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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Plan B (the MLK2 Berryman ride)

Last year, Team Virtus planned a little group ride on Missouri's Berryman Trail and a party broke out.  What started as a simple suggestion facebook turned into 23 trail hungry riders on some new mid-January snow, followed by a post-ride BBQ. It was a great time, and one we all immediately recognized as a "first-annual".


MLK 2012, slightly colder than this year.
 The past month or so was filled with much facebook posting about this year's edition and growing anticipation of the upcoming fun.  I was particularly looking forward to the ride because of the social aspect -- last year was a blast -- but also because Berryman has become something of a marker of my mountain biking progress.  With an additional year of experience and a newer level of comfort on singletrack ("comfort" might be an exaggeration, but my condition has been upgraded from "edge of panic/nausea" to "low-key anxiety with hints of confidence"...a huge improvement), I expected this to be my best ride there yet.

It wasn't until I was on my way to Luke's grandma's house Friday night when my excitement was tempered by the first hints of anxiety.  Last year, my brother Jim came down from Wisconsin for the ride.  This year, while tons of friends would be there, I was driving there alone had no one morally obligated to ride with me.  Luke and Chuck are way faster than I am, and while they've always been super nice about riding with me (and great fun to ride with), I never want them to feel like they have to hang back and babysit me.

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Sweetest lady ever
My worries took a back seat when I got to Luke's grandma's house, though.  We'd stayed there last year as well, and she greeted me like one of the family.  She's one of the sweetest, most hospitable people I've ever met.  This time I knew better than to eat before arriving, so we all sat down and enjoyed the huge dinner she had made for us and hung out and talked until all of us were fighting sleep.  The next morning we enjoyed another home-cooked meal and then set out for the trail.

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The parking lot was packed with cars and bike racks, filled with a bunch of people I knew and even more I'd never met, all of whom I expected to be ahead of me on the trail.  I managed to wander around enough that I was still putting on my bike shoes when Luke tried to make me sing the National Anthem (I'm a little disappointed in myself that I didn't) and then everyone took off. Well, everyone but my friends.  Emma, just back from a month in Belize and off her mountain bike, had planned to stick back with me, as did Chuck and Luke.  Yea, I wouldn't be riding alone after all. :)

On the very first downhill, a gradual rocky slope, I started braking early (like always)...and NOTHING happened.  No brakes whatsoever.  That was pretty scary.  I did some loud cursing, steered myself off the trail to slow down, and looked at my useless brakes like I had any idea what to do.  Emma stopped with me, and Luke and then Chuck rode back to see what was going on.  Chuck managed to get my rear brake to work, but the front one wasn't fixable without parts.  "Well, just rely on your back brake," he suggested.

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Luke, looking mighty comfortable on a bike that, curiously, rides a lot like his old Hardrock.
If you know me, you know that I vastly overuse my brakes, so I a little nervous about this turn of events but was relieved I'd still be able to ride.  I was also kicking myself for not having my bike in to get checked out before the weekend.  Thankfully, instead of saying something like, "Why don't you take care of your stuff, dumbass," Luke offered to trade me bikes.  So he rode the bike with one brake while I got to ride his sweet 29er.  I seriously have the nicest friends ever. 

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Blackberry whiskey makes even great rides better
It took a little getting used to, riding a bike with bigger wheels (and fully functioning brakes!), but after a little bit I was able to relax and enjoy myself.  Of course, I was still breathing hard on the climbs, but the 29" wheels seemed to roll over everything.  I could definitely get used to that!  The day was absolutely gorgeous.  I was in shorts with a light jacket over my long sleeves, and the jacket went into my pack early.  Because it's been cold lately there were still icicles to be found, and because we're all about pace we had to stop and check them out.

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Emma was having trouble with her breathing, so she cut out several miles in and headed back to the parking lot.  The guys and I kept going, and it was fun to ride past places I remember from last year's ride ("Hey, here's where we stopped to drink with the Hoosier Daddies...").  I only sort of fell once, coming around a downhill switchback when a rock kicked loose beneath my rear tire, but I mostly caught myself.  It wasn't much longer, though, when Luke almost ran into me because the back brake on my bike (that he was riding) gave out.  This time Chuck wasn't able to fix it.

I didn't want anybody getting hurt because of my messed up bike, so I decided to head out at the next opportunity.  A quick map check showed us there was a fire road at the top of the next climb.  Of course, you can't always trust the roads around the Berryman trail to be where they're mapped (as Jim and I learned the hard way in 2011), but this time the map was right on.  I talked to the guys for a little longer, gave Luke back his bike, and promised to text the guys when I was safely back to the parking lot (which I promptly forgot to do).

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Nice, clear fire road.
Chuck asked me, "Before you started adventure racing, would you have been ok with going off on your own like this?" I told him I thought so.  I mean, I did my first century ride solo; when I first started riding longer distances I didn't have any bike friends and so had to do all of my long rides alone.  On the other hand, before I started adventure racing I'm not sure I'd have had the confidence to strike out on my own in the forest, even on a well-cleared fire road.  And the cool thing was that I split off without any internal hint of wishing that one of the guys would come with me.  While I was really disappointed to have to miss the rest of the ride, I was perfectly comfortable getting myself back and definitely didn't want them to have to miss out.

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Too nice of a day to pout.
The day was way too beautiful to feel sorry for myself, though.  We don't get too many 60 degree days in January, and being able to spend this one out in the woods was pretty awesome.  I followed the fire road to the gravel and then headed back to the parking lot.  Actually the road was more nerve-wracking than the singletrack.  Because I had no functioning brakes, I had to walk the downhills, and even slight declines made me nervous since the only way to stop was to drag my feet (not effective) or run off the road into the woods (not recommended).  There were a couple of smaller hills that led right into uphills, and I did stay on the bike for those.

Emma and I had the parking area to ourselves for a few minutes before the first couple riders pulled in from completing the whole loop.  It's amazing to me how fast other people can be.  I'd love to be out there and just watch them ride and marvel.  We talked for a while to people finishing up, checked out the pictures from Emma's trip to Belize, and generally hung out and enjoyed the fantastic weather and company. 

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The Hoosier Daddies cooked up brats and some delicious pressure-cooked vegetables, others had brought baked beans, fruit, chips, cookies, brownies, and more.  I'm pretty sure that I ate and drank way more calories than I burned on my epic 9 mile ride, but this was a special occasion.  The day ended with lots of conversation and LOTS of laughter as Luke and I pretty much dominated in washers despite the distraction tactics of our opponents.

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While I'd have loved to spend more time on the trails, you can't complain when your Plan B is the kind of afternoon worth a month of anticipation on its own.  It's not often that you get such an awesome, like-minded group of people together like this...in our case, though, it's been a week. :)  January has been a Very Good Month.

Oh, and my bike? Chuck took it home last night, and today when we met up to run he brought it back to me with a set of (much nicer) brakes he had laying around at home so I can still ride until I get new brakes ordered. 

8 comments:

  1. Sounds like a fun event for sure! Maybe I should join Facebook to learn of these things :-).

    Luke's grandma looks sweet. I bet she loved taking care of everyone and making sure everyone had plenty to eat.

    That's too bad about the mechanical issue but you sure have good friends to swap bikes with. It was a fabulous day weather wise.

    That cookout looks awesome! Doesn't get much better than being out on singletrack with friends then having a cookout.

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  2. Sounds like a great time. Bummer about the brakes, but so awesome to spend time with friends.

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  3. Brats and icicles - awesomeness!

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  4. I can't imagine you without biking friends. It's hard to believe there was ever such a day. I am willing to do things myself for sure. When I first started walking I only did it if I had someone to do it with. But no one had the commitment I did (not bragging just a fact) and I finally realized I just needed to do it and if anyone came with me it was a bonus. It's a good way for me to think because I don't have a lot of running friends and def. don't have anyone to do tris with. If I waited for friends I wouldn't be doing half of what I do. Look at all the people you have met! I am so impressed and jealous. I did get asked today about an awesome ride next summer but I worried about slowing everyone down. I ride with these people some and they are much faster than I and keep having to wait for me.
    Looks like a great day overall espc. with the good weather and barbecue in the end.

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  5. I love that you have no fear. If I had a failed brake, I'd be bailing on everything until I was certain I wasn't going to die in a big bike crash because I couldn't stop. Awesome friend you have that would take it and fix it all up for you...now you're all ready to go for the next adventure! :)

    Well done, madam SK! Very fun day with fun friends! :)

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  6. I lost my bac brakes during Nationals, and even though my front ones were still fully functional, I was far more cautious on trails. Funny how much of mountain biking is mental! And very cool of Luke to trade bikes :)

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  7. wow! what nice friends you have to loan you a bike (I heard 29ers are the bomb!) and then to fix your brakes. It's no fun trying to ride when your brakes aren't working - smart choice to cut out early and walk when needed.

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  8. Great post! Cheers to your wonderful friends. They, too, are lucky. Keep riding (and running).

    JB

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