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Berryman Epic Race Report with Evan Plews

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |January 25, 2013 3:42 AM
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2012 Berryman 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 conditions. 

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 frosty conditions.

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. 

There were 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.

About halfway 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.

Unfortunately, he 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!

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