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The Northeast 24-Hour Challenge, hosted by the Arcadia Bark Busters is absolutely no joke. Held in the hills of Odessa, New York this race is everything an off-road rider could ask for. There’s plenty of interesting bikes, over a thousand riders, and greatly varied terrain. Classes consist of Iron-man (solo), pro team, and, A, B, and Novice classes. There’s even a class for family member duos. This race is for everyone who loves off-road riding!
First off let me start off by saying I am not a racer. Well not including the weekend of the NE 24 Hour. The point is growing up I didn’t race much, yeah sure I gave it a go at couple J-Day rounds in my college years, but for the most part I am a trail rider on the weekends. I normally go and ride with a few buddies on the local trails in western Maine.
So, how did I find myself racing this cool event? Well, I was supposed to race last year’s NE24 with my good friends from Sullivan Racing but was sidelined due to an injury from riding your Editor Kurt’s property a few weeks prior to the event. This year my friends at Sullivan Racing started another team, but due to logistical reasons had to back out. Fortunately, my buddy Scott Kilton bought the team and invited me to join his pack of animals. Seeing all my friends had a phenomenal time last year I knew I had to go!
After an almost 9-hour ride out in my teammate and friend Mike’s camper we finally made it early Friday morning. Once we were all set up and united with the rest of the team, bikes on trailers, campers, and pickup trucks all started rolling in. What was a vast open field of grass, quickly became pit city lined in rows, with bikes all lined up under tents and makeshift mechanics area. I quickly learned that I was in for a whole lot of fun!
Racing under the original team’s name “Dirt Hustlers” we were entered as a six-man, novice class team along with 30 other teams in this popular class. The six members of “Dirt Hustlers” varied greatly. Ranging from auto/marine detailer, an IT dude, an elevator mechanic, a clam-cop, a horse dentist, and probably most important, our team leader Scott Kilton, a dirt bike mechanic/excavation specialist. We all varied in age with being in my late 20’s and the rest ranging from their 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. Not to get too far off topic but this has got to be one of my favorite things about off-road riding, typically we’re all from completely different walks of life, but we all shared one thing in common, we all love to go rip a dirt bike through the woods.
Most of Friday was filled with bike and gear prep. Some of us changed out tires and tubes, which thankfully Kenda had a tent set up with plenty of tires for sale to ensure we all had traction to spare. Others were working on bike and helmet lighting. I myself am not much of a mechanic, but I do try my best, more times than not I find myself in a jam needing help from friends. That day was no different. Thankfully Scotty our fearless leader was able to help me replace the chain that I somehow managed to screw up. One takeaway I got from this experience is that there is a right tool for the job and there is also a wrong one.
After showing up a day early to get the pit set up, it was finally race day! Before the race officially started the race marshals and event staff had a rider’s meeting at 0900. Like any typical pre-event pep talk from officials at this meeting all participants were told the rules and what was expected of everyone.
Before we knew it bikes were being warmed up and brought over to the starting line. This was a sight to see. Bikes from the 80s, 90s, early 2000s and today were all getting in their perspective class line. Probably the coolest bike I saw line up had to be the red Yamaha Tenere 700 which looked amazing and sounded even better. The strangest ride was an old Suzuki DR100 fitted with a belt drive Predator garden tractor engine.
After both Canada’s and the United States national anthem were played it was time to go racing! Each start line had to start off in front of their bike, which was either held by a teammate or on its kickstand, once the green flag was waved each rider would sprint to their bike. What a sight to see! Pretty soon all the classes had their first rider take off from the start and make their first laps.
For the Dirt Hustler’s case we had one of our faster riders, Steve Scotia, take the first two laps. The official start time was 1000hrs and would go on till 1000hrs on Sunday. Once Steve had finished his two laps it was Scotty’s turn, then mine after me was Louis, Mike, and then Mr. Spooner. We maintained this order for most of the race, adapting as time went on.
I went out around 1:00 pm. Just a reminder this was the first time I raced a dirt bike competitively in over two years. I wasn’t sure what to feel. I was scared, excited, and thrilled all at the same time. Scotty came rolling into the pits just when predicted. He threw down some awesome lap times if I may add. My teammates threw the transponder into camel back and off I went through the pits to the racetrack. As soon as I saw those pink arrows pointing to the track letting me know it was okay to start moving fast, I hammered down. The first two miles of the track were fast and flowy, an absolute treat. The same could not be said about miles three to six. Once on to mile three, the track got sloppy, mud-covered shale, exposed roots, and a tight single track with trees on either side. The track was how my people in Maine say, “slicker than shit” and it couldn’t be truer. The first large hill on mile three was my biggest enemy on that track. The first time going up that hill I got about three-quarters the way up and my old Honda CRF250X did not want to go up any further. I was just fighting for traction stuck on mud-covered shale. After fighting the hill three-quarters of the way up I decided it would be best to ride back down the hill and hit with more speed. Thankfully third gear pinned, and a better line choice got me and my old bike up that hill.
Just a little back story of my old 250X, I bought her when I was 15 years old, a freshman in high school. Now I am 26, have a full-time job and still rip the old girl on the weekends. There are probably a thousand better bikes to ride during this event, but I couldn’t be more proud of ripping the old girl through this rugged track.
My first and only lap during the daylight I ran in one hour and four minutes certainly not going to set the world on fire with that time, but hey I never claimed to be fast, and that hill certainly didn’t help my time.
The weather was hot humid and overcast for most of the day. Into the night not much changed, it was still hot and very humid, and the threat of rain was imminent.
My second lap came around 10:00 pm. My bike I had a brighter LED Cyclops bulb installed, and I was running a Task Racing light pod heavy-duty Velcro-ed to the side of my helmet, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but both the bulb and the pod supplied me with plenty of lighting to navigate the track in the pitch black.
The track was worn in and believe it or not was better now that it was broken in. In my humble opinion, I felt the track was easier to rip around in the dark simply because I would just go with whatever line my headlights hit and just stayed on the gas. I had far fewer hiccups this lap, although that mile three hill still threw me for a loop, only this time I didn’t waste any time trying to push my bike up the hill, I simply turned back down and pinned it. Somewhere around mile eight a deer ran out in front of me, how I managed not to hit it, but certainly added to my already fun-filled lap. I don’t know how but I was able to shave six minutes off my lap. Maybe it’s because they shortened the track or maybe it’s because I was that much faster. Either way, I was stoked.
As the night pressed on the rain finally made an appearance and from what I heard from some of my teammates had made the track much harder. Lap times were well over an hour for most teams as the track continued to deteriorate.
For the majority of the race, Dirt Hustlers stayed in eighth place. Somehow over the night hours into the early morning thanks to my faster teammates we moved up to sixth place!
As the 24 hours were coming to an end you could tell just how tough this race was. You could see it on all the rider’s and event staff’s faces. The race also took its toll on the bikes as bikes left and right were getting towed out off the track. Riders were coming in with tires off their bead flat.
This race tests you mentally and physically. If somehow you could keep your body and your bike going you would somehow need to convince yourself mentally to keep going. A true challenge to mind, body, and machine.
The Dirt Hustlers would finish off the race with Mr. John Spooner bringing it in on the final lap. We finished the race with a solid sixth place out of thirty teams in our class. Not bad for a ragtag crew, last minute team. It was a hell of a time, the NE24 is no joke and I cannot wait for next year!