Banjo Hannah of Minneapolis, MN volunteered at CP1 of The DAMn Bike Race in August, 2017. She has been kind enough to share her college essay on her own DAMn experience. The Banjo Brothers will return as a sponsor and manager at Checkpoint One for the 2018 event. Enjoy.
“44°39'27.6"N 95°19'11.5"W”. I study the Google Maps as our car rolls to a stop. I glance at my dad, in the driver’s seat, watching the gravel road settle behind us. Is this right? We are 60 miles from the South Dakota border, parked at the (unmarked) intersection of nowhere and nothing. The only signs of life are bedding deer, prairie grass, brambles, and thistle. There is no place to pitch a tent. Together we are working Checkpoint One of the Day Across Minnesota Bike Race: a 240 mile long trek from border to border that riders must complete within 24 hours. It takes a certain type of crazy to participate in a ride like this. But when you grow up immersed in the Minneapolis bike scene, it’s a type of crazy you’re accustomed to.
The race starts at midnight. Right now, it’s nine o’clock and the sun is surrendering to the horizon. We rush to set up our oasis, with maps to the next checkpoint, two five-gallon jugs of water, a single kerosene lamp, a large burner to make bottomless pots of coffee, and a griddle for pancakes. Once the checkpoint is ready, my dad shakes out the sleeping bags. “It looks like we’ll sleep in the car tonight,” he says, mid-yawn. When my alarm sounds, I’m disoriented. It’s cold. We’re not alone. A few feet behind our den, the diesel engine of an RV hums. When I peer past this mammoth vehicle, I see dozens of cars lined up along the roadside. These are SAG (support and gear) wagons for the racers, driven by their slightly less crazy friends and family. These support teams have to be on-the-ready to fix mechanicals, refill water bottles, and replenish plentiful stacks of peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwiches. Right now, most of them are dozing in the front seat.
Less sleep deprived onlookers gather by our tent, in hopes of charming themselves into a cup of coffee. We’re expecting the first wave of riders to arrive at three fifteen in the morning, which means we have two more hours to wait until we see the dim flicker of bicycle headlights. We try to make small talk, however, no one can pull their eyes away from the road.
I love racing. I’ve grown up mimicking the final stretch of the Tour De France with my friends, flying up neighborhood hills like swallows. I crave a heartbeat faster than the rotation of my tires. Yet, watching the first team of riders break past the checkpoint isn’t nearly as exciting as I thought it would be. When they reach the checkpoint they are silent. Some of them need to circle back to get the directions, so focused on moving forward that they don’t see our aid station. They have no interest in pancakes or coffee. I watch their arched backs and whirring pedals move east. They are chasing the sun.
And while I admire focus and drive of these unpaid weekend racers, I expected more. The slower riders, the ones who compete against their inner demons, will stop to enjoy a pancake and a cup of coffee. They sit in the tall prairie grass and tell us about competing against age, worn-out knees, and their mind simply telling them to stop pedaling. I realize these are the people I’ve been waiting for. Then, they move on, and I long for more. - Hannah Vanderscheuren