"For an occurrence to become an adventure, it is necessary and sufficient for one to recount it." ~ Jean-Paul Sartre

Monday, October 25, 2010

Berryman Trail Epic Mountain Bike Race

This race was physically the most demanding race I have ever done.  Robin, Chuck, Darrell, and I all rode together and were trying to get it done in eight hours.  We came in at 8:49 so we didn't quite make it but it was a great ride anyway.  The guy who won finished in about half the time it took us.  I can't imagine riding that fast up those hills.  Up the hills is where we lost most of our time.

Before the Race
I thought this was a 50mile race but as it turns out it was 56+miles.  I didn't figure this out until late in the race when I was starting to countdown the miles left to go and Robin's total was significantly different than mine.  Sure I was using the computer on my bike and she was using her Garmin (brought to her by the awesome wellness program at Boeing, it wasn't free, but all I get from my wellness program at work is a stupid water bottle and a cooler), but she couldn't have been that far off.  Note to the reader:  GPS systems are great but when you are out in the woods running or riding they will measure your total distance a little short because they don't pick up all of the switchbacks.  Try it out for yourself if you don't believe me, but the wheel doesn't lie.  I think I dealt with the race extension reasonably well.  It's not like I could stop at 50 and be done.  No matter what I was going to have to ride back to the finish.

The start of the race was pretty sketchy, a loud explosion that pretty much came without warning, then on the first turn someone pretty much stopped right in front of me when their chain came off.  So not 100feet into the race I almost went down.  I hoped this was not a sign of things to come.  Riding out of Bass River Resort we took one of the roads that we used in the Berryman 36hour.  Back then I described it thusly "Heading out of Bass it seemed like there was a never ending climb not too steep just up forever and it also seemed like the down was not proportional to the up.  I just sucked it up and dropped to a lower gear to spin my way to the top."  The only difference being between then and now fresh gravel had been put down.  Traction wasn't too bad but I was definitely glad we were going up instead of down (<-- foreshadowing).  

I can't imagine how they do it!

We climbed and climbed and ate a lot of dust, literally.  The forecast had been calling for rain, serious heavy rain complete with thunderstorms.  We were expecting to get wet not dusty.  Dust was the theme of the day though.  There were times on the single track that the guys in front of me kicked up so much dust that the fine details of the trail were obscured and I wasn't even following that close.
The single track was great and the first two sections were really fun.  I did have a flat which pierced my sidewall, and a minor crash, but that couldn't dampen my spirits.  I was also still in the comfort zone of a distance I had ridden before.

The flat I changed pretty fast in fact I changed it so fast I surprised my self, maybe it was too fast (<-- foreshadowing).  In the course of changing the flat I set my pump down next to my bike to be sure not to forget it.  Guess what, I forgot it.  I should have known better.  Putting something somewhere specifically so you won't forget it is a sure fire way to forget it.  How many times have you put something in a place so it won't get lost then when you need it all you can remember is that you put it somewhere where it wouldn't get lost?  This is the same concept.  I hope someone finds it and get years of good use out of it.

Trek Down...
The crash was going uphill so I wasn't moving very fast, and thankfully it was on my right side.  It made for a good photo op though.

We arrived at the Berryman campground which was one of the race checkpoints and the bag drop.  Some of the faster riders were coming in from the second loop.  Imagine the course like a figure 8 with the campground in the middle.  I noticed that they all looked really clean.  We were all filthy from the trail dust.  I wished I was clean.  We grabbed our bags and some food, refilled our liquids and headed back out on the trail.

I had been warned that this third section was full of really steep climbs.  I knew it was going to be bad but first we got to ride one of my all time favorite sections of the Ozark Trail.  It's not that long but it is mostly down hill and just has a nice flow to it, which I believe is pretty close to how I described it from the Berryman 36hour.  We ended that section of trail and crossed Hwy 8.  I was starting to remember this section from the first time I ever came to Berryman.  I was with my nephew and we made a wrong turn and ended up on the OT instead of the BT.  In our defense the sign-age wasn't as clear then as it is now.  Like I was saying I was starting to remember, and what I remembered was the monster hills.

The hills were no joke.  The first one we came to I feigned an attempt to ride up, got off and walked, I figured the sooner I got off and walked the less likely I would be to tip over and slide back down.  The word steep really doesn't convey my meaning effectively.  It wasn't near vertical by any means but anyone who knows me knows that I am all about going down.  Going up is a weakness of mine that was about to get exposed.  I did a lot of walking and really slow riding in this section.  When my calves started burning too bad from walking I would ride, and when I came to a particularly steep or technical section I would walk.  These were the rules by which I lived during this section.  I felt bad for holding everyone back but my legs just did not have it in them to do any more.  I caught up with the group and told them they didn't have to wait for me but they were in agreement  that no one would be left behind.  I was not happy with this decision and thought about refusing to move forcing them to go on a head.  But in the end I realized that if it had been one of them whose legs were about to explode I would have said and done the same thing.  I also thought of some advice I read about the MR340.  'stay in your boat as much as possible.  Time on land is wasted time, if you need to rest do it in the boat.  The river moves along at 3.5MPH so if you rest and don't paddle for an hour you are 3.5miles farther than you would have been had you rested on land.'  I took this advice and figured as long as I was moving no matter how slow I was closer to the finish than if I had stopped.  I also thought of the best advice anyone has ever given me "never make a decision on an up hill".  I was hurting pretty bad, and the gremlins were working their way into my head wanting me to give up, but I've heard their siren song before and it would be a lot more tempting if they offered a ride back to the finish.  I kept on moving slowly but always forward.

I caught up to the group again and I kept on riding past them into a short downhill section.  I was trying to rally and didn't want to stop.  I was having so much fun with the hops and jumps in this section that I got a pinch flat.  I had been wondering for quite few miles if I had put in enough air when I changed it previously, and as it turned out I didn't.  I was not too happy about having to fix it but I was happy about getting to rest for a while.  I told Beth on the way home that it was the pinch flat that saved the race.  It took me forever to change too, not because I was milking it but because this time nothing was going my way.  The whole tire came off the rim and as I was trying to get one side on in preparation for the new tube the part I had put on would just come off again at the bottom.  So there I am sitting there turning the wheel around and around like an idiot.  Finally I got it on and pumped up.  Darrell asked if I wanted him to pump some,  and I figured since I didn't put enough in last time more wouldn't hurt.  I also came to the realization that I need to ride at higher pressure than my friends because my riding style is different than theirs.  I like to get a little air now and then and they like to keep the wheels on the ground.

After the rest I felt a little better but we still had quite a way to go.  Finally Finally Finally we made it to the gravel road that would take us back to the campground.  There would still be hills but hills on flat predictable terrain at this point were a godsend.  There were some downhills too, one of which was on a paved section leading down to Hwy8.  We flew down that hill reaching speeds of 35MPH maybe faster I was trying to focus more on the road than checking my speed.  

When we got to the bottom we crossed the road and prepared ourselves for the long climb up to the campground.  I was feeling a lot better by this time but it was not a surprise to notice everyone spinning so "easily" up the hill while I was really having to put a lot of effort into it.  Instead of spinning my way to the top I was having to pedal hard.  After a while of wishing I had more gears I looked down and saw that I was on my middle chain ring.  Wishes do come true!  I shifted into the small chain ring and everything was fine.

I dropped my shorts into my drop bag.
We made it to the top and much like before we handled our business and rolled out knowing we were on the home stretch.  This last section of trail was like the greatest hits, it had everything tough winding climbs, creek crossings (mostly dry), fast downhills, rocks, roots, fast rolling sections in the bottoms.  I mean it this section was like a smaller version of the entire course, and it was fun.  Robin had been having some stomach issues and now her legs were starting to cramp on the steep sections.  I hung back to make sure she didn't have any more serious problems, which allowed Chuck and Darrell to go on ahead a little faster.  At one point Chuck pulled to the side and told me to take a turn chasing after Darrell.  We were in a fast downhill that ended in a rolling bottom section.  Darrell and I were killing it flying over the terrain.  I don't think I have ever gone that fast on single track.  That section was a real high light of the ride.  We regrouped at a wide ATV trail that would take us to the gravel road leading to the finish.  It did not take us long to regroup Chuck and Robin must have been flying too.

About 100 yards from the finish!
We rode up the ATV trail and got on the gravel road where we were assaulted by dust from a group of ATV riders.  Not really their fault mostly bad timing that we ended up on the road together at the same time.  However they did pass us then pull over for whatever reason and then pass us again.  Some of them were apologetic about the dust they were stirring up.  I figured there was nothing we could do about it, plus we were close to the finish, and soon it wouldn't matter.  After a while the road turned downhill for the final time and yes it was the same road we climbed at the start.  I am still nervous about thick gravel combined with high speed.  I let off the brakes and let her rip any way because you can't conquer a fear without facing it.  I was white knuckling it the whole way down.  As the road turned I went wide and ended up in the center of the road where there were some deep grooves these almost shook my eyeballs right out of my head I have no idea how I didn't crash.  I didn't though and now we were at the bottom.  Nothing left but a short ride around the backside of Bass to the finish.  As we rode up I saw Beth taking a picture with her phone.  I stopped and gave her a kiss as is the custom when she suffers through a long race like this, and hauled ass to catch up so we could all finish together.

Everyone clapped and cheered for us as we came into the finish and there were a lot of people there partying, drinking beer, eating food, listening to the band, and just having an all around good time.  We were filthy and I felt a little weird about it since most people were already cleaned up so I went and showered while the rest of the group ate.  That shower was the best $.50 I ever spent.  

This was a truly awesome race! I don't know if I will be able to do it next year but I will do it again.


  1. "I've heard their siren song before, and it would be a lot more tempting if they offered a ride back to the finish." LOL. So true.

    35 mph downhill? Ugh...I broke myself riding at about 5 mph flat. You a much more talented rider than I am. And very brave, especially after your TDD injury.

  2. Great Report Patrick, I have to say, this is one of my most favorite races. Next year, we do it in 8 hours flat. RR