When Glendale’s Bryan Lybarger heard about this past weekend’s Fire on the Rim mountain biking race in Pine, he knew he had to enter.
It didn’t matter that he lived 100 miles away, had never ridden competitively, didn’t own a car or have anyone to drive him up to Rim Country.
He hitched a ride on the city bus as far as it would take him, Fountain Hills, and then rode the rest of the way — that’s 80 miles — uphill.
It took Lybarger 26 hours to reach the starting line.
The race itself proved easier than getting to the starting line, Lybarger noted.
Then he hit the rocky sections and the trail quickly showed its teeth. Lybarger still managed a respectable 35th out of 60 finish.
He wasn’t the only pedaling oddball to find his way to Fire on the Rim.
A record number of riders signed up this year, some 200, organizers reported, a dramatic jump from last year’s 80.
This year’s riders proved they were every bit as crazy.
Geordie Hackett and Guy Bell, members of the Valley’s “Missing Link Racing,” say the team is made up of beer drinkers with mountain biking problems.
Hackett took this motto to heart this year — nearly oversleeping his start time due to a hangover, courtesy of the popular beer garden in the big pasture where many participants camped.
All crossed the finish line beaten, scarred and dazed from the trail’s arsenal of ploys: rocky outcrops, tree roots, rocky uphills and deceptively easy downhills.
Hackett said he wasn’t ready for it.
While his lungs felt strong, his legs felt like lead. Another rider called the trail a “kidney pounder.”
Bell, who took first in last year’s 30-mile race at Fire on the Rim, said he knew what to expect, but still didn’t take the trail as seriously as he should have. And he paid for it.
This year’s new beer garden almost wiped him out of the race.
Pre-game drinking Friday night left him hungover and tired. He missed the 7:45 a.m. start time by 5 minutes.
“I was having a good time, not really realizing how drunk I was getting,” he said.
Despite a painful hangover that he says “hurt so good,” Bell managed to place second.
Hackett, who ranked 11th in his age bracket in the nation last year, took sixth.
Both men said sections of the single-track, including up Hardscrabble Mesa Road, were especially tough. Another section they called the luge because it reminded them of a bobsled track, was “phenomenal,” Hackett said.
“Even trained riders went over their handlebars today,” he said.
Both men said it is hard to find challenging single-track today since most trails have been taken over by ATVs.
“The techiness was a surprise,” Hackett said.
Although the 30-mile race included 4,000 feet of cumulative elevation change, all three men said they would be back next year for another beating.
Lybarger said he might even join Missing Link. If he does, he will likely get a nonsensical nickname — customary for all new members of the group.
For reasons unexplained, the group calls Hackett Grasshopper and Bell Taco Bell.