Thursday, October 11, 2018

2018 Oz Trails Off-Road Race Report or Gimme A Slab of Bruised Ribs with a Side of Sealant



The inaugural Epic Rides Oz Trail Off-Road had been on our schedule since we read the announcement earlier this year. It was a perfect race to slot in between Dakota Five-0 and the BT Epic in late October to help keep us topped off. 


We've ridden a lot of the race course for fun over the years and with something like 500 bursty climbs and thousands of turns, we felt it fit our power riding style quite well. And it was a first-time event that would pull in pros from all over. Yeah, had to do it.

The #mbtlimo had a new passenger this trip. We invited trail leader extraordinaire Eric Geiger to come along. One day the Husboy and I were asking ourselves who hadn't been on a trip with us who likes to do the long haulers? Eric's name came up and he jumped at the opportunity. Mike Miles also tagged along on the initial drive out and then Ted Mustachio Lechnowski and No Fucks Eyberg showed up later Friday night. We rented a little Airbnb just under a mile from the start line. That was lucky b/c at the time we signed up, the route hadn't been disclosed yet.

We left Omaha super early Friday morning. So early in fact that we woke up the family living above the 24-hour drive through at Abelardos on Center Street. Needless to say, we didn't end up leaving town until 6:30 but our breakfast burritos were hot and fresh (hopefully Ryan's tip encouraged them not to spit in our eggs).

We arrived in Walmart's hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas around the lunch hour, and entered our rental after several attempts to reset my password on the AirBNB app to get the door key code. We dropped our stuff and rode to the town square that was full of farmer's market vendors and all things bike festival from tents to the epic finish line arch to a vendor market. The whole set up was super pro and it should be. 


Epic Rides is no newbie when it comes to putting on high end bike events. They also put on the Whiskey 50 and a bunch of other races that attract riders from around the country and beyond. It didn't hurt that this race in particular paid out the most in mtb history to the pros. Equally. 

We rode from town along the greenway's many bike parks to show Eric what life is like in mountain bike dream land. We rode along the freeride track at Crystal Bridges, then to the small park at Slaughter Pen that started the mtb craze down there. Eric even rode off the big drop! From there we continued on the greenway to Blowing Springs but first we had to ride the cement pump track that was next to the elementary school. Finally we got to the hole shot where we cheered on the fun riders who were doing a 25 miler. The track was dry and loose that day but the forecast for the weekend was going to make this the last time we were going to see dry tracks. We rode a couple sections of the trail and then turned back to check in and get our number plates. 



There were bmx stunt riders doing amazing aerial stunts off of ramps and music pumping and people having a hella time. I didn't want to leave but it was coffee time and that meant only one place: Onyx Coffee Lab. Go there. Right now.

Back at the house we rested and got bikes ready. By the time dinner was on the stove, Mustachio arrived and he was able to eat with us. Todd arrived much later after we had gone to bed. I left the light on for him.

RACE DAY
Alarm went off at 4:30 am. With a 7:30 start time, I needed to get food and coffee down. I slept really well which is very unusual for me. Must have been the king size bed! Soon the rest of the natives appeared one by one, some more bleary-eyed than the other (seems the bedroom upstairs was a tad warm and noisy). 


The forecast was rain off and on but not much accumulation. When we left in the dark for the start line. The air was stagnate and humid. My new Oakleys were probably not going to be much use to me this day, I thought. As we turned the corner to the start area, the emcee was already 5 cups of coffee in and loud and excited. It was 25 minutes til go time. I took two spins down the finishing straight that was all gated off, and about 3 potty breaks and then got in line about 8 rows back. 


My start was clunky trying to get into my pedal. Once clipped in, I stood up and hammered. Ted was long gone and Eyberg was doing the shorter route that started later. I didn't see Eric. My pacing was good. Soon Ryan came around and I jumped on his wheel. There was a bit of wind once we were out of the town center. We took neighborhood and backroads, lined with locals holding onto to children in one hand and coffee in the other. The first big climb up a gravel road sent me backwards a bit after a great threshold effort to almost get up to the front. I caught back up to Ryan and as soon as the dirt road went down, this giant cloud of dust overtook all of us and it was a free for all. I lost Ryan for bit as he zigzagged among the riders so I tried to follow as best I could. Once in the trees we were strung out pretty well and didn't get hung up on anything. Ryan disappeared and I got into my groove. 


It was a pretty steady effort for the first 90 minutes. Lots of punchy climbs and lots of riding up switchback flow trails. I felt like we were betraying them. And, well, let's just say they were going to get their revenge. But equally there were as many descents and so flowy. So fun. The Back 40 is like riding a bunch of tiny kid roller coasters through a ravine. I wanted to put my hands in the air but that would have been bad.


A steady rain began early in the race. Thank the Lord it wasn't cold. It was like riding in a jungle. Oakley's came off and didn't go back on my nose the rest of the day. 

Check one at 15 miles in seems a bit chaotic. I didn't see where to fill up. It seemed as if they were still setting it up or something. So I kept going and decided I'd make two bottles last til mile 30. I hadn't seen any women literally since the start line. I had no idea where I was until I was told I was top Something overall about 25 miles in. I was feeling awesome and all cylinders were firing. I caught the eventual winner of my age group (this is important information later) on a road climb. We went back and forth a bit and I was starting to run out of water so I pulled off at a random aid station that appeared and filled one bottle. Bad decision #1. So I'm back on the chase and caught back up to Renae. That effort put me in the hurt so I backed off a bit. I went through check 2, grabbed a beer up and got a push up the hill. That was awesome.




So I'm cruising along and I see a random guy at an intersection looking up and yelling at someone. Renae had taken a route that took her off the trail and up above the course. So I followed the guy on the actual course and put in an effort to create a good gap. So I'm hauling it, feeling great. Then I see another woman on the side fixing a flat. She's got it under control so I keep going. A few turns later the trail opens up in a field and it goes through two trees. Between the two trees is a rather tall and fat root. No problem. I'll totally wheel lift over that thing, I said to myself (mistake #2). I amped up the effort, preloaded the suspension, got the front wheel over and then it got really ugly. My guess is my back wheel didn't clear the slick root, sending the bike sideways and since my weight was forward, I continued on that trajectory while the bike slid under me. I hit on my right side. I stood up and felt the pain immediately in my right side. I've never had broken or cracked ribs but been around enough guys who have and it seemed to me that I probably had just a good bruising because I could move my chore around and take big breaths without too much pain. I took a quick assessment of my legs and then looked at the bike. All seemed well so I jumped on the bike and as soon as I pedaled there was a loud grinding noise coming from the derailleur. In that time, the woman changing the flat came by and said the girls were really getting hit hard. I'd find out what she meant later. Upon accessing the issue with my der, I noticed something on it and went to wipe it off so I could get a better look at things and well, it was a small strip of bloody skin. I looked around at myself and it was only after lifting my arms did I see the blood running down my right arm. My elbow was ground zero of that crash and I must have also landed on the bars or headset , hitting my ribs. My computer had also popped off. I was able to put the chain back on and get back on the bike within a couple minutes and I felt surprisingly good. Yes, there was pain in my rib area but not sharp so I decided to keep on the gas. 


It rained off and on the whole race and the tracks were sketchy in spots. Somewhere between miles 30-40, my day took a turn for the worse in more ways than one. On a section of track called the Ledges where parts of the trail actually are bench cut out of the hillsides but the base is limestone rock that can be super slick. The track follows folds in the hillsides, and going over ravines sometimes involved wood bridges, sometimes on armored trail made of the same limestone. In one particular junction and since I was already injured, I didn't want to chance a slip so I decided to clip out and walk over one particular area. Another guy did the same behind me only he ended up slipping off the ledge and fell ass over tea kettle, bike and all at least 10 feet down, yelling along the way in pain. I yelled out that I was coming to help and by use of small trees and brush, picked my way down to the guy. I asked if he thought anything was broken. He said no but that he fell on his back pretty hard. By the time I got to him he was sitting up and saying he was probably okay. As soon as I saw other riders, I yelled for help and we daisy-chained the guy's bike up and then they helped pull him up. We weren't far from a trail patrol station but the guy seemed fine. His bars were all twisted and his helmet was broken but considering, not bad. So, I got back on my bike and continued on.

Not for long.

Maybe 5-10 minutes later, my back tire started spewing sealant so I jumped off and quickly tried to get the sealant to do its job. It seemed to have worked but as soon as I got a couple bike pedals up the track, air started coming out again. Now my tire was pretty low but the sealant seemed to beholding. I hit the tire with my only Co2 and some more air came out but then stopped. It was squishy but not horrible, probably 15psi. I rode for quite a while but then it started coming out again so I started walking and asking people for air as they went by. The ravine guy of all people stopped and gave me an extra Co2 so I gave it a hit instead of putting in a tube. The tire was a muddy mess and I as probably going to fuck it up anyway. The air held for a ways but slowly leaked out. When I reached the last aid station at mile 40ish, I was yelling for a pump of any kind but everyone just stared at me like I was asking for the recipe for peking duck. Kinda annoyed, I kept on riding until I was banging the rim around the Slaughter Pen trails, finally deciding to walk once back at Blowing Springs. I asked those who went by if they had anything. And guess who stopped? Renae, the woman who ended up winning the race, actually. She took off her pack, dug out the pump, showed me how to use it and still managed to beat the remaining racers all the while with only one cleat. 

Yep, shit show.

I pumped up the tire but it wasn't holding enough to ride hard. I should have put in a tube at that point but I wasn't that far from the end and by then I figured I was off the podium since I hadn't seen any of the others my age all day but if you know me I don't quit and finishing DFL is better than quitting any day. Plus it was hard to know what experiences were happening with the others. Maybe one had dropped out. Maybe they were actually behind me. I had to keep going. 

It wasn't until the very last section of single track that the tire finally rolled off the rim and I ran to the finish line once I got onto the finishing straight. I pumped the air at the bystanders as they cheered me to the finish. I heard over the PA "We got a runner" and the crowd sent me some love.


Finally across the line, I was a mess. I looked around for anyone and found Eric. I told him my situation and to ask Ryan to meet me at the bike shop so I wouldn't have to walk back to the house. After sitting there a bit, and seeing Eric ride by trying to figure out the correct way to the house, a buddy from KC who had just started working at the shop had one of his mechanics put my tube in for me. As I was standing there, dripping and muddy, getting funny looks from people, the mechanic said my tube had a hole!!!! Huh, no shit. I wouldn't have been able to finish had I tried to put a tube in during the race after all. I smiled at the situation, thinking about the choices I made during the race that caused a chain reaction of other events, that ultimately resulted in me walking across the finish line and also somehow into 5th place. 



Getting the last spot on the podium was remarkable. I had it in me to get up higher on the step when I started the race. I had it in me even at the end but the day just didn't work out that way. Even the pros' race the next day had similar difficulties so it seemed if you kept air in your tires and rubber side down, you had a better chance just to finish. It's races like these where I learn the most. I don't flat that often. I haven't crashed that spectacularly in a while. I don't ride off-road in the rain much and I certainly don't pull someone out of a ravine regularly. All of those challenges required a mental toughness to stay focused and adjust to the situation as best I could. We were all facing similar challenges but it was refreshing that, despite those challenges, we still found a way to take care of each other. 


2 comments:

  1. Great story! Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice recap! Glad to have seen you all, and love the tube story even more now that I'm a part of it and the irony. See you all soon I'm sure.

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