Powderhorn 24: Twenty-four hours on a bike

Fun folks showed up for the Powderhorn 24 this past weekend

Fun folks showed up for the Powderhorn 24 this past weekend

Imagine settling onto your bike saddle on a Friday evening with hundreds of cyclists, diversely clad in items such as padded-Lycra shorts and handcrafted jorts, all around you. Your mission, over the next 24 hours, is to pedal as many miles as you can on a five-mile square of Minneapolis's Powderhorn neighborhood. While other Twin Citians party till 2 a.m., you'll ride. As they scramble their eggs the next morning, you'll still be biking. You'll pedal and pedal until your legs give out, until you've turned into a zombie who bicycles that route over and over. You're about to get very, very intimate with your bike. Barry White intimate.

Between 7 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday, over 300 cyclists from the Twin Cities and elsewhere rode -- or tried to ride -- their bikes for 24-hours straight. Organized by a crew of Twin Cities bike fans, the Powderhorn 24 (PH24) is a daylong race emphasizing endurance, community, and hyper-caffeinated wakefulness. You can tackle it with a relay team, or go solo for all 24 hours. It's awesomely, stupendously challenging, and it's a helluva lot of fun.

For the second time, with my black-and-white road bike beneath me, I participated in the Powderhorn 24 as a solo male. I mostly lived up to the task. Also, I didn't die.

[jump] Why bike for 24 hours? George Mallory's oft-used quote about climbing Mount Everest works here: "Because it's there." We do things that defy logic and reason to test ourselves, and Powderhorn 24 is a safe zone for self-challenge. Bicycling as long as you can for as far as you can, alongside cyclists who live near you, in an event organized by cyclists like you, is inspiring and soul-enriching. It encourages self-reliance. It makes you familiar with city streets you've pedaled  thousands of times -- but never over and over in one day -- until you know every pothole and advantageous shortcut. And, most of all, it's fun to find your limits and ride among friends.

By the time 7 p.m. Saturday rolled around, I had biked roughly 130 miles, 115 of which counted for Powderhorn. That might seem hefty, but it's paltry compared to other PH24 participants. Solo winner Loretta Trevino rode 62 laps of the PH24 course for an estimated 310 miles. Murder Cats Turbo Crew, the top PH24 team, turned in 83 laps collectively -- more than 400 miles. All of that in just 24 hours! Bicycling among people like Trevino is an honor. As you trudge through your PH24 laps, they shoot past like super humans, averaging 15 to 20 minutes a lap.

I'm pleased with my 115 tally, but I'll aim for 200 next year. My need for sleep held me back. During this round, I took a three-hour break at 2 a.m., hoping to catch a few Zs in my car, but managed only 30 minutes. Around 5:30 a.m., I got on my bike again, and then quit at 3 p.m., after my 23rd lap, to go home and conk out. During my 115, I felt the zen state of repeat action. In the middle of a lap, I'd realize I had no idea how far into a loop I was, or what number I was on. But as soon as the next turn arrived, I knew to take it. It felt primal, animal, raw, and naturalistic.

A highlight of the experience were PH24's bonus stops. To keep things interesting, and to help you garner bonus laps, the organizers arrange extracurricular activities around Powderhorn. I made bee antennae for my helmet, burnt my initials into a piece of metal, tried (and failed at) bike polo, and designed a tassel for my handlebars. My favorite bonus was a 6 a.m. yoga class in Powderhorn Park, amid a cloud of mosquitoes. I also enjoyed being quizzed on my movie knowledge at Movies on 35th Street. Bonus stops are PH24's way of celebrating Powderhorn's locally owned businesses while giving you power-ups.

My post-PH24 Sunday was pretty low-key. My girlfriend (who rode an incredible 175 miles) and I slept the whole day, vegged out on junk food, then slept some more. PH24 is an experience that knocks you out, but once you've recovered, you can't wait to do it again.