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Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK weekend on bikes

The Berryman ride over the long Martin Luther King, Jr., weekend has become a Team Virtus tradition.  In the past, we've gone the night before and stayed with Luke's family, but with this year's mild forecast the guys were all about camping.  Being more of a fair-weather camper, I was less enthused, but I knew I'd regret sitting in a hotel room knowing my friends were having fun without me.  Score one for FOMO over FOH (fear of hypothermia).

I left straight from work and made good time to meet Patrick at Berryman campground.  We hung out and admired the incredible night sky until Luke, Robby, and the Lederhosens showed up, and then we all started setting up at our campsite.  Some of the Dirty Dog Race Pack group were staying in a cabin at the nearby Huzzah Valley Resort, and Josh, Shannon, and Chris stopped by the campground to say hi and then left us with some firewood. Thanks!

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Our fire was cozy but not particularly warm unless you were really close.
Photo credit: Luke Lamb
The daytime temps had been in the low 50's, which is amazing for the Midwest in January, but once the sun went down so did the temperature.  We huddled close to the fire as first Bob and then Dave showed up, and eventually we were tired and chilly enough to all head to bed.

I just bought a new sleeping bag to replace the cheapo Wal-Mart one I've been using. This new one is rated to 32*, which didn't concern me when I bought it because I had no intentions of doing any winter camping. Little did I know that just a week later I'd be trying it out in January. I started out in thermals and thick socks but woke up pretty cold a few hours later. After shivering for a while, I finally gave in and put on a sweatshirt. That helped, but I was still chilly.  On the plus side, waking up wasn't so hard since I wasn't sleeping that well anyway.

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Hanging out at the campsite before riding.
Photo credit: Kevin Autenrieth (I think)
The campground filled up with truck and cars all loaded down with full bike racks. We'd planned to roll out around 8:30 but didn't end up leaving until closer to 9, so we missed seeing everyone at the start.  The trails were in great shape early on, still frozen and packed solid.  I stopped before one extended section of ice and then immediately felt wimpy as Luke passed me and rode right onto it.  My wimpy feelings were quickly dispelled when he fell after about two pedal strokes.

We had a pretty good-sized group: Luke, Robby, Bob, and I from Virtus; BOR's Scott and Kevin; Team Godzilla's Jody and Kevin, along with Kevin's brother-in-law Doug; Monster Bicycles' overlord Jim Smith, Chuck, Amanda, Dave, and my cousin Bob.  I had a great time riding along with so many fun people, and while I was definitely more skittish on logs than last time I was there, I felt good riding and fairly strong on the uphills.  We marveled over how beautiful the day was and how great the trails were; with the warmer weather we knew that there was a good chance trail conditions would have been too soft for riding, so we were prepared to ride forest roads and gravel but thrilled not to need to.

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Mandatory icicle group photo
Photo credit: Scott Shaw
My technical skills leave plenty of room for improvement, but I was more confident on the trails than in the past, which is always a nice feeling.  There were a couple of spots I had to walk because of tricky uphill roots, but there weren't any hills I had to walk because I couldn't ride the hill.  The one negative for me was that I was starving. I'd eaten oatmeal for breakfast, but apparently that wasn't enough. We were riding at a chill pace and taking plenty of stops to regroup, but even with all of the breaks I couldn't eat enough to get rid of that hungry feeling.

Eventually our easy pace and the beautiful weather combined to thaw the trails. Not wanting to tear them up, we pulled out our maps (by "we" I mean the people who brought them...I'd actually printed one out and left it back at the campsite. Amanda had a nice topo map of the area, which was a huge help.) to figure out where the closest bailout was.  Turning onto the Ozark Trail where it splits from the Berryman, we then almost immediately were able to hop onto a forest road.

If you've never been on a forest (forest service? I don't really know what they're called) road, you might be picturing the kind of road you'd drive your car down.  That's not exactly it, as I was disappointed to realize at the first CAC non-race:
When we finally made it to the road Chuck had been promising me, I looked at it in disbelief. My brain isn't entirely tuned to the adventure racing channel yet; when I hear road, I still think of STREETS. This was barely a jeep road. Dirt, rocky, rutted, muddy in spots. Not quite the relief I'd been anticipating, but at least I wasn't pushing my bike up any more rock cliffs.
This time I knew exactly what to expect, and while it wasn't the smooth, flowy singletrack, the rocky, grassy, unmaintained doubletrack was its own kind of fun.  It also offered some navigational challenges as the guys who were navigating worked to figure out if we were where we thought we were and where we needed to go next.

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See where we're all standing? That's the road.
Photo credit: Amanda
Their nav was dead-on, and eventually we climbed a big hill and popped out onto gravel.  While smooth and well-packed, these roads offered their own challenge with plenty of climbing and a trip down memory lane when we came to a stop at a crossing I recognized from my very first Berryman Adventure Race.

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Gravel roads...take me home...or at least back to the campground.
We spent as much time on roads as we had on the trail, but the scenery was great, the weather was beautiful, and the company was awesome. You just can't complain about a day like that, and all the uphills just made the BBQ at the end taste that much better.

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Post-ride!
The cool thing about having a post-ride get-together is that you still get to hang out with all the people who are too fast for you to ride with or who weren't interested in riding, and we had plenty of good company.  When the sun set, we cleaned up and headed back to our campsite and a second evening of hanging around the campfire, this time with Chuck's secret-recipe chili and Amanda's delicious fried potatoes and a large variety of Orange Lederhosen's whiskey to keep us warm.

With an even colder night on tap, I made a couple of changes to my sleeping arrangements. I started off in thermals, a hooded sweatshirt, a hat, and light gloves. I'd also brought my bivy, which I'd brought along in case I decided to try it out this weekend, into the tent.  When I woke up chilly again around 2 a.m., I slid myself, sleeping bag and all, into the bivy and that was enough for me to finally be warm and cozy until morning.

After packing up, most of us made the trek into Steelville to meet Jim and Janie at the Spare Rib Inn, home of gigantic, cheap, delicious breakfasts.  From there, the Smiths, Chuck, and Patrick all headed home, and Bob, Luke, Becca, and I drove to the Joe Dirt ride in nearby St. James.  For some reason the guys felt the need to look up directions to the ride despite my clear understanding of our route (You drive to where the highway splits and then turn left, and then it's off on your right...there's a parking lot there...). Whatever, it was good enough for me.

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We followed each other's blogs when we both had them, and now we just like each others' bike pictures on Facebook.
We got there in plenty of time to change and socialize.  My Momentum teammates Mickey and Joe were there, and I finally got to meet Tracy and Don (longtime facebook friends) in person and to see Dave, who I met a couple years ago at a MLK ride, again.  Planning a relaxed pace, Luke, Bob, and I started towards the very back of the large group, but we didn't have long before catching up with the pack again.

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Standoff
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Peat and SS-Kate
The route passed over a county road which apparently a nearby land-owner sees as his private turf, so he'd blocked the road with a tractor. The ladies on horseback to the right were pretty hostile, too. After some conversation, the tractor guy moved off the road and then gave everyone a friendly wave as we passed by. Weird. The horse ladies, on the other hand, remained hostile; we encountered them later on up the road as they drove their loaded horse trailer pretty close to where our bikes were stopped at the edge of the road.

That unpleasantness took a little bit of the shine off the day, but we had plenty of sun and scenery to brighten our moods.  And a few hills...

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Last year, on my first loop, I had to walk the first and last major hills of the ride. This year I was able to ride all of them, which felt like a huge accomplishment. Of course, last year I rode an entire (26 mile) lap at Berryman and then rode two laps at Joe Dirt (46 miles). This year I only rode one loop, so I really needed those uphills. 

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Towards the top of the first hill...I think...
The temperatures had to be in the high 50's to low 60's, and the hills quickly had me regretting the thin tech shirt under my jersey.  The roads were in great shape, well-packed, but the thaw had left quite a few sections soggy and soft, making the riding more of a challenge there.

Another challenge was the navigation. I felt like I had a good memory of the course from last year, so I kept telling Luke, "If I remember right, we're going to turn right up here," only to have the course arrows point in the other direction.

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I did remember this stretch of road, though. I love the look of these gravel roads.
 
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Good times with good friends!
 In the "some things never change" department, despite my vast improvement on downhills, the guys screamed past me on every single one of them. They're way braver than me any day, and the combination of soggy gravel and gentle curves made me considerably more tentative.  Another thing that hasn't changed is seeing Luke waiting at the top of a climb. While I was happy to get to the top without walking, he crushed the hills on a singlespeed.   He's been doing the Sufferfest videos pretty regularly, and his riding was a great advertisement for their effectiveness. I'm going to have to actually break mine out.

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Just hangin' out, having a snack.
I was having a good time, and I knew I could ride another lap, but I had no desire at all to do so. I felt a little guilty about that, since I knew Luke wanted to.  Come February, I'm going to have to start sticking things out so that I'm ready for Dirty Kanza, but I'm giving myself January to wimp out and only do what I want to do.

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Pretty rural scenery, and incredible to be in shorts in January.
I was pretty happy at mile 20, knowing that I only had another 3 miles, but the road kept going and going.  I was surprised to I looked at my Garmin again and saw it at mile 25 when we still hadn't hit the last big downhill.  Turns out the course had been re-routed slightly from last year, which helped explain my faulty memory when trying to give Luke directions. I wasn't wrong...the route was.  Well, not wrong, but not the same as before. That's totally why I tried to turn us down someone's driveway.

We finished our loop and rolled back into the parking lot, where the vast majority of people had made the same one-loop decision we had, leaving us fun people to hang out with. Cookies were eaten, drinks were drunk, and it was a lovely end to a fantastic day.  Had I been inclined to regret stopping early, the good company combined with the looks on the faces of the two-lap folks reassured me that I'd made the right call.

It was a great weekend.  Chances are good that it'll be a great weekend next year, too, so if you're in the area you should definitely join us.  And if you're not in the area...you should still think about joining us.

7 comments:

  1. You are a busy lady. Giving yourself January to what you call wimp out (you're not) is a great idea. Jealous of your biking but I do like our fresh snow.

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  2. Looks like a freaking incredible weekend and you couldn't have asked for better weather! You're braver than I though. I would not have gone camping without a space heater. I've camped in sub freezing night temps before and it's never fun. I'll have to look into that bivy though.

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    1. I have my eye on Tour Divide in a few years, so I definitely need to start figuring out a good bike-packable camping setup and getting out of my comfort zone a little more.

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  3. Man, that was such a fun weekend! I wish every weekend was like that.

    In hindsight, riding that ice was a bad idea. But I like to show people what not to do rather than tell them.

    And you are so much stronger on the bike - physically, technically, and mentally. It's been fun to watch you progress.

    Not riding a second lap was definitely the right call. It would have been dark, and seeing how much Mickey was suffering further confirmed it was the right decision.

    Now, let's plan our upcoming bikepacking trip!

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    1. It was a GREAT weekend. Can't wait for bikepacking!

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  4. Wow awesome weekend! You have great friends to enjoy all the fun with. I'm sure they motivate and encourage you a lot.

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  5. Looks like an adventure! I haven't been on my bike longer than 12 miles. Go you!

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