The OT100 is a 100-mile, point-to-point mountain bike race following the Ozark Trail over and through some of the most challenging singletrack in Missouri. With more than 11,000 feet of climbing, and an average finishing time around 15 hours, this is as intense as it gets in Show Me State mountain biking.

Jon Schmidt of Webster Groves, Missouri, competed in the inaugural event in 2014. We asked if there was any one thing he could point to that was key to finishing the grueling race.

“Bacon,” he said.

Turns out at the last checkpoint out on the course, a fellow rider, Brian McEntire of Farmington, Missouri, offered Schmidt some bacon before the final 20-mile push. It wasn’t like Schmidt wasn’t going to finish, but at that point in the race it is certainly both a physical and mental challenge to forge ahead.

“That bacon was the greatest thing ever. I couldn’t get enough of the salt in that stuff,” said Schmidt. But more than the bacon itself, he recalls, it was the kindness of another competitor and the sense of camaraderie that helped keep him going — and what seems to really embody the spirit of the race.

Rich Pierce, of University City, has also participated in the OT100 each of the past two years, as both a competitor and a volunteer at one of the backcountry checkpoints. He agrees that there is a special feeling that goes with the event.

“It’s like a gathering of the tribe,” said Pierce. “It definitely feels like ‘these are my people.’ Everybody is facing the same challenge, and we share the same passion and excitement.”

The OT100, which will take place September 24, 2016, is still a new race but is growing quickly each year. It was first held in 2014, created as a fundraiser for the Ozark Trail Association (OTA), which oversees some 400 miles of trail winding through the Missouri Ozarks. Last year, a 50-mile version, the OT50, was added for those desiring a shorter, but certainly still significant, challenge.

Ready For Anything
Bass River Resort outside of Steelville, Missouri, is the de facto race headquarters. Many of the 100 or so riders camp there, and it is where the race finish and post-event barbecue and awards ceremony are held. Early Saturday morning, riders are roused in the predawn hours and bused deep into the heart of the Mark Twain National Forest. Though at the start it looks like many other mountain bike races, this is no ordinary frolic in the woods. The OT100 requires riders to train differently, and even equip themselves differently, for a long day in some of Missouri’s most remote and rugged territory.

“I carry a lot more food with me, particularly ‘real’ stuff versus pre-packaged bars and gummies,” said Maria Esswein of St. Louis, who completed the last two OT100 events and plans to do it again this year. “I also take a spare derailleur hanger, chain break tool, spare chain link, zip ties and extra CO2 cartridges. You never know what will happen on the OT, especially 100 miles of it in a day. A person has to be prepared for anything.”

Rich Pierce agrees.

“I tend to carry a lot. Running low on drink is disastrous, so I use a Camelbak with water plus two bottles with energy drink. I also pack two drop bags that will be waiting for me at checkpoints along the way. Each has an extra tube, fresh socks, chamois cream, a wet washcloth in a plastic bag, powder for energy drinks and some favorite snacks.”

Carrying extra batteries are key, too, for bike lights, both handlebar and helmet-mounted, as well as GPS devices.

“You don’t want to be short on light when you’re bombing down those big hills in the dark,” said Schmidt. “That’s where a person can really make up time.”

Camaraderie, and Pasta
After racing in 2014, Schmidt worked as a volunteer at the checkpoint #3, located at the Hazel Creek campground, 62 miles into the course. Sponsored by Christian Cycling, the checkpoint offers hot spaghetti, a drive train tune-up if needed and a place for riders to recover for a few minutes before heading out again.

“By this point in the course, the participants are spread out for miles, and some racers only human contact might be our big pasta feed,” said Schmidt. “We try to make it quite comfortable and welcoming, but not so much that the racers are tempted to DNF.”

And as in every endurance sport, riders are motivated to participate for a variety of reasons. Some relish the individual challenge. Some like the unique experience of the event. And, yes, for some the goal is more than just finishing.

“Those riders who have done plenty of endurance events are usually in it for the race component. They want to make the podium,” said Pierce. “But, for many, it’s a personal challenge and a chance to experience great trail riding and a shared experience all day long. And if nothing else, everybody just wants to improve year to year.

The mountain bike component is important, said OTA president Roger Allison, but he sees the race as more than just a bike event or fundraiser.

“The OT100 contributes to our overall mission to promote the Ozark Trail,” said Allison, who serves as the race director. “Last year, it drew people from across the Midwest, and we’d like to see the race become even better known. It would be great if it was part of the National Ultra Endurance Series. Since the OT100 is virtually all singletrack we think it would be a worthy addition.”

And as the third edition gets closer, the excitement is building once again for this epic Missouri mountain bike challenge. We asked Esswein, as a returning rider, what it’s like trying to prepare for the race.

“I think it is one of those races that you don’t really remember just how hard it is until you do it again,” she said. “And then you remember: ‘Oh yes, this is really hard.’ So, I am preparing myself for the dark moments. I think getting a good night’s sleep the night before, keeping up on nutrition and having my iPod with me will help when things get tough.”

Author: David Fiedler is a contributor to Terrain magazine