For the past 2 years, I have arrived at the starting line of the BT Epic an exhausted shell of a mountain bike racer, bargaining with my legs and my mojo for "one last solid effort" to close out a hard summer of racing. Fortunately, the BT Epic is so soaked in stoke that it hasn't been hard to go to the well on one of my favorite trails of all time, for two of the most energetic race directors of all time.
This year, for some reason, was different. Despite logging more race hours in 2014 than ever before, despite racing (hard!) for 3 consecutive weekends in October, I was feeling ready. I was actually EXCITED to race and treating it more like an actual competitive event than I ever have. (I have my theories on the difference this year...) That being said, it's still just a mountain bike race, so there's no need to freak out with spreadsheets and such. Oh wait, do you know who's writing this? Of course I had a spreadsheet. With split times. It's just who I am.
To ease some of the sting of dishing out cash at 0700 on a Saturday morning, we find ourselves parked next to some of the finest jerks in all the land, and get started with our respective pre-race routines. I've honestly got things pretty dialed by now, except the one item I forgot was some duct tape to write my goal splits on and stick to my top tube. Why is this so important? Well, first of all, my splits came from my beloved spreadsheet so of course I treasure them greatly. And secondly, the women's field is THIRTY DEEP and I don't really know where I'll shake out in this pool of talented riders, so racing against my goal splits is a better way to stay motivated than trying to keep track of all the girls. So I can't find any tape, but I DO find a Sharpie, so I just jot a few notes down on my arm for reference during the race. Problem solved. I ride over to the start line and find that EK has an open spot next to him in the crowd! Huzzah! I honestly have no business being as close to the front as we are (anyone sense a theme here...) but when you can you pass up the chance for an EK-EK line-up? Never, that's when. Scott counts us down and pretty soon 300 riders are streaming out of Bass. Whoop!
|EK-EK! far left.|
Almost immediately I am being passed by what seems like hundreds of riders. It's just a fact of life, I am not fast off the line to begin with, plus I have a healthy fear of miles 37-39 (aka "Triple Trouble") so I'm setting a conservative pace early on. I just settle into my 5hr effort and let it shake out watever speed that gets me.
That works for about ten minutes, when I am passed by Matt Struckman. He's a former Pfoodman teammate of mine and also a really great technical rider. I am not a really great technical rider. I know if I can follow his wheel in the singletrack, it will help me ride more smoothly and ultimately faster. So I lift my pace to match his speed and we motor on through the remaining gravel miles. Once onto the OT, I'm rewarded with a fantastic carrot to chase down into Harmon Spring. I pre-rode these miles with Erl and Andrei last weekend so I know what to expect - mostly gradually swooping downhills but some gnarly bits in there as well. There are several people on my wheel as I accidentally lead them through a horrible line of downhill babyheads. I can hear their exclamations of dismay behind me...sorry guys!
Once we get onto the Berryman Trail proper, Struckman charges ahead and disappears. It's no big deal since I know this trail pretty well. Except the OTA recently held a Mega-Workday and a lot of the curves have been "touched up"...i.e. leveled off on the outside/downhill edge. I'm sure the changes are good for the longevity of the trail, but today they make it harder (for me) to carry speed through the turn. I'm already sketched out by loose turns, so with the new trailwork in place, I ride cautiously. The rest of the trail into Brazil goes pretty much to plan, no surprises, just riding as hard as I dare. As I descend into Brazil Creek, I get to warn a few riders behind me of the super-sharp right-hander which helps us all stay rubber-side down. Crossing Highway W, I spot Struckman apparently waiting for me.
|I think this was taken approaching Berryman Campground?|
As we cross Highway W, I glance down at my watch and exclaim outloud, "HOLY CRAP STRUCKMAN!" and proceed to tell him that we made it to Brazil Creek 8 minutes faster than I did last year. We both concur that one of two things will happen: we'll either have a great ride, or we'll explode and be miserable for the rest of the race. Only trail will tell. I continue to chase Struckman as we ride south, but eventually lose him and pick up a trail of other guys on my wheel. I try to make passing for them as painless as possible, slowing down and scooting to the side whenever someone needs to get by. It's not a hard thing to do and makes everyone's day a little better. The 10 miles between Brazil and Berryman pass relatively quickly - I've ridden this section several times before and know the punches it throws. I tick off landmarks as we ride along: the waterbar switchbacks, fast bottoms, the tricky stub after the creek, the mushroom patch, Dwayne's root wad, the last 5 climbs, the duathlon rootwad, and finally I roll into Berryman campround, again ahead of my projected split and grinning from ear to ear. Volunteers help me find my drop bag, where all I need to do is grab another water bottle, and I'm outta there!
Berryman to Harmon = 1:19
Now, we're into flashback country. The last time I was on this section of trail, it was at mile 80 of the OT100MTB. I had just worked really hard to create a gap over SS Kate, but she closed it with a super fast stop at the aid station while I futzed with my lights. We rolled out together and I jumped ahead. We rode together for the next 7 miles, me trying to get away on the downhills and flats, and her trying to get away on the climbs. It was uncomfortable.
But here, today, now, things are sooooo much better than 6 weeks ago. I'm in a great spot nutritionally, and therefore mentally, and having a wonderful time riding this amazing trail. The only worry is the rising temperatures, and the gurgling sound my Camelbak is making when I try to get water out of it. I'm running low on fluids, and the bottle I picked up at Berryman has CR333 in it, not the plain water I want. I'm stressing about rationing liquids when it dawns on me...Beecher Spring!
I think somewhere after THE climb, I connect with local rider Dave and he starts chatting with me. Normally I'm not very good at riding singletrack and carrying on a conversation, but today I seem to be managing with enough "mm-hmmm"s and "awesome"s to keep Dave talking. I really don't mind the company, it's motivating me to keep pushing the edge of 5hr pace and moving me nicely down the trail. I make it back to Harmon with a split of 2:49 for the full Berryman loop, definitely a PR for me which spurs my trail stoke to new heights as we hop back on the OT.
Harmon to Bass = 1:05
We ride west towards Bass and through the field where I got chiggers so badly in 2012 that I had red welts on my legs for 2 months, I always like revisiting that place and that memory. Then we head up the doubletrack climb to the gravel, the one where I cramped badly last year, and, surprise, cramps are threatening again! I've been more aggressive this year with my electrolyte intake (double nuun in each CR333 bottle PLUS a few e-caps) but the high temperatures and effort are catching up to me. I immediately dial back the pace and have to let Dave ride ahead.
Once I'm up on the ridge, we turn right on the main gravel road and have a few miles to recover. I keep the pace as high as I dare, and also focus on eating a lot. The next section of OT singletrack is likely to be the toughest we face today - three back-to-back climbs, none especially long, but each especially steep. But first, we have a sweet 2-mile downhill that just floats down the edge of the spur and keeps....going...and....going.....these things are rare in Missouri!
Once I hit Triple Trouble, it's all business. These three hills made my life miserable in the dark at the OT100MTB, but this time around I'm prepared for their nastiness. I tackle them in granny-granny, passing a ton of dudes as they stop to stretch out their cramping muscles. Wellllll....maybe like 4 or 5 guys, not technically a ton. But it sure felt like a ton! Finally, I'm spit out onto the scraggly singletrack that leads into the backside of Bass, still reveling in the night-and-day (literally) difference in my attitude between OT100MTB and today. Life is good! One more loop left!
West Loop = 0:52
I make a quick stop at the aid station, ditch my empty CamelBak, and get to the business of climbing Butts Rd. This is not a joke. The climb up Butts (ugh, that sounds so horrible...) is long, but at least it's paved and I ride in the shade whenever possible. Then we hit the ridge road which goes on for much longer than I thought - I've not ridden this section of the course at all so it's all a bit new. But finally I spot the turn-off into the singletrack, negotiate some surprisingly rocky drops, and then...BAM. I'm just about blown off my bike by the beauty of these Missouri woods. The leaves are all shades of orange and yellow, the noonish sun is slanting through them brilliantly, and all I want to do is stop and take a picture (except I don't have a camera so....). THIS is why I am so lucky to live here, within a day trip of the OT, in these marvelous open woods. I try to soak in the autumnal beauty as best I can while maintaining some sort of urgency on the singletrack.
|on the West Loop|
I get back to riding, albeit slightly more conservatively, and try to replay the crash in my mind. How did it happen? I have no idea. And then....yes. It was Noah. Whenever we on Team Noah have strange mechanicals, or weird crashes, we always picture Noah, being his angelic toddler self, giggling while he throws sticks and stones in our way, and laughing even harder when fall over, go boom. The thought of him messing with me, as only a toddler angel can do, strikes a big chord in my heart. Out of nowhere, I'm filled with immense sadness. I know it's Noah's presence combined with the exhaustion that only 4 consecutive weekends of racing can bring, but soon big fat tears are welling up in my eyes. I start sniffling and gasping for breath. I know if I stopped riding, I would melt into a full-on trailside sob-fest, so I blink back the tears as best I can and keep moving. Did you know it's really hard to ride singletrack and cry at the same time?
|approaching the finish line.|
And just like that, it's over. I'm at the finish line 5 minutes faster than I predicted I would be, but in a completely different headspace than when I started. A few friends notice my finish and start to ask about the day, but in my emotional state, I can barely squeak out a "It's so beautiful out there" before wanting to sob all over again. Instead of treating the masses to an EK cry-fest, I flop onto a picnic table with the Scherffinator, put my head down, close my eyes, and just listen as everyone else's race stories swirl around me. This is my favorite part of racing anyway, and helps bring me back to Earth.
After several minutes, or maybe even an hour, I'm feeling composed enough to grab a shower (thanks Gino for the quarters!) and eat something. I was so overwhelmed at the finish that I didn't even bother to ask my placing, but it turns out I finished 6th overall women - better than I've ever done before! 5th place was my adventure racing friend Britt, only about 90 seconds ahead of me, but I hadn't seen her all day so had no idea it was that close. I stick around for the awards and huge raffle, passing the time by eating ice cream and stealing gummy bears with the jerks, and it's definitely not a bad place to be.
Photos: http://coverage.zenfolio.com/p418849751 <--- seriously check these photos out. buy some if you have the $$. Patrick does a great job capturing amazing shots!!!