Monthly Archives: March 2004

Behind the Scenes at the 24 Hours of Snowshoe

The “24 Hours of Snowshoe” mountain bike race was held in June, 2003, and I was on-hand covering the event for DCSki. This race pits teams ranging from one to four people in an around-the-clock race.

This bumper sticker was affixed to a stairwell door in the Silver Creek Lodge. I’ve been yelled at by a ranger for riding my mountain bike along a paved trail in Harper’s Ferry. So I suppose I can empathize; “the man” is definitely against us mountain bikers. But let it be known: I am completely against defacing the stairwells of private property with witty bumper stickers.

Let it also be known that this was the first time I had taken a photo of a stairwell door, and hopefully the last time.

I arrived at Snowshoe on Friday evening before the first day of the race, just as the sun set. The race was held at the Silver Creek area of West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort, and I find few things more depressing than seeing a chairlift in the summer.

These markers define the trail. (When it’s not obvious by the muddy singletrack and trampled flowers.)

It had rained quite a bit before the race. Sections of the course were quite muddy. This made some mountain bikers (and camera-wielding journalists) a little unhappy, but hey, mud happens.

That’s Laird Knight, speaking into the microphone, and he’s the head of Granny Gear Productions, which sponsors the Snowshoe race. The 24 Hours of Snowshoe was originally the 24 Hours of Canaan, held at Canaan Valley Resort in West Virginia. The event moved to Snowshoe several years ago. Granny Gear also hosts races in Temecula (California), Tahoe (California), and Moab (Utah).

Spectators mingle about as they wait for the race to begin. The 24 Hours of Snowshoe race has attracted as many as 10,000 spectators.

A sea of mountain bikes at the base area waits patiently for their riders to take another lap. The course is a few miles in length and covers some very technical terrain: steep climbs (and descents), singletrack, fire roads, and a fair share of roots and other obstacles. And, nearly every year, mud is a major factor. During 2003’s race, the organizers made a last minute decision to reduce the size of the course to eliminate a loop that was deemed too muddy. After a few hours, sections of the course became quite gloppy.

This shot was taken just seconds after the launch of the race. There are a few things to notice here. The lady in the blue shirt running for her life is Elizabeth Gillespie. She’s the VP/Production Manager for Granny Gear Productions, and my primary contact for the event. You’ll notice the racers do not yet have bikes. This race begins with a Le Mans-style start — racers must first run up a short loop, then back down, before they grab their bikes. The racers are in quite a hurry. (It is, after all, a race.) As a journalist, I had an all-access pass which allowed me to position myself in some prime picture-taking spots — such as directly in the path of the racers. Elizabeth warned us that the racers would plow down any journalist in their path at the start of the race, with extra points awarded for clobbering journalists with particularly expensive cameras and video gear. Thus, you understand the urgency Elizabeth is displaying as she darts out of the way.

What complicates the starting shots even more is that I had to run backwards, uphill, as a swarm of hundreds of anxious racers charged straight at me, all the while remembering the horror stories Elizabeth relayed from previous races.

This picture probably deserves some explanation, so here goes. Yes, that is a bunny’s forearm in the picture. And if you think that’s bad…

Yes, that’s a racer wearing a skirt or kilt of some kind. And yes, that racer is a man. But wait, we’re not done…

Yes, that is a group of guitar-wielding, mountain bike-riding Elvises. And I think they might have been having more fun than I.

Adults don’t get to have all the fun. (And really, “fun” is probably not the appropriate word for a grueling, 24-hour mountain bike race. Rather, “character building,” as Calvin’s dad used to say, is perhaps the more appropriate term.)

Kids get to have some fun on their own in the 24 Minutes of Snowshoe race. And this race is truly all about fun. Number 214 is quickly closing in on number 215, and I think it’s hilarious that 214 is sticking her tongue out.

I really like this shot. You’ve got the dad on the left, holding a small kid that clearly is upset that he (she?) is too young to participate in the race, and wondering what all the fuss is about. Number 225 in front is taking the race pretty seriously — and how couldn’t he? After all, dad number two on the right is getting it all on videotape. But that’s not the best part. No, the best part is the dog — on the far right — who has decided that this really is an appropriate time for tug-of-war on the leash.

Now, behind the scenes, what you can’t see is that it has started to rain. I’m frantically trying to keep my camera dry, and had to keep wiping rain off the lens in between shots.

Later that night, the race really settles in. This is the top of Highwall, a very steep section of singletrack that loops and climbs up to the highest point of the course. These two riders have just made it to the top, and they’re among the very few I saw that were still riding by this point. Most were walking their bikes up, out of breath.

This is a great part of the course to take pictures as the sun sets, and as bike lights begin to be flicked on in preparation for a long, cold, dark night. As luck would have it, a thick fog settled over the area, making it difficult to capture photos. (In prior years, I snapped some great night photos at this point on the course.)

A few spectators make the long climb from the Silver Creek base area to this section of the trail to cheer on tired bikers as they crest the top of the mountain. They often ring cow bells, so there’s the surreal sound of cowbells echoing throughout the foggy mountaintop.

Oh yeah, it was pretty cold, too, and the wind kept knocking over my tripod.

Another shot at the top of Highwall as night falls. Not a great photo, I don’t think, and I blame the fog. In years past, I captured streaks of light winding their way up Highwall from the valley below with timed exposures.

Well past midnight, and the race is still going strong. After completing a lap, a biker checks in to the registration tent. Bikers carried RFID tags, which were instantly scanned by Granny Gear into their computer system. This allowed results to be generated in real-time. Granny Gear also had an 802.11 WiFi network set up, and I frequently fired up my PowerBook to download photos from my Nikon D100 and check in with the latest lap times.

I took a total of 628 high-resolution (3,008 x 2000 pixels, minimal compression) photos during the 24-hour race. For those keeping score, that’s an average of 26 photos an hour. In pre-digital days, that would have been 26 rolls of film, which would have cost at least $200 to process. I was able to post photos and race commentary to DCSki in near real-time. No, I don’t miss film photography so much.

And finally, after noon on the second day, the race is over, and winners in various classes take the stage. I’m tired by this point, but know I can’t hold a candle to the racers. Many teams consisted of four members, each taking turns as they tried to log as many laps as possible, but the event also included a solo men’s and women’s category. In the solo category, a single rider tried to clock as many laps as possible — one right after another. Talk about grueling.

To read the story I wrote for DCSki about this event (along with even more photos), click here.

More Photos from Shenandoah National Park

Some photos I took at Shenandoah National Park throughout 2003 are shown below.

I’m not normally a floral kind of photographer, but spring flowers do provide nice contrast. The third photo captured a moth in midflight.

This buck was chasing a doe through a prairie. It was actually quite entertaining to watch — the two ran around in circles, playfully chasing each other for quite a long time. A la Far Side, as soon as they realized they were being watched by humans, they began exhibiting normal deer behavior — such as posing for this photograph.

“Deer in the mist.”

A collection of photos taken as the sun set in Big Meadows. Big Meadows is a great spot to capture sunset photos — providing a nice view of the western sky. But catching a beautiful sunset is hit and miss. Sometimes, clouds will settle in and make the sky uniform shades of uninteresting gray. One thing is certain: you’ll see dozens of deer grazing in Big Meadows in the early morning and late evening.

A couple shots during the Fall off of Whiteoak Canyon, taken on October 22, 2003. I camped that night and boy, was it cold! The temperature got down into the upper teens, with a steady wind. I shivered the whole night. The next morning, there was a light coating of snow and freezing rain covering everything.

A shot of me in Big Meadows taking some of the sunset photos you saw above.

Now that’s an Ad Campaign…

Speaking of iPods, MacMinute reports that the iPod has taken over the St. George subway station in downtown Toronto. iPod posters are everywhere. Support columns have been painted iPod mini colors, each saying “iPod” and showing a white Apple logo. A silhouette of an iPod user is painted along the edges of the stairs. Another silhouette adorns the used paper recycling bin. Everywhere you look — iPods. It’s an “Apple dreamland,” reports one Toronto resident.

Adrants, a site that provides analysis of advertising campaigns, reports that this type of advertising campaign – known as a “roadblock” – is expensive but very effective in achieving instant awareness as well as bonus press coverage. I don’t recall seeing a roadblock campaign in the United States for the iPod or any other product, but then again, I have bought a total of three iPods, so maybe there are some subliminal roadblocks somewhere.

To read MacMinute’s account and view photos of the subway station, click here.

More Photos from January ’03 Road Trip

In January 2003, I hit the road and headed west. Some photos from that trip are shown below.

I-70 heading west as the sun sets, just as the Rocky Mountains begin to rise out of the ground, after hundreds and hundreds of miles of plains.

A couple days later, a pack of snowmobiles lies in wait at Vail Resort.

A skier and snowboarder catch some air.

A shot of Tower Arch at Utah’s Arches National Park. Tower Arch is one of the most inaccessible arches in the Park. To get to it, you must first drive along Salt Valley road, an unpaved and rutted road that goes along Salt Valley Wash. Eventually a turnoff from the road arrives at a trailhead. The hike was a bit rough, because by this point in the trip, I was coming down with the flu pretty bad. While hiking to the arch, I made a wrong turn and nearly walked off a cliff. I had to backtrack a mile or two. Trails at Arches are marked by cairns, small piles of rocks scattered along the trail. It can be easy to miss one.

A shot on the way to Tower Arch.

The trailhead.

Onward to Las Vegas. This is a shot of the pedestrian bridge above the strip, connecting the MGM Grand with the New York New York casinos.

Another night shot. (Gotta take night shots in Vegas.)

By the New York New York casino, a memorial had been set up honoring the firefighters that died on September 11, 2001. Shirts from fire departments across the country were left at this memorial. I like this shot because it captures a quiet moment in an otherwise bustling city.

Two shots of the Fountains at Bellagio.