Epic – A Sea of Leaves!
Written by: Evan Plews
The saying goes
"you can't see the forest for all the trees" but this year at
Berryman Epic in Missouri, riders couldn't see the trail for all the leaves! I
first heard about this event several years ago when I was searching out the
best endurance races around the country. It came with rave review from several
credible former participants, so I made a mental note to permanently add it to
my bucket list. With my last minute decision to skip the Crocodile Trophy this
year, I replaced it with the Baja Endurance 100km last weekend followed by
Berryman on Saturday.
With a promising
ride in Ensenada, I was ready to go for the course record bonus in Missouri.
Hope for that started to fade as fast at the sunset though on Friday after
travel delays got me into nearby Steelville barely in time for bed with much
work still to do. I was able to find an open grocery for some dinner and
supplies and managed to get my bike built. An early start time meant even
earlier registration, but I realized that "warming up" may not be a
possibility with the temperature below freezing. Though I had thought about it,
I forgot my insulated Mavic shoe covers, which are a must for me in cold
I arrived at the
beautiful Bass River Resort venue where I got top notch service taking care of
my registration. After that, I went back to the car to get dressed and pre-heat
before trying to ride my bike. The sun was coming up and there was some warmth,
but honestly it really seemed like a winter day with all the trees bare and the
We rode out of
the resort on gravel roads before beginning a rolling climb to the famed trail
head where a $100 prize was offered. Despite my "warm-up" ride my
feet were already numb and my legs were even more blocked than normal, so I was
already out of contention. As we dropped into the singletrack, I think most of
us collectively wondered where the trail was! Of course, the eternal optimist,
I hoped that it was just a short section and the leaves wouldn't be completely
covering all of the trails. Well, I was sort of right because about a mile of
the course wasn't! Some parts had an inch or two of leaves while other areas
had closer to a foot, leaving this western Oregonian in awe--I don't think I have
seen so many leaves in my whole life!
I am sure the
trails were sweet underneath all that... at least they felt like it! I piloted
my Ibis by "braille" imagining all the roots and rocks and great
lines between them. In reality, we all plowed through the course wishing things
were a bit smoother and easier while hoping we didn't hit something big enough
to end our day. It was a real bummer because not only did the added resistance
and lack of line choice slow progress, the silly layers of leaves made traction
both corning and climbing less than desirable. It also made it very difficult
to see where the trail actually was on its serpentine path through the
beautiful but responsible forest.
countless times where we missed turns. A few times the trail was so covered
that I had to literally stop and look for it or an opening in the trees that
would indicate its presence. About 20 miles into the race we reached the only
aid station where we would pass through again later. This is where my hope for
a top finish quickly evaporated. Word of advice to all promoters: drop bags are
vital so PLEASE make them obviously in order for us! As is so many times the
case, our bags were scattered about some next to the course while most of them
were virtually out of sight in a picnic shelter. Once I discovered this, some
helpful soul found my bag but not before losing a minute or so.
Frustrated by the
aid station debacle, I promptly rode past a rather obvious left turn and down a
fire road until I reached a fork with no marking. I turned around and circled
with another rider who had also missed the turn until yet another rider joined
us and we collectively decided to retrace our path. I had lost about four more
minutes, so I began to ride harder thinking I was really out of luck to catch
the leaders. This only amounted to missing more and more turns in the leaf-infested
trail so I resigned myself to defeat so-to-speak.
through the race, I reached a longer section of gravel and pavement. This was
actually a welcome break from the tediousness of orienteering through the
singletrack. Unfortunately, the pack of of pit-bulls at the top of the climb
must have been alarmed by the four leading riders and were ready to ambush me.
I have been chewed on by dogs before and these looked rather serious as did the
veritable junkyard they called home. I stopped, hollered, and tried to keep my
bike between myself and these menaces while also inching my way past them.
After about a minute of standoff I was able to remount my bike, but not after a
significant flush of adrenaline. Now feeling even more drained, I cruised back
to the aid station for round two of the bag hunt.
This time it took
even longer because my bag had been misplaced after my first stop. Luckily
another fella (who would be a great Easter egg hunter) came to my rescue and I
was on my way again. More leaves, more unseen trail--actually about ten miles
of it until I realized my last mistake of the day. In the low temperatures I
wasn't perspiring like normal and therefore I needed a nature break--bad. My
bladder was bouncing off the saddle, so I stopped and relieved myself and lost
another minute or more! Just as I finished the last section of trail I caught
and passed a rider from the leading group.
wasn't going very fast and reported that the other leaders were long gone. He
also gave me the best news of the day: the famed Berryman and Ozark Trails were
over and there was nothing but gravel roads separating me from a warm shower
back at Bass River Resort! Despite the beautiful day and promise of a ribbon of
stellar singletrack, I couldn't have been happier to see it finished as I
finished the race fourth overall.
Sure this may
sound like a negative report, but after talking with many multi-time Berryman
riders, the leaves were the product of a "perfect storm" of sorts.
Apparently the recent drought plaguing the mid-west had caused the leaves to
wither earlier and collectively this year. That combined with a recent
windstorm had caused literally all of them to drop at once creating the truly
EPIC conditions we experienced!
On the flip side
the venue was awesome and perfect for a mountain bike race with lodging,
camping, a store and many activities for those traveling with to do. Another
day of sunshine was also a fantastic treat for me this time of year. A new
record time wasn't set, but I heard the legend Steve Tilford still smoked us
all on his way to a second consecutive victory. The folks putting on the show
were super hospitable and there food and beverages following the race seemed to
have kept everyone satisfied as they recounted their experiences around a huge
bonfire. I have a great imagination so I will dream of riding the Berryman and
Ozark trails again someday soon sans leaves and so should you!