—or until you pass out. It's not the masochistic torture it sounds—as long as you don't consider pain, suffering, heatstroke, dehydration or delirium to be masochistic.

When Savage entered the Spring Shootout in Idyllwild's Hurkey Park with the expectation of competing in a four-man team, all his teammates ditched him the week before the event. He decided that, rather than just go home, he would try the solo 24-hour mountain biking category. Now, this is a nine-mile course, with an elevation change of 1,320 feet up, then back down. Savage made it through 14 laps; in other words, approximately 37,000 feet, and that's just vertically speaking. Sounds more like a cruising altitude. Without having trained specifically for solo, he took fifth place, effectively turning this summer into his training period for the 24-Hour Solo World Championships in October.

There are certain dangers in solo riding, especially in the summer. On Mother's Day, Savage was out riding his road bike near Palm Springs when, suddenly, he realized he was lost. We all get lost, but very few of us do it in the middle of a desert, nowhere near a road, with bike shoes that are treacherous and painful to walk in, and without much water. That takes commitment. It's actually not unusual for participants to find themselves in such circumstances, especially when their sport of choice involves finding unspoiled tracts of land free from other bikers or even the potential danger of a road.

Wicked cool. Photo by John Gilhooley
Wicked cool. Photo by John Gilhooley

"It was actually pretty damn scary," Savage said of getting lost. He had no choice but to hike with his bike on his back for three hours, running out of water, looking for a road he thought he might have located on a forest service map. It's all Indian land out there. Eventually he came across a local girl minding a gate. He asked her how much longer the trail went. Ten miles, she told him. After he was sure he'd gone at least 10 miles, Savage came across a hiker. "I asked him how much further the trail was, and he looked at me like I was insane. Laughed in my face." The man said he'd been hiking there most of his life but had no idea what trail Savage was talking about. "Great, well, where's the next town?" About 10 to 15 miles, the man said. Savage wasn't sure he had enough water for that.

At first he had to pick his way over sharp rocks, cacti and so on, but soon a lack of water drove Savage back onto his bike. Both tires soon popped, but inflated rubber tubes were a luxury at this point. Hours later, he rolled into the nearby town of Cathedral City on the bare metal rims of his tires "badly dehydrated and pretty damn delusional."

Still, he says, it was an adventure. And it certainly wasn't as bad as Seattle.

During one training session outside that city, Savage says he found himself completely and utterly lost for nearly 10 hours, with no choice but to traverse the side of a mountain.

"One time my bike got stuck in a tree, actually. I went to climb up and get it, and there's this rattlesnake at the base of the tree. I had to throw rocks at it to make it go away." Somehow he found a gas station, where he quickly called his father from a pay phone then passed out on the sidewalk.

That's great, but how the hell does a bike end up in a tree? Savage says the trail was so rough that he had no choice but to repeatedly throw his bike down the cliff, then retrieve it later. These bicycles are by no means cheap, mind you, but the climb was too difficult to manage with bike in hand. "After all," said Savage, "I don't want to hurt myself."

 
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