And it was. Actually, to be honest, now two days later, it could have been more epic. But, the course could hold an enormous amount of water, so there wasn’t a ton of walking, etc.
This race is what MTB racing is all about. Riding singletrack in the middle of nowhere. Alone. It is 56+miles. With around 40 miles of that true singletrack. More than that. Technical, fun, absorbing singletrack. The Ozarks of southern Missouri aren’t as massive as Arkansas, but it is definitely hilly. Always. I don’t know how much climbing there is in the event, but it’s lots.
The race caught my eye last year because of the prize money. I entered, but was sick and didn’t go. I did follow the results. Chris Plogh won and Brad Huff was second. Brad flatted 3 times or so. He’d just finished a long stage race in China or somewhere, so he had an enormous amount of form. I was itching to see what it was like.
The race starts in a super nice camp site, canoe rental resort named Bass’ River Resort. It climbs out on a gravel road for the first 3 miles. From then, it’s technical singletrack for hours. There is a 5 mile gravel road “rest” in the middle and then back to singletrack until the last 6 miles of road that takes you back to the resort.
It had rained so much, the streams and rivers were all flooded. That made it a problem just 1/4 mile into the race. Over waist deep water. Scott and Ryan, race directors extraordinaire, came up with a solution. They hauled a 5th wheel flat bed trailer into the stream and then piled some wood pallets to step off. And this was nothing compared to the rest of the day. Just a distant memory. I have so many memories from this event, I can’t even start to tell you them all. It seemed all a blur sometimes during the race, but now it is starting to come back in bits and pieces.
Here’s how it went from my perspective. I hit the trailer in the lead. No problems here. Immediately it starts up a good gravel climb. It got down to 5 of us on the climb. Bill was there. Also, Eric Pirtle from St. Louis. He is a Giant Bicycle rep now, but is a very good MTB racer and rides on the road as well. He was riding a full suspension bike with 5 inches of travel front and back. And he knows these trails well. Shows you how rough they are.
Eric and I did a little sprint for the first Berryman singletrack. He led and I was 2nd. He was going a pretty comfortable pace. Actually, really comfortable. Easy up the climbs and then bombing the descents. I was definitely not handling my bike very well the first 2 hours. Not going down or up. There are 4 check points on the course where you have to pick up colored zip ties. Right before the first check point there is a pretty technical descent. Eric was bombing the descent and got a small gap on me. Coming around a sharp corner, I heard him fall, but wasn’t looking up to see what happened. He was laying off the side of the trail and said that he thought he broke his back. I knew there was a photographer a couple hundred meters back, but then looked down and saw that the road was below. Ryan was down at the bridge and we told him about Eric. It took them an hour to get him out. (He had a bad concussion and severely bruised about everything connected to his waist, but he’s going to be okay.)
Coming out of the camp it comes onto a road. This was the only complaint of the day. There wasn’t any course marking there. I rode the wrong way for awhile, then turned around. Finally, Dwayne Goscinski, Gary Fisher 29er Crew, came and led me back to the singletrack. He told me it climbed for a while and to go on. I started out riding pretty conservative. Not far into this trail, I had my first of many flats. I hit a stone climbing and latex was spraying out of the top of my rear tire. I had a ton of corn meal, etc. in the latex and shook it for a bit and it sealed. I put more air in and got going. Not more than a mile later it went flat for good.
So, long story short, I had a horrible repair. I couldn’t get the washer off the valve stem, so I couldn’t remove the valve stem to put in a tube. It took forever. 7 or 8 guys passed me by the time I got the air in. I caught Bill pretty quick, but he was going bad. I wasn’t going good at this point either. I got to the 22 mile check point and I was 5:30 minutes back in 3rd. That seemed okay to me. The next loop was 16 miles and back to the same check point. I got going better good here, but pinched the rear tire again. This was a pretty quick change other that trying to find all the stuff in my muddy pockets. No one passed me. When I got back to Trudi at the checkpoint, I was nearly 7 minutes back. I thought, “shit, 7 minutes in 19 miles. That’s not happening.”
But, I finally got going. Really going. I had been really mediocre the whole time up until then. But, descending out of the Berryman Campsite, I felt good. I was riding my big ring exclusively. It is so cool having power on singletrack. You float over all the rocks that seem so menacing at a slower pace. I caught Dwayne again and he told me the leader was 3 minutes up. I didn’t believe him. That was impossible. I’d only gone 3 miles. But, a couple miles later, Ryan, the promoter, was on a road and said that I was less than a minute back. I knew then I was going to catch back up. So, 7 or 8 miles out, there was the last mucky section. Deep, new cut trail. Muddy. And he was there going nowhere. I thought, “man, did I get lucky here.” And then, pisssssss, another rear flat. I was going 5 mph in 6 inch mud. Crazy. I just laughed.
This repair wasn’t horrible either. Other than trying to figure out what CO2 cartridge had air. I got it on the 3rd try BTW. Then it took forever to stick all the used tubes and shit back in my pockets. Dwayne had passed me again, but I caught him pretty quickly once when I got going. From here it was just 6 miles back on gravel. One river/stream crossing left. I was riding pretty good for the first couple miles and then started feeling weird. Bonky. I thought, man, it’s only 15 minutes back to the finish, just ride. But, no. I was going downhill quick. At this point I thought that I had no chance of catching the leader. But, I had two baby Snicker’s bars in my pocket that I wanted badly. The problem was that I had so much stuff with flat tubes, etc. in pockets and my hands were so muddy, that I was having a hard time locating them. Finally, success.
There were a couple small climbs on the road and I couldn’t see anyone in front or behind me. Coming down into the river, the flatbed was gone. I was scoping out a way across and on the other side I thought I saw a guy in a yellow jersey. I thought, “the leader is wearing a yellow jersey.” So, I hit the water fast. Jumped off. It was mid thigh. When I got to the other side, it is river rock for 50 meters or so. No one was there. I thought it was just a spectator. I got onto the paved road, 500 meters from the finish and there is a small hill. There he was, 100 meters ahead, going really slow. I shifted into my 11 and started sprinting. I was coming at him fast. He looked back right before the top. That was very, very good for him. He saw me and took off. He crested the hill with 30 meters or so on me and it was just a short downhill to the finish.
So, I ended up 2nd. Somewhere between 3 and 13 seconds back. The guy that won was Jon Schotter from Columbia. We both beat the course record by 3 minutes. 4:39:34. Under extremely worse conditions. He got an extra $400 for that. Jon said he completely blew. That is an probably an understatement. Sometime there he stopped and filled a bottle in the running water. Pretty desperate. I took something like 10 minutes out of him in the last 19 miles. I can think of 500 times during the race I could have saved that time. Just trying to stick those Snickers wrappers back in my pocket 2 miles out was the difference. But, it doesn’t matter. He won. I’m sure he had a bunch of things going too. I’ve never had so many times during one race of nearly coming back and then not. The finish was perfect. Better than perfect. He rode a great race and it would of been a shame if I would have passed him in the last 100 meters.
My riding time on my odometer was 4:25:50. That means I was not moving for around 14 minutes. Not surprising to me. I couldn’t have been worse changing tubes. At least the first one. Bill ended up coming back at the end and finished a respectable 6th. Pretty good $$$. Catherine Walberg ended up winning the women’s race by nearly a half hour. The amazing thing is that she lost nearly 45 minutes to the leading man in the first 38 miles and ended up losing on 5 minutes in the last 19 miles. I guess she didn’t slow down. She was pretty timid on the descents the two days prior, so I think she finally got comfortable letting it go. That speeds everything up obviously.
My overall experience from the weekend was great. I’d never raced a MTB that long. I’d do it again in a second. The day was nuts. I went from comfortably winning, to losing by a mile, to almost winning again, to losing and then losing by a smidgen. It was pretty great. I had forgotten how much I like to go fast on gnarly rock. It is amazing that the bikes can even function under those conditions. And it was a pleasure to run into some new people. Mainly, Scott and Ryan. They have so much enthusiasm for the area and the sport in general, it is super contagious. It is a completely difference environment from the road. It was raining at the finish when they were handing out the checks. No one was in a rush. They had a full trailer of Mueller Beer flowing. I don’t have any regrets at all. It was a new life experience. Isn’t that what you’re trying to do in life. I’ll be back next year a little better prepared. How about you Brad Huff?
I drove to the Ozarks to pre-ride some of the Berryman trail today. It was a reality check. It rained inches last night and the area is saturated. The low water crossings on the roads are chest deep. The trail is a running stream on all downhill sections. I drove out to the Berryman Campground, which is a check point, and did about 10 miles of the course. The whole trail is totally covered with leaves. But it is great traction. That is because it is nearly all small sharp rocks. We crossed 4 or 5 foot deep streams in just a few miles. This 56 mile race on Sunday is going to take a pretty long time. ( My butt is going to hate me.) Luckily I watched the Leadville 100 movie last night and was refreshed to how humbling MTB racing can be.
With all the water spraying off my wheels I couldn’t really see much of the course. Plus, a couple days ago, I got some sort of eye infection, so I’m not having the easiest time seeing anyway. Somewhere on our hour ride I blew my fork seals. And Bill pitched his rear tire. So, I’m trying to locate a new shock fork and Bill is going to put the fattest, heaviest tires on we have. I think we might of rode some of the most technical sections of the course. Maybe not. I’m not sure. If it is all that technical, I better pack a peanut butter sandwich for lunch.
We’ve driven through some pretty “backward” areas down here in southern Missouri. Lots of smoke coming from chimneys. Very much like West Virginia or rural North Carolina. The area is self titled “the float capitol” of Missouri. The are a lot of nice rivers in the area, so I’d guess it’s pretty great. Route 66 comes right through the area. Plus, a ton of other touristy stuff.
Okay. I still haven’t located a fork. I might have to drive up to St. Louis, 100 miles, if I don’t hear anything soon. I’m now 75% committed to racing on Sunday.
I’m now 70% committed on going to the Mark Twain National Forest South of St. Louis and race a 56 mile MTB race. It’s called the Berryman Epic Challenge. It’s a great prize list. Plus I hear it’s unbelievable singletrack. Rocky and challenging. The winning time last year was 4:42. That is a lot of singletrack riding. This will be the longest MTB race I’ve done in both time and distance. Catherine and Bill are racing too. The winning women’s time last year was nearly 6 hours. That is a really long time to be riding challenging singletrack.
For the last two days I’ve been going out and riding my MTB during the day and then trying to make it work right at night. Yesterday it rained most of the day, so the singletrack riding was pretty treacherous. Kind of reminded me of the Mt. Snow Vermont Norba National/World Cup. Wet roots and rocks. The main issue was the wet leaves covering everything. It’s full on fall here, so it is beautiful out. But, for cycling when it’s wet, that is not good. Now I’m pretty tweaked everywhere from all those minute movements needed to stay upright. I was pleasantly surprised that I came back with all the blood I left the house with. That normally wouldn’t have been the case in these conditions. I did see two huge wild turkeys walking across the street just a few houses down in my neighborhood. Maybe that is good luck?
MTB racing is nearly as energy consuming as cyclocross when you’re not riding. There is so much stuff to do. Sealing tires. Making sure you have all the extra stuff you’re most likely going to need for the weekend. It’s endless.
So, I’m driving there tomorrow to pre-ride whatever I can of the course and try to get a feel for the terrain. Tonight I’m going to do my most serious training and watch the movie Race Across the Sky here in Topeka. It’s a film on this years Leadville 100. Starring Lance and Dave Wiens. It’s a long race. But not mostly singletrack. They should come out this weekend and see what midwest MTB racing is like.
It didn’t take too much for me to decide not to race this weekend. It was obvious I shouldn’t. But, I do hate watching races that I think I should be racing. I can’t and shouldn’t run a step. It is very bad for this particular injury. But, I also hate rest. I admit it, I am a very bad patient. So, I rode to the local cross race, here in Topeka, and stood around for hours. Then I went out on Saturday night, missed dinner, drank way too much, slept 4 hours and then drove to Lawrence to ride a 100 mile gravel road ride at 7am. It was 31 degrees when I left. Bill and Catherine were up for the adventure. Anyway, it was super windy and really beautiful. The hills North of Lawrence are great. Big rollers. Lots of new scenery. Other than getting ditched by anyone that knew the last 20 miles, the day was pretty great. It was epic having to ride the last 2 hours against a 20+mph headwind. I didn’t hurt myself too badly. I recovered better than I had imagined, but still am only 50/50 for next weekend. Okay. Don’t really feel too creative. Pictures below.
I got rained on yesterday riding. I wasn’t too thrilled about it since it was 40 something degrees and miserable. But, I only had to ride 30 minutes or so in it, so I wasn’t completely frozen until I was nearly home. My main worry was that it was going to tighten up my legs and screw up my hamstrings up more than they already were. I’m not sure why that was even a concern, but it was. I had a hard enough time getting out the door. No one around here seems to want to ride when it’s shitty out. I have tons of clothing for all conditions, but it always seems that the clothing you don’t have are the best. It is something to do with advertising and envy. Two rules to follow here. Do I really need that. Or do I really want that. If you really need it then it is a no-brainer. In cycling, if you really need it, you really need it. But, if you just really want it then…..you have to decide. This applies to most things in life.
I rode my MTB yesterday on trails before the rain. It is amazing how quickly your bike handling disappears. It didn’t help that the trails were over grown and you had to look out for branches as much as what was on the ground. It seems like the position on my MTB bike is better than my road or cross bikes to alleviate pressure on my hamstrings. Guess I’ll try training on it for a bit.
The Tour de France announced the 2010 route yesterday. Looks like a pretty hard 3rd week. With the pave/wind during the first week and the hard climbs at the end, it should be interesting. By chance, if radios aren’t allowed in the race, it could be really interesting.
I realized that the training in October is much harder than it was in September. It has a lot to do with the weather. Maybe motivation somewhat. But I think a lot of it has to do with the number of people riding and how much everyone is in the wind. I pretty much pull the whole ride now. That wasn’t the case a couple weeks ago. I kind of noticed a parallel of this when I was cutting and splitting wood after Chequamengon. When there were a lot of people doing the moving and stacking, the process went a ton faster. A couple days later, I was on my own for most mornings and it seemed to go pretty slowly. Slower and harder.
There is a 100 mile gravel rode ride in Lawrence this weekend. That’s my goal. Some goal? A systems check at least. There is also 2 cross races. One in Topeka. That’s going to be hard to spectate.