Last year I was very sentimental after winning the inaugural Oak Ass 100 mile mountain bike race at the place where it all started. 25 years earlier, me and my dad would join a couple of his work buddies, park outside the park, and then ride 10 speed road bikes down to the back entrance spillway and back. I was in middle school back then, so maybe 11 or 12 years old? Fast forward a few more years to my junior year of high school, and some good friends from the math team (Jeff King and Steve Montgomery) got me into mountain biking on Steve’s dad’s bike. We’d park one car in the south trailhead parking lot (it wasn’t called that back then because there was no north trailhead specifically for mountain bikes) and drive the other car up to the peavine falls parking lot. Then we’d bomb down the bump trail, climb (walk) up Johnson’s Mountain, and fly through all the opening singletrack back to the parking lot. One of us would stay with the bikes and the other two would drive together back up to the top to get the other car. I was hooked and would stare out the window from our high school, which had a beautiful view of Oak Mountain just waiting for the 3:00 bell to ring so I could race down to the park and get a ride in before dark. Fast forward 20 more years and here I was winning the Oak Ass 100 mile mountain bike race on the very same trails we used to shuttle.
Fast forward 1 more year, and I could only manage 6th, but if anything it even adds more to the picture of a lifetime of cycling. First, I’m thankful to not only be alive after a bad bike-car collision earlier this year, but to be able to race my mountain bike while training for next year’s Race Across America. Now let’s talk about the picture above of me and Kyle doing a pre-ride together the day before the race. In the background (I added in a separate zoomed in pic of what was behind us at the overlook) you can see my hometown of Hoover – most prominently the Galleria office building and hotel. What is significant about that is that as soon as I learned how to ride, we’d ride bmx bikes down to the Hwy 31 cement plant at the edge of our neighborhood (Woodmeadow) and climb on large boulders just across the street from where all the heavy machinery was building the galleria. It was fascinating to watch along with the adventure of biking through an abandoned cement plant and looking for snakes under boulders.
Kyle Taylor is a good friend that I met in person for the first time racing Berry Peddlar outside of Chattanooga a couple years ago and then again in the Roan Groan race near the TN/NC border. We’ve stayed in touch via Facebook and had planned to race 24 hour mountain bike nationals together before that all fell apart when I nearly literally fell apart a couple months out with the crazy accident — slamming into the side of a car making a left turn (or possibly u-turn) on a 25% descent is no fun.
As we were leaving this overlook, here comes Ty Magner and a friend who were in town to race the Oak Ass race the next day and checking out the course ahead of time. I know Ty from all my racing on the road. He’s currently racing professionally with Hincapie Devo, and it has been amazing watching him, Oscar Clark, Joey Rosskopf, and several others come up through the southeast’s local Pro/1/2 scene and now making it in the professional ranks.
The race itself was great, and I’ll come back to that in a minute, but first let’s skip to the end to talk about the podium (pic above) I missed by one spot! Justin is a good friend from northwestern Tennessee who I first met doing all the ultracx races last year. Gordon is the current singlespeed national champ and just recently returned from quite the adventure racing La Ruta after winning the NUE series. He’s also good friends with and from the same tri-state area of TN/KY/VA as one of my Clemson Cycling teammates and college roommate, Bert Hull. I was fortunate to host Gordon and Barnabas who hails from one of my favorite places to ride in the whole world — the Cashiers / Highlands area of southwestern north carolina — Friday night where we bonded over bunnies and booze or maybe just bunnies, bike racing stories, and maps, but in any case great guys! I already mentioned Kyle, which just leaves Jeff Clayton who came in 5th. Jeff helped me out during the race by loaning me a pump — which I promptly broke during my 30 minute flat tire change. Jeff and I have battled back and forth at Oak Mountain several times in the 6 hour and 9 hour chainbuster series as well as the Oak Ass race last year.
So let’s jump back a bit and talk about that flat tire – first off, for all you roadies out there attempting to change a mountain bike 29er tire – DO NOT THROW AWAY the little nut that you screw on to hold the tube in place when pumping up the tire. It is quite unnecessary for a road bike, but for a mountain bike tube if you throw it away then you have to push the tire in quite a bit to keep the valve stem from going back through the rim. This blocks the air coming in through the valve stem and your CO2, and your first fellow racer’s CO2, and the next one’s CO2, and even the bike pump won’t work right! Save and use the nut!!! I’d like to say this is my first experience with this, but it’s actually the second time I’ve been unable to quickly change a mountain bike tire during the race for the exact same reason. Next time, though, I will remember you have to screw on the little nut to make it work.
My flat came shortly after catching and passing Justin Lowe before he had his big wreck on Blood Rock – look at the massive cut on his face and the blood all over his bike!
Even after wrecking, he stopped to help me try to fix my tire before realizing he had left his CO2 and pump in his other bag. By this point in the race, I had worked my way from way down back up to about 4th place. I have had an unusual year, with a lot less mountain biking than normal. My singletrack skills were somewhat rusty at the beginning of the race and I quickly faded back from the leaders during the opening 7 miles of singletrack. I kept on it though and had a decent climb and Jekyll and Hyde descent which meant I was catching people back on the Peavine Falls road climb. All those people I had caught and passed came by as I sat there on the side of Johnson’s Mountain trying to figure out why I couldn’t get air into the tube. Eventually, I gave up and carried the bike the rest of the way down the mountain to the gravel road intersection thinking that the course marshall I had seen there earlier might have a pump. Unfortunately, they were gone, but a very kind lady came by and leant me a tube (I had blown the first replacement tube when I tried to ride it flat down Johnson’s after I couldn’t get air into it). Jacob Tubbs leant me his CO2 and adapter and again I couldn’t get it to work, but then Brad Hood came by and showed me what I was doing wrong (i.e., no nut). I was off again after 30 minutes thinking that I was probably out of the top 10 and hoping to slide back into the top 10 to continue a near perfect season of only top 10 finishes.
I was really depressed at the good race I was having suddenly disappearing into thin air. I took my time riding the singletrack slowly b/c there was only about 15 PSI in the rear tire. Then I stopped by the start/finish area, got some food, and rode to Mike Flowers’ car and borrowed his floor pump to pump the tire up to 32 PSI (not wanting to flat again). I stopped by my car and called Kristine and asked her if I should keep going or quit if there was anything she needed me to do. She said she had nothing planned and was planning to come out to the park to run anyway, so I decided to keep going. I rode slowly at first, but then I started having so much fun I thought I’d go a little faster — setting a new PR on the Jekyll & Hyde technical section cleaning both the top and bottom parts without dabbing even once. This was a huge victory for me and that motivated me to push it hard for the remainder of the 3rd and 4th laps.
By this time I was so far down from the leaders, though, that there was no hope even catching 5th place. Still I was very happy to finish 6th and continue a near-perfect season with my only non top-10 finishes coming in road nationals (65th) and the pensacola stage race time trial (12th – which was still my best ever showing in a time trial with a strong field).
That was pretty much the race – one more picture from the start with Justin holding my bike – and then my annotated data. Thanks for reading!
2014 Oak Ass 100 mile mtb race heartrate zone summary