How does a college professor at Samford University find himself racing what is arguably the toughest race on the planet? The short answer is a love story – a love of family, freedom, and adventure.
My wife, Kristine, my daughter, Analise (10), and my son, Josiah (8), have all shown tremendous love and support through my countless hours on the bike. I try to optimize my training time by riding everywhere – from work to family events to wherever we would normally be driving. I spend a LOT of time on the bike – currently averaging 35+ hours per week.
Time on the bike is not without risk. I have collided with cars twice – once in 2006 when a driver hit me head-on as he tried to dash into a gas station. I was fortunate to somersault over the car, land on my backpack full of work clothes, and roll into a standing position with only a bruise on my shin where I had clipped part of the car on the way over.
The details of the second collision, which happened in 2014, are murkier because I have no memory at all from a couple minutes before impact until waking up in the hospital. I stayed there all week for observation when surgery on my jaw did not go as smoothly as planned. Drinking through a straw and breathing only through my nose for the next 7 weeks was difficult (especially on 5-6 hour rides) but helped prepare me for 24 hour mountain bike nationals at altitude in New Mexico, which I raced just 8 weeks after the accident and finished 7th.
My love of cycling starts much earlier … junior high, late 80s, after being dropped off from school I’d run home from the bus stop, hop on my 10 speed and race the school bus sometimes winning and passing the school bus on the steep hill in the back of the neighborhood.
Adventure, racing, freedom – riding a bike has always been these things for me. High school, early 90s, friends let me borrow a mountain bike to ride at Oak Mountain. We’d shuttle by parking one car at the bottom, taking the bikes up in the other car, and then riding back down to the bottom. Eventually, we figured it was just easier to ride up and soon this progressed to racing. During this time, my parents gave me a book about the Race Across America. I read about the struggles of Michael Shermer and imagined that some day maybe I would race that race.
College, mid 90s, barely 18 years old having just been dropped off at Clemson University by my parents several hundred miles away from home, I hopped on my bike and rode for hours until I found the Appalachian Mountains. Homesickness was immediately replaced by the thrill of adventure, mountains, untapped potential and the realization that home would always be for me wherever I could ride. My college teammates helped me learn so much about racing bikes, and we had numerous adventures in the hills and mountains of upstate South Carolina.
Graduate school, Davis, California, early 2000s, ironically, in one of the most cycling friendly cities in the country, I found myself unable to organize my time well enough to complete my degree and ride my bike. Fortunately, I chose completing the degree over riding my bike as graduation saw me land my dream job as a professor at Samford University back home in Birmingham, Alabama.
Rejuvenated after 6+ years mostly off the bike, I dove back into racing, first with triathlons and then back into regular amateur and pro-am cycling events as a Category 1 amateur cyclist. My move into ultra-cycling has a 15+ year history dating all the way back to my college days when I would finish every season with a 200 mile unsupported ride in the mountains of Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. I continued this tradition when getting back into racing, and the fun and thrill of these long adventures made me think that perhaps Race Across America was a possibility.
In 2013, I participated in the inaugural Nashville to Natchez fundraising ride for Team Red, White, and Blue. We rode well over 100 miles a day for four days in a row to ride the entire Natchez Trace. Afterwards, I had the logistical problem of getting back to Birmingham since all the other riders lived in Nashville. I decided that I should just ride home and use this as a test to see if my body could handle the load placed on it by the Race Across America. I passed my own personal test by covering 862 miles in 6 days with over 400 miles solo in 3 days on rural dirt, gravel, chip and seal roads in the middle of a hot, humid summer. The next step in the process was winning the 500 mile Heart of the South race in 2014. This gave me a chance to see what it was like to do an ultra race with a follow vehicle. The final step was qualification by riding 444 miles in a single 24 hour period at the Mid Atlantic 24 hour time trial.
Next stop – Oceanside, California, June 16th, 2015. Come be a part of this journey!
If you would like to see my full racing palmarés, it is available here – http://toonecycling.com/palmares/