This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Dirt Rider.

After competing in my first off-road race at Last Dog Standing at SoCal's Glen Helen Raceway in June, I wanted to try the Tennessee Knockout (TKO), as many have deemed it the hardest extreme enduro race in America. The perfect storm would be to test a factory off-road bike set up for hard enduros in the process. At first it looked like we wouldn't be able get that factory bike, as several of the teams had already shipped their "backup" racebikes to France for the ISDE.

A few weeks later, I got the call that Colton Haaker had broken his toe and that his bike would be available for me to race. So I packed my bags and hopped on a plane three days later. I arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, on Friday evening before race weekend.

Shan Moore, DR 's roving reporter, met me at the airport, and the next day we arrived at the Trials Training Center. It was so great to be back, as I had been going to TTC every summer from 2002 to 2012 as a trials rider. I have competed in youth national trials, national trials, and world trials events there, and I was shocked when we drove through the gate; I had never seen the parking lot so full. The property had received heavy rain on Monday and Thursday night with showers on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. There was no rain in the weekend forecast, but I knew the terrain was bound to be extremely slick, especially with the mud that would get tracked up onto the rocks.

Shan and I made our way to the Rockstar Energy Husqvarna factory off-road semi and met with team manager Timmy Weigand and Graham Jarvis' mechanic, Damian "Damo" Butler. Timmy and Damo helped me set the bike up. The one issue we ran into was sag. Colton weighs 170 pounds and I weigh 130 pounds, so we weren't able to set the sag at the proper setting for me. Another factor affecting the ride height was that Colton runs a lowering link. After an extensive phone conversation between Damo and a WP technician, we opted to run the sag at 80mm as a compromise to keep the bike up in the softer part of the stroke on small impacts.

Andrew Oldar racing Colton Haaker's factory Husqvarna TX 300.Shan Moore

Thankfully, I didn’t have to race the amateur program on Saturday due to being prequalified for the pro class on Sunday. The Saturday program is extensive, and many of the riders who qualify for Sunday opt to not race the second day because they are just too exhausted. I was prequalified back in 2012 because of my ranking in the national pro class in trials.

I lined up for my first race on Sunday morning—the Hot Lap. The Hot Lap takes place on the short course that stays in a smaller confines of the property. Riders are released one at a time every 30 seconds from a large wooden platform. While atop the starting platform, I was fairly calm despite the fact that I was about to attack some super-challenging obstacles. When the horn blew, I leaped off the top and made my way through the EnduroCross-style portion of the track and blasted off into the woods.

The first challenge was the first rocky hill climb. I didn’t walk this section, but I knew the rock outcropping well. I opted to go on the far right line and started spinning on the limestone rocks, so I turned around and attacked it from the left side and crested the top. From there I rode down the long hill and made my way up a dry creek. That there wasn’t any water running in it didn’t take away from how incredibly slick it was due to the amount of rain the area had received. I tried to maintain my momentum, keep my weight back, and hoped for the best.

Rockstar Energy Husqvarna's off-road team manager Timmy Weigand (right) assisted with bike setup.Shan Moore

The next obstacle was the most difficult on the short course: the Waterfall. Although no water flowed down it, it had the largest rocks and one big step. That step gave lots of riders trouble, including me. I made it up after hopping off the bike and pushing it up with some assistance from my good friend, Alan Shirley, who was working the event. From there, I rode down another dry creek and through the EnduroCross section. When all was said and done, it took me 18 minutes and 31 seconds to complete the Hot Lap, which put me in 49th place out of 56 racers.

The Hot Lap gave me a much better idea of how the bike worked in extreme conditions. The suspension was understandably a bit stiff for me, but it still had enough movement in the stroke to help me glide over most obstacles. I noticed I couldn’t bottom the fork or shock out, even on big drop-offs, which was confidence inspiring in that regard. The hydraulic clutch worked amazingly well, as it is very easy to modulate and pull in—an especially nice feature in a hard enduro race.

After returning to the pits, I relaxed in the air-conditioned semi with Graham Jarvis and Damo for about 45 minutes. I knew Graham a little bit from about seven years before when he gave some lessons to a few of my friends and me on trials bikes. “Just do everything I taught you and you’ll be fine,” he jokingly told me. We watched an iPhone clip of Graham riding the Waterfall section. He made it look like your average Sunday trail ride. Believe me—it wasn’t!

Soon I was back on the elevated start to begin the first Knockout race. In order to advance to the second round, I needed to finish in the top 25. They blew the horn and I was off. I made my way through the EnduroCross obstacles and rode into the woods once again, though this time the course went in a slightly different direction. The beginning wasn’t quite as difficult as the Hot Lap, but it was much longer. I knew I had 16 miles of tough obstacles ahead of me.

Soon we got into some technical rock gardens. The rocks weren’t very large, but they were everywhere and most were jagged, slick, and covered in moss and mud from other riders who had already come through. The hardest part was trying to keep moving. However, it seemed like the more momentum I carried, the more I would be thrown off my line, which required me to slow down or even stop to get going again. This resulted in a lot of stop-and-go scenarios and lots of pushing. It was miserable.

The start of each Knockout race sends riders right into challenging obstacles.Shan Moore

I finally began to make my way down a steep, rocky hill. There were plenty of spectators around, and I could see I needed to ride about a quarter mile of creek before the next hill climb. I did my best to maintain my momentum and find the best lines. I did this pretty well until about halfway when my front end slid out. I put my foot down, it slipped on a big rock, and I fell in the creek. I was nearly fully submerged and my foot got caught underneath the fork, so I was momentarily stuck. I wiggled my foot out, remounted, and got going again. My gear and boots were soaked. The upside to the whole ordeal was that I was somewhat cooled off from my dip. I made my way to the end and blasted up a long rocky hill climb back up on the mountain.

At this point in the race, I had come to find out the bike had plenty of low-end torque. I mostly tried to ride in this part of the powerband because of how incredibly slick the terrain was. Because of the strong bottom-end, I was able to ride in second gear, which further helped with finding and maintaining any available traction. I did get a chance to use the midrange and top-end on the uphills, and this part of the powerband had more than enough power for me. Unfortunately, with the traction so bad I can’t compare the top-end power to a stock bike.

Unsurprisingly, the trail up on the mountain had even more rocky terrain. It wasn’t long before my front end slid out, I put my foot out to catch myself, my foot slipped on a rock, and I tipped over yet again. I even got caught under the bike again! I paused there for a moment wondering what I had gotten myself into. My own personal photographer and a factory bike to ride weren’t feeling like such a great deal.

I rode on until the trail made its way back down toward the same creek from earlier but much further up it. When I got to the bottom, I saw three other riders and four course workers. They were watching riders on the next part of the course, which crossed the creek and went up another slick, rocky uphill covered in tree roots. All of the riders were struggling. At this point, I was finished. I was sweltering from the heat and humidity, and my body’s core temp was through the roof.

I suddenly had a flashback to my first year competing in a youth national trials event at TTC, back in 2002 at the age of 10. I remembered how my dad would carry a cooler around with a cold, wet washcloth and wipe my face at each section to cool me off. I leaned my bike up against a tree, took my helmet off, and submerged my whole body in the creek water. It felt like someone had pumped new life into me. I felt my core temperature go down as I laid there and watched the other riders continue to struggle up the next hill climb.

The Trials Training Center received heavy rain on Monday and Thursday night with showers on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday, so the course was extremely slick the entire weekend.Shan Moore

After cooling off, I hopped back on the TX 300 and decided to give the hill climb a shot. I navigated about halfway up the hill before I hit the really steep and slick part with approx­imately zero traction. At this point, I would pin it, pop the clutch, and move about 6 inches up the hill, if at all. I finally opted to call it a day; I’d gone as far and as hard as I could. I turned off the course and headed back to the pits. I was knocked out of the first race of the day, finishing in 43rd place out of 56 starters.

Fifteen years ago, I never imagined I’d get to compete in a race like the TKO. To top it all off, I got to race one of the coolest off-road bikes in the world. I later found out the race wasn’t just difficult for me. Five-time TKO champion Cody Webb said this year’s race was the hardest one yet, and Graham Jarvis said it was the hardest race he’s ever done. I think I would have enjoyed my race more and finished better if it was dry, but the way it was this year required way more hard enduro riding ability than I currently possess. I wouldn’t recommend the Sunday race to anyone other than expert or pro-level off-road riders, and even those riders might have a difficult time. Being a skilled trials rider helps as well, but my experience is a great exam­ple at showing that trials skill and a top machine alone won’t get you very far.

I can't say I had fun, but I will say the racers who excel at these events have more talent and toughness than you would believe. They can also endure the misery of these long, treacherous conditions. Maybe there's a reason I saw so many spectators when I got to the event.