Sunday, October 28, 2018

2018 BT Epic Report: The Hole-Shot Blues

The Berryman Trail Epic or BT Epic or BTE has all the makings of a great event. It's capped off our racing season now for the past 5 years and it's everything Ozark: beards, flannel, smoked meat, beer, a bon-fire to end all bon-fires and a fifty mile mountain bike race on a network of hill country trails under a dense canopy of hardwood trees. I can't think of a better way to spend a fall weekend.

This year's MTBLIMO crew was skeleton. Just Shawn-Shane Buscher and Alex "Do you have a Venezuelan aisle" Sanchez. Mike Miles met us there as well as the O'bs, Eric and Abbey. Her last BTE most likely (off to college next year). Sad face :(

We left Thursday night and drove to KC, where we stayed in a Best Western that left a lot to be desired but it was cheap. We ate at Denny's the next morning and of all the f-ing Denny's in the land, we eat at the same one Alex had eaten at after performing a gig in the area. Story goes he tried to get the waiter to give them booze. 

We arrived at the Bass River Resort under some misty skies around the lunch hour and checked into our cabins. As I was signing the paperwork I hear someone call out my name but using Abbott. I figured it was another racer but to my surprise is an old co-worker, Nicole Bormann, who was living in Columbia and was down supporting her friend who was racing. It was such an amazing surprise and made me so happy to see her smile and hear her infamous and infectious laugh that I miss hearing day to day.

Since all of the posh accommodations were booked, the only thing I could reserve earlier this year were two older cabins made of some plywood and beams. When we opened the door, it was colder inside than out. Luckily the heater worked awesome, albeit quite loud. No insulation in this place but we were warm and dry. 

Not too long after we arrived Mike showed up and we all hopped on bikes and took a stroll up the road. It was still drizzling a bit and even more by the time we got onto the single track. My ribs were holding up just fine but I decided not to go too far and risk a fall on the wet roots and rocks. Been there, done that. Got the fucking tshirt. So I popped back out onto the gravel and did a few openers and then headed back to the cabin and then to registration. The Resort built a brand new event center with a stage and large meeting space with tables and that was to be ground zero for post race celebrations. The timber was already stacked in an open field next to the Center for the bonfire that would be lit the next night. 

After everyone returned back to the cabin and got showered and hunkered down, the power went out in Mike's cabin so he and Ryan went down to the lodge to report and within minutes, they had someone there and got it fixed. Sort of. The night was spent getting bikes and gear ready for the big day. I slept pretty well considering my ribs. Ear plugs kept the noises at bay and a shot of whiskey helped send me off to sleep.

We were all pretty much up by 5:30. Can't really be quiet in small cabins so once one person is up so is everyone. Coffee and oats were on the menu, or if you're Shawn-Shane, cookies and coffee. At 5:40 Eric was at the door. Power was out again and it was chilly but Mike knew what to do and it was right back on. With the race not starting until a much more normal 8:30 (unlike the 7:30 start at Dakota Five-0 or the insane 7 am start at the Ozark Off-road) we had plenty of time to get ready. Outside it was pretty chilly and a fog was hovering in open areas. I carried a drop bag to the last aid station near the entrance so that I could stash my warm up layers. 

Wave 1 Photo by
By 8:15 I was at the line with 329 other racers. This year they decided to split the start into two waves to cut down on the congestion. It was a good plan in theory. In the pre race announcements, the promoter yelled to look for the truck blocking the road, signaling where we were to turn into the trees. Another good theory. I've done it many times, as recent as the day before. Piece of cake. I had also looked for markers the day before so that I could prepare to unlock my suspension before hitting the single track. As the minutes were ticking down, the sun finally draped us in warmth, the wind was low and it was going to be a perfect day for racing bikes! I was set.
Wave 2

Then, my computer shut off. 

"THIRTY SECONDS!" the announcer yelled.


I restarted the computer and watched it warm up. C'mon you POS! 


The screen came back up just as the start gun went off. I hit start. Then I got stuck behind the f-ing clog that happens every year. I'm lining up in the front next year. The race went up the road without me it seemed. Though I wasn't 100% due to my injuries and lack of training to try and heal, I still had some desire to push it up to the hole shot and then see how my ribs were going to handle things. I jumped from group to group and tried to get back some spots before heading up "the wall" as I like to call the first gravel climb. The opening stretch is only about 4 miles but it's climb after climb and it can just wear the shit outta ya - especially when your fucking computer isn't picking up your heart rate like it's been doing up until that moment. I do better racing with HR but at least I had power.

Riding up the road, I'm starting to see the markers I noticed the day before. I was in a group of guys and was holding onto their pace. As we started up a slight incline I see two racers coming right at us. Thinking they had mechanicals I dismissed them. Once over the rise, suddenly there is a stampede of racers coming at us. I was so confused. I saw Laura Scherff and she yells, "We missed it. There was no truck! We missed the turn!" I turned around with my little group. I'm thinking, nah, couldn't have missed it. I would have recognized it. There were a bunch of arrows the day before. I think it's still up the road. A couple others thought the same so we start back up the gravel when shortly after the rest of the first wave came over a rise and I'm like "Shit, we missed it." So we turn around again, weaving through people going slow as molasses. By then the 2nd wave has arrived, also missing the hole shot, and they're lining the road to let the first wavers through. At the entrance, there is a fucking conga line so I take a parallel ATV track right next to it that led to the same spot, passing probably 20 riders, and I slot right behind Julie Higgins. Within minutes, we're all walking the first technical descent b/c why? Wave 2 and 1 were all mixed in and it was just going all downhill. It was like scared cattle drive with racers trying to ride around the walkers, racers running and carrying bikes through the brush; whatever was necessary to make up ground like we were running from a forest fire. It was comical. Adrenaline is a drug by the way.

As things calmed down a bit, a did a computer check- 190 power. Ok, not horrible. Ride ride check, still 190. Well, I am riding hard to make up time. Gotta run this stupid climb that nobody seems to be able to ride. I finally get going and rip some down hills. The computer is still at 190 power. BUT I'M NOT PEDALING, YOU POS! So it's stuck. It's computing b/c the distance is working but no heart rate. F! So I just raced by feel. And I felt like I was going too hard and I knew it but I couldn't make myself slow down b/c I didn't know how far back I was. I didn't know where the other ladies in my age group were. They could be right in front of me or right behind so I just had to push. Ribs were handling things just fine thanks to my buddy, Larry, who taped me up before we left town.

By aid 1 at the highway crossing, I'm feeling pretty good. I shove down some food before heading back into the trees. The passing continued by me and to me. I was around dudes the whole time, and man they sure do like to talk a lot. I passed by Shawn-Shane not long after the road so I knew that I was somewhere among the 2nd wavers. I started seeing women here and there going at pretty good clips. One in particular would keep getting a gap until finally just after aid 2 I was able to get around her after she let some guys by that were between us. It was just before a fun descent so I stepped on the gas. The trails after aid 2 are what I look forward to during this race. They twist and turn and have a lot more descending than climbing and you can make up a lot of time, of which I tried, making bold passes, going by two sometimes 4 riders. I kept looking at my 190 and thinking I really needed to slow the fuck down. But I didn't. Just too many people to get through. The race was nerve racking, and I never felt like I was in a groove. I felt tense, in a hurry and just rattled. I'm glad I didn't crash although I did have a couple of scares. 

Finally out of the trees of the first section, I pass another woman on the long climb up to the road. Then on the gravel I fuel up a bit and restart my computer to see if I can get  my heart rate to read. It came back on and picked up my heart rate but no power. Greaaaat. Oh well. Then I see another woman up ahead. I don't panic but slowly get up to her and onto the wheel of a guy who is passing by her. I enter the next section of single track in a good spot and try to settle in. This section is long. Lots of riding in and out of ravins and across and out of creeks, only to repeat it again, what seemed like 1000 times. A couple sections lets you open it up but mostly it's grinding it out. By the time I came out of there, I was feeling the affect of the effort from the beginning of the race. 

I was caught by a woman, Amanda, who I think whipped up on me at the end of The Ouachita Challenge too. We came out onto the main road through the resort and had to climb a bit before heading back into the trees. I had stashed a bottle at aid 4 but after I felt how much water was left in my hydro pack, I decided not to stop and headed up the steep road climb. I was in my easiest gear just trying to keep from blowing sky high. Finally reaching the dirt service road, Amanda came around me and another guy. I tried to match her but she was just too strong and I was too out of gas. The last 7 or so miles of single track are pretty fun so I put in efforts where I could and hoped that I'd maybe catch up to her but it wasn't in the cards. Later I saw why. I hit all time power numbers in the first 90 minutes of the race. Oops. 

The finish was at the event center so once we came out of the trees for good, we were waved around the main lodge and around a fence where there was a really long finishing straight to the line. Once I got there, I found Ryan. We rehashed our hole-shot stories while we waited for the rest of our friends to arrive to give them high fives. When the announcement came that the food line was open we headed over to stuff our faces with smoked meat, taters and all kinds of sides. The new event center was nice but it wasn't the same as having the big finish tent right next to the line. Come to find out the promoter thought the same thing. It's already been announced that they're bringing the tent back! 

Alex explaining how he was actually first in the 2nd wave to the trees, even though he missed it.
(Ryan was technically first in the trees).
Later that evening I went around to the campsites to try and find my friend Nicole. I couldn't locate her so I just stayed in the event center & secured a table for the awards show. Soon the place filled up with standing room only. It was bright and loud. Finally, podium shots under actual light! Found out just before that I took 4th overall in women and 3rd in age group. Once again, the elders threw down. (wink wink). Abbey, despite going the furthest past the trail entrance, still managed a 4th place age group. 

Super cool that the promoter recognized the top 10 women just like they do for the men. Despite one of my slowest times here, I still had a great time riding bikes in the woods. Not gonna lie, I was pretty po'd about the hole debacle but it didn't last very long. Fifty-four miles will give you plenty of time to cool off. 

Aside from Mike tripping on some roots and fracturing his ankle, the evening went as usual: tell the same stories again and again, drink a lot, eat a lot, sit by the fire and keep doing more of the same. It was the perfect way to forget about a botched race and at the same time the perfect way to be reminded it really didn't matter anyway. 

It's been one hella season for Dirt Girl and the MTBLimo crews. From the desert canyons of Texas to the Black Hills of South Dakota and from MTB Nationals in Arkansas to our Great Wide Open trip around Colorado, we've had amazing, memorable experiences with wonderful friends. So to cap off the 2018 writing (and riding) season, just want to say thanks to all who came along for the ride. 

Thursday, October 11, 2018

2018 Oz Trails Off-Road Race Report or Gimme A Slab of Bruised Ribs with a Side of Sealant

The inaugural Epic Rides Oz Trail Off-Road had been on our schedule since we read the announcement earlier this year. It was a perfect race to slot in between Dakota Five-0 and the BT Epic in late October to help keep us topped off. 

We've ridden a lot of the race course for fun over the years and with something like 500 bursty climbs and thousands of turns, we felt it fit our power riding style quite well. And it was a first-time event that would pull in pros from all over. Yeah, had to do it.

The #mbtlimo had a new passenger this trip. We invited trail leader extraordinaire Eric Geiger to come along. One day the Husboy and I were asking ourselves who hadn't been on a trip with us who likes to do the long haulers? Eric's name came up and he jumped at the opportunity. Mike Miles also tagged along on the initial drive out and then Ted Mustachio Lechnowski and No Fucks Eyberg showed up later Friday night. We rented a little Airbnb just under a mile from the start line. That was lucky b/c at the time we signed up, the route hadn't been disclosed yet.

We left Omaha super early Friday morning. So early in fact that we woke up the family living above the 24-hour drive through at Abelardos on Center Street. Needless to say, we didn't end up leaving town until 6:30 but our breakfast burritos were hot and fresh (hopefully Ryan's tip encouraged them not to spit in our eggs).

We arrived in Walmart's hometown of Bentonville, Arkansas around the lunch hour, and entered our rental after several attempts to reset my password on the AirBNB app to get the door key code. We dropped our stuff and rode to the town square that was full of farmer's market vendors and all things bike festival from tents to the epic finish line arch to a vendor market. The whole set up was super pro and it should be. 

Epic Rides is no newbie when it comes to putting on high end bike events. They also put on the Whiskey 50 and a bunch of other races that attract riders from around the country and beyond. It didn't hurt that this race in particular paid out the most in mtb history to the pros. Equally. 

We rode from town along the greenway's many bike parks to show Eric what life is like in mountain bike dream land. We rode along the freeride track at Crystal Bridges, then to the small park at Slaughter Pen that started the mtb craze down there. Eric even rode off the big drop! From there we continued on the greenway to Blowing Springs but first we had to ride the cement pump track that was next to the elementary school. Finally we got to the hole shot where we cheered on the fun riders who were doing a 25 miler. The track was dry and loose that day but the forecast for the weekend was going to make this the last time we were going to see dry tracks. We rode a couple sections of the trail and then turned back to check in and get our number plates. 

There were bmx stunt riders doing amazing aerial stunts off of ramps and music pumping and people having a hella time. I didn't want to leave but it was coffee time and that meant only one place: Onyx Coffee Lab. Go there. Right now.

Back at the house we rested and got bikes ready. By the time dinner was on the stove, Mustachio arrived and he was able to eat with us. Todd arrived much later after we had gone to bed. I left the light on for him.

Alarm went off at 4:30 am. With a 7:30 start time, I needed to get food and coffee down. I slept really well which is very unusual for me. Must have been the king size bed! Soon the rest of the natives appeared one by one, some more bleary-eyed than the other (seems the bedroom upstairs was a tad warm and noisy). 

The forecast was rain off and on but not much accumulation. When we left in the dark for the start line. The air was stagnate and humid. My new Oakleys were probably not going to be much use to me this day, I thought. As we turned the corner to the start area, the emcee was already 5 cups of coffee in and loud and excited. It was 25 minutes til go time. I took two spins down the finishing straight that was all gated off, and about 3 potty breaks and then got in line about 8 rows back. 

My start was clunky trying to get into my pedal. Once clipped in, I stood up and hammered. Ted was long gone and Eyberg was doing the shorter route that started later. I didn't see Eric. My pacing was good. Soon Ryan came around and I jumped on his wheel. There was a bit of wind once we were out of the town center. We took neighborhood and backroads, lined with locals holding onto to children in one hand and coffee in the other. The first big climb up a gravel road sent me backwards a bit after a great threshold effort to almost get up to the front. I caught back up to Ryan and as soon as the dirt road went down, this giant cloud of dust overtook all of us and it was a free for all. I lost Ryan for bit as he zigzagged among the riders so I tried to follow as best I could. Once in the trees we were strung out pretty well and didn't get hung up on anything. Ryan disappeared and I got into my groove. 

It was a pretty steady effort for the first 90 minutes. Lots of punchy climbs and lots of riding up switchback flow trails. I felt like we were betraying them. And, well, let's just say they were going to get their revenge. But equally there were as many descents and so flowy. So fun. The Back 40 is like riding a bunch of tiny kid roller coasters through a ravine. I wanted to put my hands in the air but that would have been bad.

A steady rain began early in the race. Thank the Lord it wasn't cold. It was like riding in a jungle. Oakley's came off and didn't go back on my nose the rest of the day. 

Check one at 15 miles in seems a bit chaotic. I didn't see where to fill up. It seemed as if they were still setting it up or something. So I kept going and decided I'd make two bottles last til mile 30. I hadn't seen any women literally since the start line. I had no idea where I was until I was told I was top Something overall about 25 miles in. I was feeling awesome and all cylinders were firing. I caught the eventual winner of my age group (this is important information later) on a road climb. We went back and forth a bit and I was starting to run out of water so I pulled off at a random aid station that appeared and filled one bottle. Bad decision #1. So I'm back on the chase and caught back up to Renae. That effort put me in the hurt so I backed off a bit. I went through check 2, grabbed a beer up and got a push up the hill. That was awesome.

So I'm cruising along and I see a random guy at an intersection looking up and yelling at someone. Renae had taken a route that took her off the trail and up above the course. So I followed the guy on the actual course and put in an effort to create a good gap. So I'm hauling it, feeling great. Then I see another woman on the side fixing a flat. She's got it under control so I keep going. A few turns later the trail opens up in a field and it goes through two trees. Between the two trees is a rather tall and fat root. No problem. I'll totally wheel lift over that thing, I said to myself (mistake #2). I amped up the effort, preloaded the suspension, got the front wheel over and then it got really ugly. My guess is my back wheel didn't clear the slick root, sending the bike sideways and since my weight was forward, I continued on that trajectory while the bike slid under me. I hit on my right side. I stood up and felt the pain immediately in my right side. I've never had broken or cracked ribs but been around enough guys who have and it seemed to me that I probably had just a good bruising because I could move my chore around and take big breaths without too much pain. I took a quick assessment of my legs and then looked at the bike. All seemed well so I jumped on the bike and as soon as I pedaled there was a loud grinding noise coming from the derailleur. In that time, the woman changing the flat came by and said the girls were really getting hit hard. I'd find out what she meant later. Upon accessing the issue with my der, I noticed something on it and went to wipe it off so I could get a better look at things and well, it was a small strip of bloody skin. I looked around at myself and it was only after lifting my arms did I see the blood running down my right arm. My elbow was ground zero of that crash and I must have also landed on the bars or headset , hitting my ribs. My computer had also popped off. I was able to put the chain back on and get back on the bike within a couple minutes and I felt surprisingly good. Yes, there was pain in my rib area but not sharp so I decided to keep on the gas. 

It rained off and on the whole race and the tracks were sketchy in spots. Somewhere between miles 30-40, my day took a turn for the worse in more ways than one. On a section of track called the Ledges where parts of the trail actually are bench cut out of the hillsides but the base is limestone rock that can be super slick. The track follows folds in the hillsides, and going over ravines sometimes involved wood bridges, sometimes on armored trail made of the same limestone. In one particular junction and since I was already injured, I didn't want to chance a slip so I decided to clip out and walk over one particular area. Another guy did the same behind me only he ended up slipping off the ledge and fell ass over tea kettle, bike and all at least 10 feet down, yelling along the way in pain. I yelled out that I was coming to help and by use of small trees and brush, picked my way down to the guy. I asked if he thought anything was broken. He said no but that he fell on his back pretty hard. By the time I got to him he was sitting up and saying he was probably okay. As soon as I saw other riders, I yelled for help and we daisy-chained the guy's bike up and then they helped pull him up. We weren't far from a trail patrol station but the guy seemed fine. His bars were all twisted and his helmet was broken but considering, not bad. So, I got back on my bike and continued on.

Not for long.

Maybe 5-10 minutes later, my back tire started spewing sealant so I jumped off and quickly tried to get the sealant to do its job. It seemed to have worked but as soon as I got a couple bike pedals up the track, air started coming out again. Now my tire was pretty low but the sealant seemed to beholding. I hit the tire with my only Co2 and some more air came out but then stopped. It was squishy but not horrible, probably 15psi. I rode for quite a while but then it started coming out again so I started walking and asking people for air as they went by. The ravine guy of all people stopped and gave me an extra Co2 so I gave it a hit instead of putting in a tube. The tire was a muddy mess and I as probably going to fuck it up anyway. The air held for a ways but slowly leaked out. When I reached the last aid station at mile 40ish, I was yelling for a pump of any kind but everyone just stared at me like I was asking for the recipe for peking duck. Kinda annoyed, I kept on riding until I was banging the rim around the Slaughter Pen trails, finally deciding to walk once back at Blowing Springs. I asked those who went by if they had anything. And guess who stopped? Renae, the woman who ended up winning the race, actually. She took off her pack, dug out the pump, showed me how to use it and still managed to beat the remaining racers all the while with only one cleat. 

Yep, shit show.

I pumped up the tire but it wasn't holding enough to ride hard. I should have put in a tube at that point but I wasn't that far from the end and by then I figured I was off the podium since I hadn't seen any of the others my age all day but if you know me I don't quit and finishing DFL is better than quitting any day. Plus it was hard to know what experiences were happening with the others. Maybe one had dropped out. Maybe they were actually behind me. I had to keep going. 

It wasn't until the very last section of single track that the tire finally rolled off the rim and I ran to the finish line once I got onto the finishing straight. I pumped the air at the bystanders as they cheered me to the finish. I heard over the PA "We got a runner" and the crowd sent me some love.

Finally across the line, I was a mess. I looked around for anyone and found Eric. I told him my situation and to ask Ryan to meet me at the bike shop so I wouldn't have to walk back to the house. After sitting there a bit, and seeing Eric ride by trying to figure out the correct way to the house, a buddy from KC who had just started working at the shop had one of his mechanics put my tube in for me. As I was standing there, dripping and muddy, getting funny looks from people, the mechanic said my tube had a hole!!!! Huh, no shit. I wouldn't have been able to finish had I tried to put a tube in during the race after all. I smiled at the situation, thinking about the choices I made during the race that caused a chain reaction of other events, that ultimately resulted in me walking across the finish line and also somehow into 5th place. 

Getting the last spot on the podium was remarkable. I had it in me to get up higher on the step when I started the race. I had it in me even at the end but the day just didn't work out that way. Even the pros' race the next day had similar difficulties so it seemed if you kept air in your tires and rubber side down, you had a better chance just to finish. It's races like these where I learn the most. I don't flat that often. I haven't crashed that spectacularly in a while. I don't ride off-road in the rain much and I certainly don't pull someone out of a ravine regularly. All of those challenges required a mental toughness to stay focused and adjust to the situation as best I could. We were all facing similar challenges but it was refreshing that, despite those challenges, we still found a way to take care of each other.