I DID IT! The Trail of Tears 100 bike race is now over and man was it intense. Lisa (my wife and support team) headed to Oklahoma City on Friday, June 18th. Arriving at the start/finish line about 6:30 pm, I got my registration packet with map and cool bike shirt. We then headed for the hotel and a quick dinner at a local Cajun food place (in OKC?). I was in bed by 10:00 pm.
5:00 am - The alarm goes off and I’m up getting hydration packs filled and doing a final check on my bike. I had actually woken up about 3:30 and slept on and off until 5:00 ( pre-race nerves). My bike is a 5 year old Gary Fisher Tassahara. This was my first real mountain bike and it has been really good to me for all these years. I’ve ridden it in 5 adventure races and untold miles of single track, road and gravel road. I just put a new rear wheel on it at the urging of my local bike shop. Another bike shop owner had talked me into using semi-slicks for the race since so much time would be on the road. It had worked pretty well in training so that was my set-up. For nutrition I was going with a 100oz hydration bladder, a bottle of Accelerade in the cage and GU and Clif Bars in a bento box attached to my top tube.
6:45 am – After a quick breakfast at the hotel we get to the start/finish for the pre race meeting. It is totally overcast and we can hear thunder in the distance. So much for the 100 degree heat that I was expecting. I’m not worried about rain, I trained in it. The race finally started about 7:20 with about a 1/8th to ¼ mile run to the bikes and then to the first mountain bike trail. I had decided it wasn’t worth killing myself by sprinting ¼ mile to the bike at the start of a 100 mile race so I stayed in the middle of the pack and ran with a guy from Conway, AR named Keith. He had done the Ozark Challenge and was just starting to get into this kind of crazy racing. We had planned to ride together if we could just to have company and someone to draft with. As we got to the bikes I got on the single track just ahead of Keith. Unfortunately this would be the last time I would see him during the race. There was much carnage in the woods on the Lake Hefner trail. I saw two women ahead of me get their bikes locked together only to have their chains come off once they got going again. It was very crowded and we had to go pretty much single file. I went by several crashes and flat tires and other bike ailments. The trail is nice and I would love to do it again without the traffic. Some nice drops and some areas that really allow some speed. I had a couple of guys on my tail the whole time but I pushed myself to stay ahead of them. I would see one of them several times during the race including the end.
Lisa said that I came out of the woods in about 10th place. This would be my best placement during the race and I only had 95 miles to go. The ride then went down Lake Hefner Road in Northwest OKC to Acadia Lake in Northeast OKC. By now the rain was coming down in sheets. I made the mistake of starting the race with my sunglasses on when I should have switched out the lenses to clear but they did help keep the water out of my eyes. I rode with a pack of about 6 or 7 riders. We kept a pace of about 20-22 mph and I’m thinking this is going to be a faster race than I originally thought. Man was I wrong! Hefner Road had some nice rolling hills and we were a large enough pack of riders that we took up a full lane on the 4 lane road. We finally had to turn north to get to the next trail and had a nice up hill. Things were going well and I was able to keep pace and have some vanilla GU while riding the hill. I had reached down a little earlier for some Accelerade and realized that I must have given my nice polar bottle to the trail gods at Lake Hefner Trails. A minor inconvenience, Lisa had two more bottles in the cooler and I would be seeing her in a couple of minutes. One more turn to get to the next trail and the guys that were behind me in the beginning were leading the pack. We had also picked up some strays along the way and were now a group of about 10 or 12. The two guys in the lead missed the next turn and I took the lead of the pack for the ride to the trail and coming into checkpoint one. I stopped just to get another bottle and my passport out, and then was on my way.
To get into Acadia Park we each had to stop at the gate and pay 3 dollars. This took more time. As I started on the trail there was no one around me. The trail was very sandy and my semi-slicks were digging into the wet sand it took me awhile to adjust to the new style of riding. As I rode I started catching some people with drive train and tire problems. I was a little worried about my bike. The wet sand was getting in everything and I could hear my derailleur and chain grinding with every turn and shift. I soon passed the two guys from earlier in the ride. One of them was broken down on the side and it looked bad. There was a nice stream crossing that couldn’t be ridden and since my feet were already soaked from the rain I didn’t care much about walking through the creek. I also caught a young lady from Memphis that reminded me of one of my training partners, Sarah. She was tough on the single track and we rode together for quite a while. We finally got back on the road and headed across the . The rain had let up some but I could still hear thunder and it was very dark. I decided to get some distance behind me now that I was on the road and I didn’t like being exposed on that dam with thunder and lightning around so I took off and started riding a good pace on more rolling hills out to where we had to read a weight limit sign to prove we had been out that far and not cheated. The information I need was “10 tons” and I was heading for checkpoint 2, the beginning of the river section. It was a driving rain now and my sunglasses were fogging up. I was hitting 35 to 40 mph on the downhills and the rain was feeling like pinpricks. The good news was that my drive train stopped making noise and was running clear and smooth. Just as I was coming up on the checkpoint I stopped at a road crossing to check my direction when the young lady from Memphis caught up with me and we rode into the checkpoint together. After that checkpoint I never saw her again.
Lisa was waiting for me with a tuna fish salad wrap for me. I was about 40 miles into the race, I didn’t have a dry spot on me and the river lay ahead. I ate about half the wrap, changed out my sunglasses for clear and headed for the river.
The river has no trails it is just a river. A sandy, winding river were the only way to go is from sandbar to sandbar crossing waist deep water that is going in the opposite direction of your goal. I tried to ride on some of the sandbars but had to walk for the most part because my tires would just sink every time I put weight on the bike. Although the mud and sand would get washed off with each stream crossing it would just cake up again on the next sandbar. My shoes soon filled with sand but I was very glad that I opted for my adventure racing shoes and regular pedals instead of clipping in. This walk would have been hell in bike shoes. The river was shortened some this year possibly due to the rain. It was still about 3 ½ miles long and at the exit point we had to slog up a muddy trail to the road. The rain had finally let up and the sky looked like it might be done with the downpours for the day. Luckily it was still over cast which kept it cool.
After I got off the river I stopped with some other racers and lubed up my drive train. The bike deserved to be taken care of. I had seen a lot of bikes costing 6 or 7 times as much as mine and much newer broken down. I guess I’m still kind of an old school minimalist. All that fancy stuff is just more stuff to breakdown. My old Gary Fisher hard tail was doing well.
I next headed down Post Road for checkpoint 3 at Drayper Lake in Southeast OKC. This would be the last off road section of the race. Post Road was a long straight road with more rolling hills. So far I had seen no leg burning hills like I was used to in Arkansas. This was a good thing but as I went past the 50 mile mark I could tell I was starting to feel this workout. I was starting to feel a bit nauseous and tried to drink some more and had a raspberry sorbet Clif gel. It didn’t help much. What did help was riding with a guy from Dallas. He was a cross country cyclists who had done a 12 hour ride a few weeks earlier. He was a strong rider and left me after a while. As I was getting close to the checkpoint I stopped to look at the map and make sure I was heading the right direction when the guy from Dallas came up on me. He had stopped a while back at a convenience store and I had passed him. We rode together and talked the rest of the way to the checkpoint. He had had a lot of bad luck having missed a turn at one point and had two flat tires before the halfway point.
At the checkpoint Lisa was waiting for me with a McDonalds cheeseburger which I promptly at half of. She went to refill my hydration pack and then berated me for not drinking enough. I was still feeling kind of sick when I started on the last trail of the day. As I was going in the rider in second place was coming out. He was riding a cyclocross bike and was 17 minutes behind the leader. I figured that if he was only coming out while I was going in I must be doing pretty well. Of course there was 10 miles of mountain bike trail between us (ouch). This trail was definitely the most challenging of the three. It was very muddy and I was learning how to control the skidding around the turns. All the bike handling I had to do was wearing on me. I got passed by approximately 7 riders during this section and caught no one. I was bonking and I knew it. Lisa said she was going to wait at the checkpoint until I came out so I was looking forward to another break then. I saw a fawn and a doe on this trail both within a couple of feet from me. It was a beautiful trail and another one I would love to do again under different circumstances. It went on forever. About ¾ of the way through you come to some big drops, some I did and some I decided that I had come to far to die now and walked. I did one that I felt like I was sitting on my back tire to do. These were bigger drops than I have ever done. I was getting tired of being past and vowed that I would be stronger when I hit the road. I looked down at my odometer and saw it was coming up on 70 miles which meant I was close to the end of this section. I looked up and saw a wonderful sign that said, “END”. I came off the trail and Lisa was there. She cleaned off my glasses told me to drink more and kicked me out of the checkpoint (Good Girl).
I was on the road again. I was tired but confident that I could finish this race. I had one more checkpoint just 10 miles away. Two guys caught me but I was getting fed up with that and got back ahead of them and pulled them to the final checkpoint at a convenience store near the interstate on Sooner Road. Lisa had a power drink for me but I didn’t want it and asked for a cold coke instead. After downing half of it I went behind the store and threw up. It actually made me feel better. Lisa said to get out and finish this thing so we could go home. She was a little worried about me.
Twenty miles, that’s nothing. I do that in training all the time. Let’s see, if I was training down at the river I could cover this on my mountain bike in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Twenty miles is nothing, it’s all road, piece of cake.
The sun was out now and it was getting warmer. I only had to go up Sooner Road to Hefner and down Hefner to the finish. These rolling hills were getting harder. Two riders behind me coming on a couple of more miles and they pass me, I want to hang on to them. I finally get to Hefner Road and I can no longer see them. I don’t see anyone, just cars. I go from the two lanes back to four lanes. I hope I’m not weaving too much; this road is busy on a Saturday afternoon. LOOK! Convenience stores. I could stop and lube my chain up which is making noise again. Maybe if I pull over and throw up again I’ll feel better. I look at my odometer it says 95 miles. 95 miles? I can do 5 miles standing on my head. What if my odometer is wrong? Can’t think that way, keep pushing. I stop at a light (rule of the race) and another rider is next to me. It’s one of the guys that was right behind me in the beginning of the race his partner must be history. The light changes and he takes off past me. The next light and two other riders catch me and move ahead. I’m sick of this and I’m better than this. Suck it up Joe and catch them. There is one hill in front of me than a long downhill to the finish. I remember, I LIKE HILLS! I start to pump the bike and am soon doing 16 to 17 mph up this hill. I pass one rider than another. I don’t want to look back afraid I’ve sparked energy in them. I keep riding hard and crest at close to 20 mph. It’s all downhill now. I push to 35 mph, my bike chain is screaming as I pull into the parking lot to the finish. There are several huge mud holes, careful I don’t want to fall now. I push hard and the guy that was right behind me at the start of the race finishes just seconds ahead of me but the other two are way back as I cross the line.
My Goals in the race were in this order: (1) Finish the race; (2) Finish in less than 10 hours; (3) Finish in the top half. I was 36th place out of 86, I finished in 9 hours 59 minutes and 9 seconds, I finished.
It was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done and during a lot of the race I was wondering why I put myself in these situations. A day after the race I’m trying to figure out how to improve next year. Thank you sir, may I have another!
I would also like to thank the race director, Crash Williams for a great race and all the volunteers that made it happen. This is a very well organized race and I’m pretty sure I’ll be back for more punishment.