Wednesday, November 1, 2017

BT Epic 2017 - A Proper Ending to Race Season

As the weather begins to cool and days grow short to where I'm finishing my training rides in the dark, the only thing keeping me and hundreds of other racers motivated is this little big race in a tiny corner of the Ozarks called the Berryman Trail Epic, or BT Epic for short. It's a fifty mile mountain bike race deep in the heart of hill country, where the locals' accents starts to draw out a little more, the smoked meat is other-wordly and there may actually be more flannel than in Colorado. Well, pretty close. For sure more beards.


This year's iteration of the race, for me, wasn't my best effort. I spent the good part of September racing enduros and not really training for long format XC, banking on the many hours spent in the saddle since the beginning of the year to get me through it. On top of that, I coughed up more mucus from my lungs in the 3 weeks leading up to the race than in my life so clearly I wasn't going to be heading into the BTE in top form but enough with the excuses. Those are boring. There's more exciting things to go along with this story.



First and what excites me more than most things was having NEW people in the MTBWGN and to this event. As Ryan and I adventure through this thing called life and actually take a second to stop and ponder, mentally doing a 'friend check" and ask ourselves, how did we get here? The bike and its magic has drawn us to people and them to us. And this trip was no different. Our new traveler was Chris Spargen, a new trail leader from Ashland, NE who somehow freakishly figures out how to train, build wicked trails and be a father to three children, two of whom are twins b/t the ages of 0-1. Bless his wife's heart for giving him the hall pass to do this race. Not new but a "you've been away too long" traveler was Kevin Gilinsky, who succumbed to our promises that this race was going to be a good time in the woods with friends. Also, a father of 3, Kev somehow finds time to ride and humor us with his surly jabs on the bookface. Kev is always a joy. To round out the bus was Mark Sullivan who missed out on some travels late this summer, instead finding himself crushing kidney stones instead of rock gardens. I call it increasing his pain tolerance. (Adam and Jenni Stoll were caravanning with us and EOB and AOB would be arriving late on Friday).

So I booked us a pretty cheap place for our Thursday night stay over outside of KC. Since our group was small that seemed the better option. Though it wasn't going to be up to surely Kev's B&B level, I was a little skeptical about booking it but he didn't seem to have too much issue. Lots of room for bikes in the rooms and nobody shared a bed so all was peaceful. 

The next morning that changed. Kev's tolerance for sub-par was exhausted when given the option to drink "continental breakfast coffee" vs something that was actually coffee. And to his and our amazement, there was a legit coffee house in this tiny-ass town less than a half mile away. As we approached, we were stoked to find Old School Coffee Co. in a newly constructed building with a hipster vibe. As we entered, our excitement grew and we decided we'd rather stay there all day than be in a van. There was only one person in line and upon seeing our interest in the cool space, he turns to us and says "You're standing in my 7th grade classroom." A-ha! Hence the name. The place used to be a school and as we took notice of the detail, black boards, chairs, countertops, it made sense. And the proprietor was equally as excited not only about his shop but about his perfect coffee that was either going to be a pour over or Americano, depending on our tolerance for time. We opted for the faster Americano so we could get on the road. But we failed to tell him we wanted them at city-folk speed and not the small town chatty-kathy speed. As eyeballs rolled back in Ryan's head, we heard about the history of the shop and about the travels made by our new barista friend, all the while our coffee was being delicately, artistically and masterfully heated at the proper temps. Once out the door, Ryan couldn't hold it in any longer and said something aloud, basically assuming the owner was probably fired from Starbucks while Kevin was practically having an orgasm about how great his coffee was and instagramming it to the world. Regardless of opinion, I love finding gems in small towns. Slowing down and getting off the interstate is the main way to make these discoveries – one thing Ryan doesn't really like to do but we weren't in a huge hurry so it was all good.

Until it wasn't.

So that thing about seeking out gems off the interstate...



Since we didn't need to be at the cabin too early, and food options in the deep Ozark is few and far between, I decided we would make time to have a large breakfast and found this really cool place in Columbia. The Cafe Berlin was going to be awesome. Great reviews and it was also a bar so I thought maybe it would be off the beaten path enough and it being Friday late-morning, we'd miss the rush. Oops. But I have to say if you're in Columbia, it's worth the wait and the good news, the wait to get our table of 7 was way longer than it took to get our food, which was ridiculously good and insta worthy at that. So, depending on who you ask, it was a good place to stop & eat. ;) 

Back on the road, we arrived at the Bass River Resort and checked in. I booked one of their larger cabins in January, not really knowing how many would be coming with us. It's close enough to be a bike ride to the race start and far enough to actually be in the forest. We unloaded our gear and got ready to go ride. Deciding not to ride the gravel, we drove to the resort's lodge and from there rode the last section of the race course to give new Newbs a taste of Ozark single track: pebbly, leafy, and rooty. But thankfully, it was dry. Every time we've done this pre-ride something has come to light about someone's bike. This time it was Kev's low tire pressure being too low. Luckily, we all made it out without incident and had a pretty good idea on how our bikes would be running for race day. We then got checked in for the race and headed back to the cabin to fuss and ponder every. single. choice. about gear, fuel and what-not. 

Then I slept like shit. Nothing unusual about that. I swear I dreamt while still being awake. At one point during the night, I heard rain hitting the windows. I was surprised but not too worried as the trail was super dry, however wet roots would pretty much suck but I was prepared having some pretty gnarly tires on Powder Puff.

Race morning started well before the sun. In fact, the sun really didn't come out til later. My warm up was in the drizzling rain wearing a flannel. I like heading out by myself to get into the zone. After 30 minutes of spinning I stopped back at the cabin to get the rest of my stuff and headed to the start line. I did a series of spin ups to get the heart rate up and then found my spot on the start line about 7-8 rows back. I spotted the ususal suspects and got to say hi to Samantha Welter, a local who had moved to Colorado and was sporting the lungs and legs to show it. 


Phot credit to JANZOW PHOTOGRAPHY 
The race didn't start as I'd like. The early drizzle made the asphalt driveway slick and I noted it and said out loud to take it easy until we get onto the road. Well that must have fallen on deaf ears because one dude in front of me and 350 others slipped and then a domino affect happened and suddenly I'm another 50 riders back. Great. So to get back some spots I haul ass up the road. I see Kelly Skinner, my team mate and bridge up to her, going by and telling her to jump on. I see Samantha and she was riding really strong and disappeared into the crowd of dudes. I approached "the wall" a steep gravel climb with good power and room to breath. As I crested the top, I recovered a bit before the next wall. And so on and so on until we finally reached the trees just under five miles in. I didn't know where anyone else was so I just kept on the gas. I got behind some pretty timid riders so the first descent I dropped into the gully instead of taking the high line so I could make up some spots (what about those enduros now!!!). I popped back in line and just kinda felt my race leaving. I just kept getting into slow trains and it was making me crazy. The trails are so narrow and gnarly if you get off line that I stayed put. The nasty climb that I usually end up walking because of traffic was no different this year. So I rode as far as I could until I couldn't track stand anymore and did the hike a bike thing (yep, more enduro-like right there). Once past that I was in a little better spot, able to at least keep up a moderate pace with the guys around me. Just before the 2nd and main aid station, I ended up on the back of train being lead out by a lady and also had another lady in it. Super excited to see women, I hung onto the train and made my way through it as gaps opened up. By the time we got to the aid station, the lead woman had pulled off to the side (not sure why). I rode over to Jenni who already had my stuff in hand and just like a Nascar pit stop, I was out in seconds. I caught the 2nd woman from the train and proceeded to put my descending skills to work. This was the point last year where I got back a lot of time after my der got a bunch of fishing line stuck in it. But this time I just didn't have the space to really let it fly. Lots of conservative riders and just tough trail to get around people. They're racing too so I don't expect them to stop to let me by so I have to go when it's safe for everyone and where I can actually stay in front so gauging that takes practice and an understanding of where you're at physically. Nothing's worse than someone passing you only to slow up so I try to pass when I know I can get a gap.



The riding here isn't hard but racing it can be challenging. The terrain is bench-cut singletrack with a loose base of pebbly rock, dirt and roots that traverse ravines and gullies, so it's a lot of power riding around switchbacks and in and out of stream beds. You are rewarded for all the efforts with some sort of flowy descent but they don't last long. 

The next aid station (it's an unmanned water stop at mile 30) was at the top of a long climb up a service road. At the top was a gaggle of riders. I was solid on my fluids so I didn't stop. I turned onto the rolling gravel road, taking the time to eat and stretch my legs and back all the while still pedaling. Pretty soon some of the gaggle started to come by so I jumped on some wheels as I ate some food. As soon as I felt rested, I took a flyer to bridge up to the next solo guy and sat his wheel for a second until the gaggle arrived and then I jumped on their train again. At the next rise I stood up to power the climb and jump into the single track. I lead the train for most of the next 10 miles and every once in awhile would ask if anyone wanted to go by. A few took me up on it while others liked my pace. Once out of the trees towards the final aid station, I drank the last of my bottle and cruised into the last aid station where Jenni was waiting and ready. She said I was probably in 4th. I pulled out of the station and headed up the pavement to the loop we rode the day before. The plan was to easy pace it up the steep hill and then blast down the service road. I jumped on a couple wheels to get me there sooner. I was starting to suffer from my previous hard efforts. My stomach is the first to revolt and over time I've realized that it's lack of calories. Since I was less than 6 miles from the finish, I popped some jelly bellies and took a big swig and just made peace with the pain. It was temporary and would be over soon. But this section of the race is no picnic, climbing into and out of ravines. The track was in much better shape than the day before (one benefit of being midpack). I didn't see any other ladies but pretended the next one was around each corner. Finally I made it to the top of the last climb. My time wasn't really going to improve from last year so I just did my thing and got to the bottom. A smiling Laura Scherff greeted me at the finish. I saw one other woman I didn't know and eventually I saw Samantha so it was then that I figured I was in 4th.

After taking a long few minutes to come to my senses, I cruised over to Jenni. Ryan was with her. It wasn't long until we saw Abbey come in. Abbey is only 16 and it's only a matter of time before she overtakes me in one of these races. This was a breakthrough event for her, crushing her previous time two years prior by almost an hour! She's been training hard for road and CX races and it was clearly showing. She said she felt great all day and come to find out was only minutes behind me the whole time. So proud of her!


Women 35& U Podium
We started seeing the rest of our crew one by one. Chris had had a mechanical after aid 2 and Mark had stopped to help him as he too had had spokes breaking so knowing he wasn't going to be able to put down serious power, did the honorable thing to help out a friend. He came by with the usual big smile, just happy to be on a bike after a long two months away. Kevin came by looking good and ready to take on the last segment and once Adam and Eric came through, we knew everyone was healthy and would finish. Both Abbey and I were ready to get out of our diapers so we spun back to the cabin and had the two showers to ourselves! We returned to cheer on our friends and eat!!! 





Once everyone was in, we all went back to the cabin to rest and snack before the awards ceremony later that night. It was a packed house under the big tent and everyone was partying and in a great mood. I was happy to see that the promoter took the advice I gave him earlier this summer to break up the women's group in the hope that it would attract more women in the future. Doing that placed me in 2nd in 36+ age group, second to rock star Laura Scherff who continues to slay. I think this was her first time winning the overall women's category after many attempts and I was stoked for her. I've been on that step a couple of times at this event and it's very rewarding because it's a hard race. The competition is getting tougher as well with racers from Texas and other southern states finding out about it more and more. When my name was called up, I brought with me a bottle of honey whiskey to share with the entire podium. Most of the women I call friends and I love that we can stand shoulder to shoulder after such a hard day and celebrate together.


Women 36+ Podium
As much as I want to keep this race to myself, I just can't. It's too much fun not to share it. The promoter claims to want this race to be the best race in the US. That's a big goal but as a promoter myself, I can say with confidence, they are on the right track. 

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