The Berryman Trail Epic was a great race to finish up my long season of mountain bike racing. We went there last year out of shape with the plan to JRA and check it out (It's an IMBA epic trail for crying out loud)! We had a great time then and vowed to return ready to do some damage.
This was the 5th year of the BTE. It's still a young event and the promoters are amped and completely engaged. They have an amazing venue host, The Bass River Resort, that totally embraces our sport and this event with open arms. Everyone there was welcoming and over the top nice. The race starts and ends at their front door. Our accommodations were again top of the line: cabins at the start line? f-get about it. Pizza delivered to our door? Okay. Honey-infused whiskey. Ryan will take two. This place knows how to party.
Our travelers were a mix of old and new. Gnarly Carly, Brad Auen (although his initials now stand for Bad Ass), The Lucas and newbies Adam (I've never raced long distance) Stoll and his wife Jennie, who, bless her heart, rode shotgun with Ryan while we were racing. She rolled with it beautifully.
The trip started off unconventionally. The company I work for, Clark Creative Group, had its 20th anniversary. It was a blast and I hated to leave. When I got home and Ryan saw how excited I was about how it all turned out, he suggested we drive by so they could all see the amazing tent and set up. We all piled out of the van and immediately our group was given a warm welcome and directed to the beer table. We talked it up with my work peeps and jumped in the photo booth for some quick photos. Everyone got into it, costumes and all. I had a feeling this was gonna be a good trip. We then drove a few hours to KC and got a hotel so that we'd be able to get to the resort at a decent time to pre ride the next day.
|Photo booth shenanigans
We arrived around noon and we were allowed to check in early. It was in the high 40s, sunny and windy. Two friends from Iowa were meeting us later, Evelyn Johnson (Evie) and Trevor Rockwell. Once we got unpacked, we kitted up and Ryan drove us up to the hole shot. Well, everyone except Brad. The preride was a great idea because the trail was blanketed with leaves. High winds and storms days prior had dropped most of them right on the course and nobody is going to leaf-blow a 55 mile course days before a race. So, these were the cards we were dealt. The trail itself, without leaves, is flowy, but parts can be very rocky and/or rooty. Add on wet leaves and you just had to hope that your gear would get you through it. After about an hour of riding we took a wrong turn and found ourselves lost. We back-tracked and some locals pointed us in the right direction. A short recon ride turned into almost 1:45 ride but none of us were really going very hard so not a big deal. We got back to the cabin and then went into town for groceries. By the time we got back, Evie and Trever were out pre-riding so we started getting dinner ready. Dinner was going to be pasta with home-made sauce and french bread.
Compared to last year, I was more relaxed. My Top Fuel was handling the terrain nicely and my Carbo Rocket fuel had come in just in time for the race. (Side note: Carbo Rocket Half Evil is the holy grail of enduro event fuel. I have been searching for years for something to work with my stomach and I have found it. No longer will I stress about what to use. I totally recommend giving it a try if you're having stomach issues on long rides and races. I didn't use anything else but this and some Honey Stinger waffles, but only b/c I can't handle it full strength). Temps were going to be chilly. Forecasts predicted a freeze over night with a starting temp in the high 30s. Start time was 8:30.
I got up at 5:30 but had been in and out of sleep for the previous hour, having stress dreams about missing the start time. I hate that! Once I was up, it wasn't long before folks started trickling out into the kitchen. I got the coffee going and mixed up my oatmeal. As the sun came up, the meadow out our back door was covered in frost. All of us warmed up in our winter layers. Luck was on our side: the wind was next to nothing and the sky was cloudless. It was gonna be an epic day! I did a few warm up sprints and dropped off my puffy coat at the cabin and rolled to the start. I decided I'd keep my knee and arm warmers on because I could drop them at the main check point with Ryan if I needed to. See, this race is kind of unique in that the course passes by a check point twice. They give you a bag to put your supplies into so you don't have to carry so much. It's pretty slick. As everyone lined up, I stood in a ray of sunlight to keep warm. I was ready to get race! The promoter yelled GO we were off in one big group. 250 racers, all at once. It was madness.
The start was on a paved road that lead us to the park's gravel service road. I marked a woman who was keeping a good pace and surging from one group to another. She was strong on the gravel and I had to work. She was on a Cannondale 29r so her big wheels were an advantage. It was was a couple miles to the hole shot and maybe a half mile out here comes Evie pushing hard for the trees. She was the first woman in the singletrack and was riding super strong, leading a train of dudes at a good clip. We hit our first climb and everyone was off their bikes. Under the leaves, the trail was a boulder field and it was steep enough that any amount of pressure was causing tires to spin. I hopped off and started running my bike. I got passed Evie and spurred her to come along. I jumped on the bike and because the trail was so bumpy, it took me off the trail and into the woods. Instead of unclipping, I just rode next to the trail for about 10 yards, praying I wouldn't run over a thorn. I got around a small batch of bodies and began my pursuit. I knew Evie was riding strong so I wasn't going to count her out. I kept the bike upright and steady and I got into the flow but it wasn't without some tension. With the sun shining through the trees, sometimes I'd lose the trail completely and I'd find myself breaking into turns to keep me from flying into the forest. It was nerve racking and noisy. The constant crunch of the leaves under tires drowned out any other sounds so I couldn't really hear anyone coming up behind me or if my bike was making any odd sounds. In fact my bottom bottle cage had come loose and I didn't even know it until I got onto gravel. Leaves got jammed in my cassette enough that I couldn't shift into some of the gears in the back. Or they'd get wedged in between my tire and the fork, buzzing like an annoying fly. By the time I made it to check point 1, I had to use Ryan's buck knife to get the leaves out of the cassette. Ryan tightened up my bottle cage, gave me my nutrients and like a crazed mad-man, pushed me almost all of the way through the check point, yelling at the top of his lungs "I love you!" even after I had disappeared into the woods (Come to find out later, he was assisting many riders the whole day). The entire stop took only a few minutes. I was the first woman through the check point. I was feeling good and confident.
Oh, but what a difference 5 minutes makes.
So I'm big ringing out of the check point down a wide open service road that went slightly downhill. I was alone. I came to a fork in the road but there were no arrows what-so-ever. Shit! Suddenly groups of guys were charging at me from both roads. SHIT! Which way? Nobody knew. None were locals. So about 7 of us started back towards the check point and were met by another handful of guys. Everybody was freaking out. As we got closer to the check point we could see some people dumping into the woods. We all had missed an arrow that pointed down some single track. At that point everyone was seeing red. I jumped into the train and we were flying. I just kept praying that a rock or root wouldn't end my day. Some dude tried to pass me but by the time he was next to me a huge log was in his path and all I heard was "Oh God!" Thankfully, no crashing noises. I heard him again later when we had to go one by one over an elevated ped bridge that was maybe 4' wide. The other side was a sand pit that only cross racers would appreciate. Mr. Oh God almost slammed into me due to the sand. I almost made it all the way across the sand (about 10 yards) but had to clip out right at the end and got stuck behind a guy who wasn't going as fast as I wanted to go. I eventually got around him and back into the train. At one point a rock kicked up my back tire and I swear I went sideways. I remember thinking, this is going to hurt, but by some miracle, the tire found traction and I stayed upright. Thank you, Baby Jesus, I thought to myself. I had no idea if I had lost any positions so I was raging. We went by a group of hikers and one yelled, "Another woman". Shit. Ok, I still don't know if I'm 2nd or 3rd but I figured if I hung with these guys, I'd eventually catch whoever was up there. The plan worked. I came up on 2nd place and she politely moved over. "I thought you were in front of me". I was now! I told her what happened and then stepped on the gas. At the 3rd check point, the promoters were handing out the zip ties that we had to tie to our bikes. I mentioned that many had missed the arrow but that I was still having a great time. Eventually the single track gave way to a paved road that then led to a highway. I had gone pretty hard in the trees so when I hit the open road I was trying to recover a bit and eat. I looked back when I hit the highway and a group was coming. I knew she was drafting as she had done at the start. But to my surprise both 2nd and 3rd place caught up to me. We were almost back to the drop zone but had to climb a long road. 3rd place, NUE bad ass Laureen Coffelt from Tennessee who had raced me in Ark earlier this year, was on a Super Fly 100, was looking strong. She was chatting us both up as we climbed. Very friendly but I wanted to throw a stick in her wheel. LOL. 2nd place, also on a 29r, but a Cannondale, and I kinda traded places while keeping Super Fly close. As we crested a hill, we rolled by a trashy mobile home. Yeah, you guessed it. Two unfriendly dogs bearing teeth came out after us, barking at our heels. I stomped on the pedals but they didn't chase (the dogs that is). Not long and all 3 of us were back at the same check point. I told Ryan that I had missed a turn. I asked for my bottles and took off. The Cannondale rider stopped for her feed and didn't seem eager so I thought she might be cooked. But Laureen didn't even stop. She went right on through. I had to pee so bad and was hoping I'd be able to at this stop but there wasn't time. I had to go since the start but just couldn't find a good place and then after I went off course, I felt I couldn't sacrifice the time. Ryan was out of his mind yelling for me to catch her. I took off and saw two arrows. Which way???? To the right! Thankfully, someone was paying attention!
The last half of the race was hard. Hard in that the trail was un-ending single track. It never crested a hill or opened up onto a road. Though I dream of single track like this, when I'm in a long race, I dream of a break in the scenery or a long descent. I know. It's strange. And the other thing was I never saw Laureen in the trees. Luckily I didn't see the Cannondale rider either so I was chasing and being chased at the same time. I WAS RACING! So this is what it's like. Instead of wondering what position I was in I knew and had to work hard to battle the psychological and physical demons. To add to the stress, I asked for the wrong bottles at the feed zone. Instead of asking for the bottles with Carbo Rocket I asked for the bottles with water. So, for the last 20 some miles, I had only water and 4 Stinger waffles to fuel me.
I was alone for most of this section. A guy did come up to me and I asked what mile we were at. 15 to go with the last 6 on gravel. That meant 9 miles of single track and at my pace that was a good hour. The trail undulated up and down and around the box valleys of the forest. It didn't change much. I was able to remember what the last of the single track looked like and thought I was on it a couple of times only to get sent around another bend that didn't end. But soon I made it to the last big climb up to the gravel road. By the time I got up there I was teetering on the edge. I had maybe 2 swigs of water and I had eaten all of my waffles and had dropped one. Curses! I was alone. As soon as I had recovered from the climb, I shifted into the big ring and pedaled as hard as I could without going too far into the red. 6 miles. Damn. I kept looking back to see if the Cannondale rider was coming, since it was on the open road earlier in the race where she had caught back up to me. Not long on the gravel a rather large, line backer sized dude came cruising up behind me. Where did he come from? As he came up next to me I asked if there was any women close? He said he hadn't seen any in a while. Good. I kept on.
Then, there she was. Or was it?
I could see her crest each rise. I saw that the line backer had caught up to her and I was mad that I hadn't tried to draft. Each rise she got closer to me. My adrenaline started to kick in but I had to keep it in check. I was running on fumes and I wasn't ever sure it was her until I was a few yards back.
Quietly I rolled up to her wheel. She never looked back the entire time I was chasing so either she was spent or thought she had it in the bag. She looked back, "There you are." I wasn't sure if she had raced there before. We were on the same roads that we raced up at the beginning and I knew the road was going to go down steeply and do a couple of S turns before it straightened out. Once we were at the bottom, the wind was in our faces. I tucked in behind her. She clicked up a couple of gears. My stomach had butterflies. As we approached the next bend, I knew the course would take us off the main road and that's where I made my move. The road was covered in thick gravel so it was kinda a dumb place to put my nose into the wind but it didn't last long and as I came around she said, "Good job. You battled hard". I red-lined it to the finish. I had to slow down a bit to safely navigate some rather deep puddles and once through those the course turned into a camp ground. Ryan and Jennie were standing there. As soon as Ryan saw me he went nuts, running down the road toward the finish line. I turned into the finishing tent and crossed the line less than 30 seconds before the Super Fly rider. I bent over, heaving, trying to get my breath back. Ryan came running after me. Then Laureen came in and she was all smiles and again congratulated me on a well deserved win. She said she just didn't have anything left. She was just as excited that us old ladies took the top steps. Yeah, 40 is the new 20 in this sport.
Needless to say, I was very pleased and excited. Probably one of the best wins I've had and for it to happen at the last race of the season was incredibly satisfying. After not much structured training since DK50, I wasn't sure what kind of shape I'd be in. But it all paid off beautifully.
Afterwards we hung out and waited for our team mates to come in. Of course Brad, Trevor and Lucas were already in and eating by the time I got there. Show-offs! I rode back to the cabin, cleaned up and went back for some fine BBQ southern Missouri style! They had all the fixens, including two large coolers full of baked potatoes. Beer flowed freely and so did Ryan's honey whiskey. Soon Evie was in and then Carly and Adam. All were spent but had a good time.
The awards ceremony didn't get started until around 6pm to accommodate as many finishers as possible. They had raffle prizes and wanted to be fair about giving everyone a chance. Since it was cold outside, they packed us all into a smallish banquet hall. Everyone was some level of drunk, including the promoters. They were standing on the tables so they could be heard by everyone. When they called our names for the podium, we too got up on the tables. It was a riot! Tilford got the funds for the hole-shot contest and Evie, who was the first woman into the trees, pleaded that there should be a prime for the ladies. They gave in and handed her a $50 greenback, with a promise that there'd be ladies' primes next year for sure. They were super stoked that so many women showed up. Their first race had 2. This day there were 20. Yeah, better start spreading the love, boys. Then the promoters, Scott and Jake, called Ryan up to the front to award him with Fan of the Year. He told me later that he had techno blasting out of his van and was pushing as many guys up the road as he could. Even our crew told him his excitement gave them energy. Brad said hell, I'm doing this for Ryan. It was pretty cool! As the ceremony went on, things got even more rowdy. Ryan started handing up the whiskey bottle to the podium finishers and each one would take a pull. Then in ran out. Ryan bought a couple more small bottles, gave one to the promoters and they both finished it off. The room went nuts. Every so often one of the volunteers would come to the head of the room to ask if anyone knew about the last riders who hadn't come in yet. Two were still unaccounted for. Scott, the head promoter, wanted to give the last person a prize. Everyone voted to give him the Garmin GPS. Finally, word got back to Scott that the last guy was in. He was like, Get him in here right now! So the guy came in with another dude. The story was one of them had a broken derailleur and the other guy wasn't going to leave him out there alone, so together, they walked to the finish line. By then it was 7:30 and very dark but they made it in and they were celebrated. The group voted to give the other dude a head lamp. I thought the house was gonna come down after that. It was an amazing party with an amazing vibe. Brad got on the podium, 2nd age group and Trevor got first in SS. Lucas missed the podium by seconds. They all did amazing. Even more so because between the three of them, they each either went of course, crashed or had a technical or a combo, yet they all were in the top of their categories. Badassery!
By the time the party was over, we all were hungry again. We ordered pizza and had it delivered to our cabin. Where else does THAT happen in the middle of nowhere? I'm telling ya, it's aaaaaaawesome! While we waited for the za, Ryan started up a huge bon fire in the back yard (there was a fire ring) and we ended the night the only way mountain bikers know how: telling their stories and taking it all in.
This video illustrates the race very well, until he crashes out. You'll see Ryan at the hole shot and then at Berryman Check Point. The guy filming went off course at the same place I did!
Here's another video. I'm in there towards the end, getting beer.