For most kids growing up in the U.S., the bicycle represented their first taste of true freedom. Totally in control of our destiny, we zipped from one corner of the neighborhood to the other to the tune of whirring tires and the song of our free-wheel as we coasted, blissfully, toward whatever mischief the day had to offer. Only Mom’s whistle for dinner could tear us from the independence that was offered by this simple machine of rubber and chromoly. For some kids the freedom their bike offered was simply transportation to their chosen destination, but for me the bicycle offered an escape from whatever was on my mind that day. The bicycle represented speed, adventure, and a chance for my young brain to just shut off and enjoy the simplicity of the wind in my face and the sun on my back.
As I grew older the bicycle was still a perfect escape from the metronome-like tempo of daily life. For this reason, I rarely partake in group rides or any sort of organize bicycle events for that matter. The solitude of the bike on the trail is my therapy and as such it has never occurred to me that it might be just as fun if not more fun to go out and challenge myself on the trail with likeminded individuals. Well, life is about change and discovering new and exciting things, so this weekend I decided to see what all the fuss was about and go check out a proper mountain bike event. The event I chose? 24 Hours In The Old Pueblo presented by Tucson Medical Center.
For the past 15 years Epic Rides, an organization based in Tucson, AZ, has spearheaded the 24 HOP event. Starting as a simple chance to get a bunch of folks together for the challenge of riding their bikes for 24 hours, the event has grown to be one of the largest endurance mountain bike events in the world. With over 3,500 participants this year it’s safe to say that the sport of mountain biking is healthy and going strong.
I arrived late in the night (or early in the morning depending on your perspective) at was has become known as 24-Hour Town, an oasis in the desert, which seems closer to a small city than a town. As you pull into the camp you are greeted by a vast sea of great white RVs which are nestled together within the confines of this master-planned temporary community. Being that I was so late and that most of these campers would partake in 24 hours of self-induced cruelty the following day, there was no one to greet me as I rolled into the sleepy village of nylon tents and humming generators, so I drove around until I found a spot just big enough to wedge my little car into and got right to sleep.
Morning came in the form of blinding sunlight pouring through the window of the back hatch of my car, which made the prospect of sleeping-in a futile endeavor. As I flung the hatch door open to greet the day I immediately noticed that I had inadvertently joined someone’s camp. Luckily the natives were friendly and introductions were made. Lenny was from San Diego, Garrett was from Tucson, and Gerard was from Flagstaff, yet they were all camped together here in the Sonoran desert to ride their bicycles in what has become their annual pilgrimage. College friends all, this group has found this event to be the perfect opportunity to reunite and catch up all the while filling their tanks with an unforgettable adventure.
How had I missed this? The bicycle can be so much more than a mere escape from life’s stark reality. All around me were groups of people who knew that the bicycle was still about freedom and escape, yet chose to make their escape with close friends right at their side. From near and far these folks had made the trek to 24-Hour Town for a chance to grab hold of that childlike innocence and the euphoric feeling they get as they careen down a dusty trail with their friend hooting and hollering behind them. From one end of 24-Hour Town to the next, you are greeted by smiles and waves from a group of people who you’ve never met, but get the impression all are in on the same secret. If you can remember back to a simpler time in your life you will realize that you’ve know the same secret all along.
Next year I’ll be back in 24-Hour Town… with an eager group of good friends in tow, ready to conquer the challenge before us.
See you on the trail… Check out the rest of the pics from the event below.
Tom Leigh is a freelance motorsports and event photographer from Arizona.
More of his work can be seen at www.tommygunimages.com