Jim written in Black, Aaron in Blue
When Bonk Hard Racing first announced the Ozark Gravel Road Expedition (OGRE), a 150 mile gravel road race with 12,000+ feet of climbing, I cringed. I knew this would be on the radar for Team Virtus and my teammates and had a sneaking suspicion I’d get suckered into riding it. We’re like moths to a flame when horrible ideas are introduced. I sent out a feeler to see if anyone was interested. Sure enough, Aaron suggested we do the team event. I agreed and we signed up. That’s when he decided to read the fine print and discovered that the team event was not a relay, but just meant that we had to ride the entire 150 miles course together. Oops. Our team motto should be “If you’re going to be dumb, you’d better be tough”.
We seem to be a little of both. At least we communicate well.
As fate would have it, a few weeks later at the Trail Net Bike Swap and Meet, my Monster Bicycle Co booth was right next to Dan Dougan’s OZ Cycles booth. Dan is the mastermind behind the OGRE, so it gave me a great chance to pick his brain on the subject. To my horror, most of my questions were answered with a wild eyed enthusiasm and “I don’t know what’s going to happen!” But now I knew Dan, and he knew me, and there was no backing out. By the time race day rolled around, I had exhausted all possible scenarios that would prevent me from riding. Unfortunately, I was in good health, with a perfectly functioning bicycle, and no one had yet answered my “$50 if you come break my legs” post on Craigslist.
I almost answered that ad…that would have been awkward. You could have tried Dave’s method of leaving your bike unstrapped on the drive to the starting line. Clearly Dave is the brains of the team…luckily I spoiled his plans. Now I know why Dave didn’t talk to me all day.
The race was laid out with 3 pit stops where we could meet our support crews, reload food and water, and fix any mechanical issue. Between each of the pit stops was a mandatory checkpoint where our time was logged and we could top off our water. What this meant for us was that we could break it down into roughly 20 mile segments instead of focusing on the whole effort.
You mean that we would be suffering at 20 mile intervals.
Start to Pit Stop 1
Race day brought morning temps in the mid 30’s, so when the 30 second warning was shouted out before the start, Aaron and I were of course still getting dressed. Aaron had bought us some time by forgetting to fill his camelback and somehow we managed to get lined up in time. The entirety of Team TOG’s forces amassed in the back of the pack, and off we went, straight into a screaming downhill that left our fingers and feet frozen.
Our plan was to stick with Dan Dougan, who obviously new the course well and had informed us that he’d be riding a conservative pace. We stuck to this strategy for about 5 miles and discovered that Dan’s version of conservative was more in line with our definition of turbo, so we let him go and settled into our own pace. It was about this time that we came to the first steep climb and a decision needed to be made.
The decision to walk that first hill on a ride is never taken lightly. Once you’ve walked one, there’s no pride to keep you from walking the next one. Our egos would have preferred we mash up every hill we came to with grit and bravado, but we were in for a long day and didn’t want to blow up early. Besides, on the ridiculous hills in the Ozarks it was usually every bit as fast to walk as it was ride. We walked it.
Riding on towards CP1, it seemed that at the crest of every hill was Don Daly. Don was riding on a coed team with Barbie Miller (both crazy strong riders) and his single speed meant that he was fast up the climbs by default. He would get to the top and wait for Barbie, chatting with us as we passed. Don is a veteran on Ozark gravel and knew the course well. He shared his knowledge with us at the top of each hill by assuring us the worst was yet to come. We ended up leap froging with Don and Barbie for nearly the whole course.
We peddled on and linked up with John Porter just prior to CP1. John is a 60 year old rider from Kansas City and has been riding since before we were born. How’s that for base training? He agreed with our aggressive hill walking strategy and was immediately brought on as our third rider.
This was so awesome since I rode much of Cedar Cross last year with John. If it wasn’t for sharing the love of our Salsa Vaya bikes, I would have never noticed this was the same guy. I recognized his bike immediately as he rode up to me.
Somewhere in here my drive-train starting squeaking like a rat choir. If you’ve ever been plagued with this issue, you know the shame I was experiencing. It sounded like one of those bikes parked in front of the liquor store with a Wal-Mart bag over the seat. No big deal, not like I’m trying to sell bikes or anything. Aaron tried to comfort my self consciousness by pointing out how the eternal squeak makes my bike seem more like an abused garage sale find than a finely tuned race machine. Thanks buddy.
We hit CP1 for our first check in. Aaron has the bladder of a chinchilla, so as he used the facilities, I was tended to by an 8 year old race volunteer that was Johnny on the spot with water and food. I think that boy would have baked a cake had I asked for one. He was on it.
That kid was awesome! I hope somebody bought him an ice cream or a pony after all that work.
Out of CP1, towards the first Pit Stop, was more gravel and hills (a theme). The course doubles back over a section here, but we started to wonder when we began passing riders coming back our way. According to the route, these riders were either lost or a good 20 miles ahead of us. We would find out later that the course had been rerouted due to flooding.
The road into Pit Stop1 was one of the most scenic of the day. It cut straight across a ridge just wide enough for the narrow gravel road and dropped to a valley floor on either side. It was also home to 2 of the nastiest hills on the course. Unfortunately, one of these hills led straight into the pit stop, so we got a glorious reception from the pit crews as we pushed our bikes. It wasn’t very awesome.
We came into the stop, got maps for the next section of the race, and met up with my wife, Janie, who was acting as our support for the day. True to her DNA, she had a spread of food and beverage ready for our consumption. I had been using Carborocket Half Evil as my race fuel with great success and wasn’t very hungry, so I skipped most of the grub and focused on getting my bottles topped off. This is also where I traded my camelbak for a frame bag. I was concerned that I’d need the extra fluid capacity of the camelbak, but with the spacing of the checkpoints I was able to just carry 2 bottles on the bike and a spare in my jersey. Getting that weight off of my shoulders was a big plus.
Limiting this first stop to 10 minutes, we loaded back up, regrouped with John, and got to scream back down the hill we had just pushed up. We would be doubling back over the course for the next 8 miles. It took about ½ mile for me to realize I hadn’t lubed my chain as the lovely squeal began again.
Pit Stop 1 to Pit Stop 2
From Pit stop 1 our strategy was exactly the same…walk the ones we think will burn us out or give us a heart attack, and ride the ones we can in the lowest gear we can. We got very good at spotting each type before we attempted it, or we would ride to a certain spot on the hill, and walk the rest. Jim and I agree this was the reason we finished the race. It was a few miles down the road that I realized I had eaten too much at pit stop 1, and needed to pull back on the throttle a bit even on the flats so my gut could recover. It was somewhere in here we noticed some really nice cattle on a farm. They looked as though they had been washed and prepped just for us to ride by and gawk at. This wasn’t the last time this would be mentioned.
It was like riding through the stalls at a state fair. Every cow and horse we passed looked like it had just stepped out of a salon. I’m sure that was all organized by Bonk Hard Racing.
This was also the section that had the most dogs that liked to chase us…none of them gave us much problems, but I was ready with my Halt in case one was teething. I think this is also where we picked up Sheldon from the Orange Lederhosen race team. This was his first gravel race ever, and he was showing no signs of backing down. This was the first time I’ve met Sheldon, I love meeting people on bike rides.
By this time I had given up trying to out run dogs because they always seemed to be waiting at the bottom of a hill. I was kind of hoping one would maul me and drag me back to its yard so I could stop riding, but no such luck.
We ended up back at the same church for checkpoint 3, but this time we didn’t need to stop. This was the first time we heard that we may have been in 1st place in the male open division. We were skeptical of this claim, but just the thought of it gave us the extra juice we need to ride walk up more hills. I’ve not ridden in this area at all, but it was somewhere on leg 2 that I decided this route had the best and most descents for a gravel cyclist that this great state has to offer. They were so fast, if your brakes would fail on them, you would surely time warp. There were even quite a few that were fast enough to climb the inevitable climb waiting for you at the bottom.
I knew we had passed another team coming out of the first Pit Stop, but I was pretty sure we had another in front of us. Regardless, the prospect of winning our category was a good motivator.
In this section we had the joy of riding over the half way point in the race which was celebrated…only 77 miles left to ride. Into pit stop 2 we were feeling strong…legs starting to ache but not bad…just as though we’ve ridden our bikes 87 miles uphill.
My family came to meet up with us for pit stop 2 and it was a delight to see Isabel, Ethan and my beautiful wife during the race. This was a big mood booster for me. Again I shoved food in my face but was more careful not to eat too much. I decided to lie on my back and put my feet up into the back of the TOG racing van, and Jessica sat down and gave me a nice massage on my calves and quads…it was heavenly. Then I hear Lukas Lamb (who was there providing support for Bob Jenkins, or Jerkins as Don Daly likes to call him) spat out the quote of the day…”when you laugh your banana jiggles”. I didn’t know this at the time, but Jim was also laying down with a banana on his chest and laughing apparently. This time we spent a few extra minutes at this rest stop, but still only about 20. Most of it was spent refueling, peeing, eating, laughing and hugging on my Isabel.
Reluctant to leave, we had to head out if we wanted a chance of finishing on time. As we rolled back onto the pavement road we came in on…I realized that while dealing with my bike, someone had reset my computer, so I was back to zero miles for the day. A bit of a disappointment as I hoped to see the 155 at the end, but not a big deal…I would just have to annoy Jim for the rest of the race with mileage math, and that I did.
Aaron was trying to keep his brain busy by calculating our mileage, which I generally try to ignore. Luckily, he limited his inquires to every 3 minutes, so I had time to recover between questionings.
Pit Stop 2 to Pit Stop 3
It must have been an uneventful part of the race, because the only thing I remember is coming up to a set of hills that could crush the souls of angels; about 8 or 10 “rolling” hills. For our group it went like this; walk up the hill, get on the bike, roll to the bottom, walk up the hill, get on the bike and roll to the bottom…walk…you get the idea right? It wasn’t the most miserable part of the race, but definitely top 3. This is where we got blown away by two guys on mountain bikes. These guys looked strong, but we couldn’t figure out why they were still behind us this late in the race. When we rolled into checkpoint 5, these two guys were laying in the parking lot not looking so good.
They ended up dropping out there, but looked really cool flying up those hills…
After some business was attended to, we rolled out toward Pit Stop 3 in good spirits. We knew that if we called it quits for whatever reason at Pit Stop 3, then it would still be the longest ride ever for both Jim and me…which was a good feeling. It didn’t seem that this section was too terrible, once we got within 10 miles we knew what we had to do. Eat quick, take a quick rest and get back on the road. It was starting to get dark and cold, and nobody wanted to be out here all night. We rolled in to the gas station/cafe where pit stop 3 was set up with everyone cheering us on…this was the best part of coming into these pit stops and checkpoints. My Dad came out to this one again to help us out for the last leg of the race, it worked well. Janie attended to Jim while Dad refilled my bike. After a few short minutes, we had swapped back to some warmer gear and hopped back on our steeds to finish The Ogre.
Pit Stop 3 to Finish
Now…I had been looking forward to this section of the race all day. According to Dan Dougan, this was the easier section of the race. We rode out and had a really nice long section of downhill in to a danger zone. We had been warned about the creek crossing at the bottom and they were correct. It was deeper water over some gnarly rocks. After getting our feet wet…literally. We were back on the bikes, with cold, wet feet and about 2 hours left to the finish. Right after this we were walking a hill, then another, another and another. This is when we all cursed Dan Dougan…he had been mistaken about this being the easier part of the course, to say it nicely. But we kept going, pushing, riding, cursing…it was tough to keep going in some spots…but we could almost taste the finish line by now…we couldn’t stop now.
Every time we topped a climb and it leveled out I was sure that it was the last one. Then, the gravel road would turn down and disappear into the dark and I knew there was another climb waiting on the other side. It was like riding the edge of a saw.
My feet had never dried out from the creek crossing, and were painfully cold. At this point it hurt more to walk than to ride, so I finished out the last 10 miles or so on the bike. Eventually we hit some pavement, made a quick jaunt through a neighborhood on some nicely manicured gravel, and we met up with the last checkpoint volunteer before the end of the race. He gave us directions to get across the highway and set us on our way. We climbed up the rock wall at the end of some double track and we had 2.5 miles of bike path…Lake Ozark style. Two pretty good hills awaited us. I was bombing down the first at speed and my headlight decided turn off without warning…luckily I was alone in the dark. I tried to catch up to Jim and Sheldon in order to borrow some light, but they were way ahead. When I did catch up, it was decided we would wait for John to finish all together. He crested the climb in short order and we headed in for the finish. We were met by cowbells, cheers and lots of yelling for our victory…we had made it! It was a great feeling…we were handed our OGRE glass, sticker, our final armband and shuttled over to the light for pictures.
When I hear “bike path” I picture a nice strolling, family friendly ride. This was not a bike path. It was a wide sidewalk that followed the road over a couple more gigantic climbs. At this point, though, we were crossing that finish line even if we had to drag our limp bodies across like a wounded terminator.
I couldn’t have been happier with the way things turned out that day. Jim and I made a pretty equal team in terms of motivation, keeping each other on track with food, water and the climb/walk call on each hill. For a couple amateurs, it was a complete success.
And we actually were in 1st place for our category and received a nice bag of goodies from Bonk Hard Racing for our victory.
Thank you to Janie who stood by us the entire day of racing. Gave us food, water, delicious apple sauce tubes and whatever else she did that I missed. I’m sure it was much harder that we know. Thanks to my Dad who has always been there on race day if I asked him to. He stuck it out till the last pit stop and helped with whatever I needed. Thanks to my amazing wife Jessica for letting me go out all the time to train for this event, and being there for me at pit stop 2 and the finish…you’re awesome!
Immediately after the race I thought about how I was glad it was over, we made it and I don’t have to do that ever again. It was a good day on the bike…the weather was perfect, had pretty good company all day…we pushed ourselves to the limit. That’s what it’s all about for me. Jim and I both hit our longest single ride ever, our longest day on the bike ever at 16 hours 45 minutes, and could still walk afterwards. My song has changed just a few days later…eh, I might try it again next year….who knows?
It’s amazing how a hot shower and change of clothes erases the thoughts of never wanting to ride your bike again…
Things that worked
- CarboRocket Half Evil 333 – This is my new go to for fuel. Apart from this, the only things I ate all day were a package for Gu chomps, 2 bananas, and a small sandwich for filler. I highly recommend the lemonade flavor.
- Frame Bags – Getting weight off of your shoulders is a huge bonus on these longer rides. Yes, it makes your bike feel heavy, but if the gear has to come with you anyway, what’s the difference. I use a Jandd frame bag and Planet Bike Snack Sack.
I second this, thanks to Lukas Lamb who let me borrow his tangle bag, my back felt good all day.
- Pack Riding – Riding with a group makes this stuff 50% easier 80% of the time. If you already know this and knowing is half the battle, you’re three times more likely to finish….
Plus it turns into more of a group ride than a race.
- Walking- As mentioned before, plenty of the hills we encountered were walked just as fast as we would have ridden them. It let us stretch our legs, rest our bums, and break the monotony. It was a major factor in our success.
- Apple sauce = awesome.
- Crank Sports – I’m still holding on to the one time e-fuel pulled me from the depths of dehydration and heat stroke in about 15 minutes. It is my go to source for carb and electrolyte delivery. I also used the e-gel on this ride along with some honey stinger chews and a couple bottles of my own concoction.
- Having a great support crew/person. I believe this was also as important as walking for our success/finishing.
- Tubeless tires – I had one puncture after a creek crossing which was quickly taken care of by putting the leak toward the bottom, and letting Stan’s sealant do its thing. One Co2 cartridge to fill it back up and away we went. I will say, Jim was running tubes with the Clement Xplor tires and had no issues, but there were lots of people who had flats during the day.
- Beards- No way we would have won 1st place without our beards. The podium doesn’t lie. Check out the top 4 overall winners pics.
Things that didn’t work
- Calves- All the seated climbing and walking put a huge strain on my calves and gave me a touch of tendinitis in my Achilles. Next time I’ll plan on strengthening this area specifically to prevent any issues.
- Lying down after the race – Not a good idea…. I almost passed out when I got up.