I hear heavy, nervous breathing all around me and feel my heart thrashing nervously in my chest.
I scuff my toes through the dirt, eager for something to do while I wait.
I take a brief look back at the portable toilets. But my attention is suddenly turned the other direction as a gunshot splits the air, and everyone around me feels a sudden shudder of relief. We move forward on tense, springy thigh muscles, knowing our legs won't be this agile for a few days.
We move as one brightly-spandexed unit, stirring up dust and excitement. This is a Le Mans start, a French tradition of a foot race leading up to an automobile race. Only this is no automobile race, the racers are the engines, and at the end of our jaunt awaits a different kind of steed, a two-wheeled contraption of joy and pain, also known as a mountain bike.
And this is no ordinary mountain bike race; this is the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde. Twelve hours of spinning, legs pumping and grinding gears through the beautiful rolling terrain of Cortez's own Phil's World trail system. As we all mount our bikes, the racers string out into natural positions - the fast guys are gone, the fun-seekers are cruising along and the rest of us are just trying to hang in there.
I try to do this race every year, though its popularity makes it harder and harder each year to get one of the coveted spots. For this year's event, the race filled up in less than 30 minutes and will be hosting a whopping 900 riders from as far away as Ohio. Who can blame the riders for being so excited? With an invigorating 16.5-mile course through juniper-covered mesas, you can't beat the views.
Some people do this as a solo category, riding in circles for 12 hours by themselves, which takes a special kind of character. Some partner up in the duo category, and the rest of us participate on 3- or-4-person teams.
And the race?
It gets better every year.
New memories and friends are made. Each year, the race boasts a different theme, providing a convenient excuse to ride in costume. I'll certainly try to ride faster than a speeding bullet in this year's "superhero theme!"
Despite all of the fun, one of the best parts of this race is the true meaning behind the event. All this hoopla is put on by a not-for-profit, 100 percent volunteer-based organization.
All of the proceeds go directly to benefit the youth of Montezuma County. The nonprofit group commits to kids and supports organizations that provide safe, encouraging and enriching childhoods. This cause is not only the best way in which to pay it forward, but also it's to build a community by developing a strong foundation with the leaders of our future.
Spectating is welcome and cheering is an energy boost. This family event even boasts children activities from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with a kid's race at noon.
Come on out to the Montezuma County Fairgrounds, if you'd like to catch the festivities.
For this is no ordinary bike race; this is the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde.