Calling all tortoises: Minneapolis’ 24-hour bike race

For one full day last year, Jessica Baltzley rode her bike on a five-mile loop in the streets of south Minneapolis.

“I definitely think I started hallucinating a little bit on parts of the night, especially when it was raining and there were a lot of shadows,” Baltzley said.

In all, Baltzley traveled about 225 miles that night and the next day to win the female division of Minneapolis’ first 24-hour bike race, called the Powderhorn 24.

“By the end, when I realized it was possible I was going to win, I was kind of too tired to care. I just wanted to keep going until the very end and not punk out,” she said.

Baltzley, 30, started bike commuting after moving to Minneapolis from Florida five years ago. She participated in her first bike race only two years ago. She describes herself as a “tortoise,” someone who goes slow but just keeps on going to challenge herself.

And that means competing in the Powderhorn 24 again. Registration opens this Sunday.

The Powderhorn 24 is scheduled to start on June 22 at 7 p.m. It’s modeled after a similar race in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. Participants can tag-team the course throughout the 24 hours or, like Baltzley, approach it solo.

The race’s main organizers all live in the Powderhorn neighborhood of Minneapolis. Kayla Dotson, 26, has ridden in the Riverwest race. She says the atmosphere in Milwaukee was similar to what she envisioned in Minneapolis.

“There were people just teeming in the street at four in the morning, neighbors just mingling and people just celebrating,” Dotson said. “It seemed like a really good recipe for non-traditional community building.”

Another organizer Elise Adair, 27, said they felt this community spirit during Minneapolis’ first 24-hour race last year.

“Even if people didn’t necessarily know what was happening initially, once they found out they were very supportive, people would come out of the woodwork doing weird, random stuff,” Adair said. “Someone I work with…ended up living on the route and they didn’t really know what was going on, but they ended up making pancakes [for riders].”

Organizers are trying to attract as diverse a crowd as possible. They’ve built a system into the race that rewards riders for stopping by local community organizations. Last year, a community garden recruited riders to cart mulch from one end of the garden to the other.

This year, the race will include teams involving everyone from a family of five to a gaggle of unicyclists.

Tonja Sahaydak, her husband and her three children, Josie, 7, Jarod, 11, and Justice, 13, rode in the race last year. Because they live right on the course in Powderhorn, they turned their yard into a pit stop, with watermelon and other fatigue-reducing treats.

“We took turns going, so whenever a kid went on a lap, they had a parent go with them,” Sahaydak said. “We had lots of friends come out and join us, and their friends would join them and go out for a lap with them.”

Powderhorn 24’s course this year follows a square of about 4.5 miles through the Powderhorn community. It starts at Freewheel Bike on the Midtown Greenway and includes some bike boulevards. Organizers have promised police that they’ll disqualify any rider who doesn’t follow traffic laws. Helmets are required.

Baltzley, the rider who won in the female solo category last year, hopes that this year’s ride includes more women so she can push herself even harder.

Even without the competition, Baltzley is bracing herself for the time when she’ll mount her bike and not stop riding until the following evening: “I know what I’m in for enough that I’m nervous because I know how totally hard it was.”

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Jessica Baltzley prepares to bike down the Midtown Greenway. (Image: Jon Collins)

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