Over the weekend I traveled to Steelville, "the floating capital of Missouri" (although I'd say it's more of the four-wheeler capital of Missouri from my experience) for the third iteration of the Berryman Trail Epic. It was my first time at the race, since it always conflicts with the Louisville USGP, but this year I decided it was worth missing the USGP to see what the Berryman was all about.
Unfortunately, my stomach had been out of whack for the week prior to the race, and the lack of good digestion was throwing the rest of my body out of whack. During my mid-week sprints, I knew I was feeling awfully weak, but all I could really do was eat lots of protein and sweet potatoes and hope that my muscles would get what they needed by Saturday morning. Unfortunately, whatever it was that my muscles needed, they apparently did not get it, because when I got on my bike Saturday morning it felt like 100 pound foreign object beneath my labored pedal stroke. I realize that my bike is, in fact, actually a foreign object, but on a good day it doesn't feel that way.
So when the race organizer set off his "big fire cracker" that was used as the starting gun and sounded like a cannon, I set off into the unknown. I just pedaled as best I could, but I was quickly in nearly-last place. It was three miles of relatively tame dirt road to the singletrack, and I was surprised to find the opening stretch of singletrack easier than I had expected. While it wasn't screaming fast, it was gently winding and mostly flat, if a bit rough.
I still had to work to keep my ragdoll legs turning my middle chainring at any sort of decent clip, and the occasional short, rooty climb was a struggle even in the granny gear. It didn't take long for me to doubt my ability to keep going at that rate all day, and started calculating whether I could be back home in Indiana by dark if I dropped out at the first aid station (and maybe stopped for a piece of foot-high pie in Illinois). Then I saw Zeke Lilly on the side of the trail with a flat. His tire was cut so badly that the tube kept popping out of the hole, so he couldn't fix the flat. I tried to convince him to take my tire so that he could finish the race, and I would have an excuse for quitting. He wouldn't take my tire, and in retrospect, I'm glad I didn't have to do the 2-3 hour hike-a-bike it would have taken to get to the aid station.
After that, I started feeling better, and while I wasn't fast, I felt like I could make it through the day. I kept going past the first aid station, but my spirits started to sink again as I dragged along to the second stop. I had myself about 80% convinced that I should quit at the next stop, but while I was discussing my options with the volunteers at the checkpoint I heard someone yelling my name. Sarah Miller was at the aid station, and after stopping for a quick chat with her, I was compelled to go on.
Sarah had told me the next loop was 15 miles and had some road in it, so it shouldn't be too bad. However, an hour later I caught up to a guy who was walking up a hill and I asked if he was okay. He said he was just tired and was debating about whether he would go on after the next aid station. I said that I was going through the same thing, but if we'd come this far we might as well finish. Then he said that we had ten miles until the next stop, which would mean that I had only covered five miles in the previous hour. I decided that the guy's computer was wrong since that would be the only way I could console myself.
Not long after, I was teased by an intersection of the trail and a dirt road where I saw a rider about to cross my path. I then suspected that I needed to get to the end of the trail and a reasonably easy dirt road ride back to the aid station would await. Unfortunately, I crossed, or at least saw, the road three or four more times before I was able to collect my zip tie and head on down the road. Unfortunately, that section concluded with a mile-long paved climb to the aid station that felt like the longest paved mile I've ever ridden.
I made the final cutoff by about 15 minutes or so, and after eating, refilling my hydration pack, and washing some of the sticky grime from my face, I committed to what I expected to be 2-2.5 more hours on the bike. The last section of singletrack was probably the most technical, but I liked it. There were several fairly big drop-offs where the trail had eroded beneath a root, and I enjoyed riding off of those and pretending I was some sort of freeride badass or something. Nevertheless, I spent most of the section looking at my watch and bargaining with myself about how far I'd probably gone and how much I probably had left to go.
I finally reached the dirt road to the finish and was accompanied by numerous locals on four-wheelers and other all terrain vehicles. Some were polite, some seemed to try to choke me with as much dust as possible, and some tried to joke around with me, although I couldn't hear much over their roaring engines. I have to say I saw way more four-wheelers than people floating down the river, thus my opinion on the appropriate namesake recreational activity for the area.
And then at the bottom of hill, I once again reached "river level" as evidenced by the super-soft gravel that was hard to ride through. The only upside of this was that things were starting to look familiar and I realized I was at the far end of the campground where the race started and finished. The last five or ten minutes of riding the soft surface seemed like forever, but I finally rode into sight of 200 or so clean people sitting around eating barbecue and relaxing after finishing quite some time before. Although it took me two hours longer than I'd expected it to, I was happy to be off my bike and that I would return to Indiana without another scarlet DNF on my record for the year.