2018 BT Epic

I wasn't even going to go. Despite sticking out a really tough day, I spent the next two weeks suffering from race hangover, dissatisfaction and disappointment clouding over most of the pride I felt in my third Spotted Horse finish. Why go to BT Epic -- after fewer mountain biking miles than I've had in the past several years -- and have a new reason to feel bad about myself?

I thought seriously about eating my registration fee and going bikepacking instead. Those alternate plans never got past the "thinking about planning to plan" stage, so when Jason asked if I was going to BT Epic and served up a campsite, lots of company, and meals for the weekend, it seemed easier just to go. I grudgingly took the race number from Wolf Creek off my full suspension bike, which hadn't been touched since that race, and wiped down the chain.

Despite my reputation for thriving in crappy conditions, I fully intended to stay home if the weather looked soggy.  Instead, Mother Nature promised up an ideal race-day forecast, and by the time rain popped up Friday afternoon my car was already loaded for the weekend. Rather than excitement, it was inertia that dragged me to Steelville.

There I checked in to the campground and race, set up my tent, and spent much of the evening hanging out in the Momentum compound. It was just like old times, with a lot of the people trained with for Dirty Kanza 2015. After dinner I attempted to drop off my bottles with my friend Becky, who'd agreed to add me to her Cyclery responsibilities the next day, but was thwarted by poor directions. It wasn't so bad: I did get to ride the first big gravel climb of the race with no helmet and big winter boots...and it felt surprisingly ok. And thankfully Scott was willing to be my last minute crew, so everything worked out.

2018 BT epic
Morning view
The night was chilly, but I stayed cozy in my gigantic sleeping bag (score one for car camping). Race morning dawned cold, foggy, and beautiful, and I was up in plenty of time to eat, get everything ready, and make a last-minute trip back to my car after forgetting my hydration pack. Some things never change.

Leg 1: Bass to Brazil Creek ~10 miles, 1:33

This was my fourth BT Epic, my fourth different bike for the race, and my fourth time lining up as far back as possible. Last year, on my singlespeed, that self-seeding had been a mistake as I was caught behind tons of geared people spinning easily up the hill while I had to slow-motion pedal behind them until I could pass. This year, riding gears myself and not particularly well-trained, I had no such concerns. And this year, once again, it was the wrong call as I was caught behind tons of people spinning easily up the hill while I had to slow-motion pedal behind them until I could pass.

Riding along and chatting with people around me, I thought I noticed the small climb that preceded the turn onto singletrack, then promptly forgot about it until I noticed first two riders and then a road full of fast people riding at us. "Turn around," Jeff yelled, "We missed the turn!"

To ease the congestion in the first few miles of singletrack, the race directors had for the first time split racers into two waves. Unfortunately, whoever was supposed to have been parked at the trail entrance wasn't there, and the turn wasn't marked. Now, rather than being more spread out, the majority of the field was clustered more closely than ever. Most of us wave two people waited til the faster group made the turn, then people just kind of stood around for a moment. "Well," I shrugged, "I'll go."

The logjam at the first sketchy descent was worse than ever and it seemed to take forever to get through it, but I made it further up the following climb than I have before. As I approached Harmon Spring, I was passed by a few really grumpy fast guys who'd gone even further before realizing the missed turn, then Brian, which was a huge bummer because it meant that Amanda had most likely missed the turn, too.

Sure enough, I heard her voice behind me at the first creek crossing and commiserated with her about the mistake. It became a great reminder to me about never giving up, because while I basically assumed her race was over after riding something like 6 extra miles, she fought her way back to a third-place finish.

The clogged trail was both frustrating and comforting, as there was always someone who'd stop right in front of me, "forcing" me to walk something I probably would have walked anyway. Or, and this is new, run something I probably would have walked.

The trail was slick from the previous day's rain, making me more nervous than usual. The nerves were justified when I crashed after my rear tire slid on a root that always worries me. I wasn't hurt, but I was a little rattled, even more so a bit later when I rode off the side of the trail for no good reason, unclipped on the downhill side, had no footing, and topped over into the leaves.

Following that trainwreck, I had a minor crisis of confidence and pulled back a little bit, exercising all kinds of caution on the descent to Brazil Creek. I couldn't remember my 2017 time, but I knew it was faster than the 1:33 my new Garmin (R.I.P. to the one that Spotted Horse killed) was showing me now.

2017 vs 2018:  I was 14 minutes slower this year than last year; in fact, this was my slowest time on the section in all four years I've done this race. It's hard to know how much of that is due to the slight extra distance, the waiting for wave 1 to get onto the trail, and the additional trail congestion the whole missed turn clusterfuck created. Of course, I crashed twice and also rode more tentatively in the wet conditions, plus I'd gone into the day with a no pressure attitude. My plan was to not kill myself but to maintain a "not fucking around" pace.

Leg 2: Brazil Creek to Berryman Campground ~10 miles, 1:26

Thankfully the trail congestion thinned out considerably after Brazil Creek. I logged my fastest time yet on the climb after that point, giving lie to my assertion that I'm a better climber on my singlespeed than on gears. Of course I didn't find that out until I looked at Strava after the race, but as I entered this next section of the race I realized that I was feeling strong and happy. I was still skittish on the potentially slippery wet trail, still lacking in technical skill as evidenced by my inability to ride most switchbacks, but I was also climbing without feeling like I might have a heart attack.

I rode and chatted for a while with Amy, then lost her when I took a bad line on a wide uphill switchback and had to put my foot down. A few guys passed me while I walked my bike to a flatter spot to re-start. I caught up with one of them on the hill shortly after remounting. "People were walking that hill," he told me in mild disgust.

"I know. I was one of them," I replied, but since I was already back on his wheel it was hard to feel too bad about my wimpiness.

There was nothing too notable about this leg. I had trouble with the same places I normally do, but otherwise it was a good, happy ten miles and the last few climbs before the campground seemed to pass more quickly and less painfully than usual. I rolled into Berryman feeling good and maybe kind of wondering when things would turn bad.

2018 BT epic
Almost to Berryman
Photo credit: Brandi Keltner
2017 vs 2018: This was my second-fastest time on this leg, three minutes slower than last year

Leg 3: Berryman Campground to Bass Resort ~20 miles, 3:06

I'd opted to wear bibs, mostly because they're slightly more flattering than regular bike shorts (that reasoning is kind of comic tragedy in light of one of my race pictures), so I made a bee-line for the campground outhouse when I arrived. If it wasn't the most disgusting outhouse I've visited it was a close second, and the time wasted with my little detour and the minor stripping down that bibs require convinced me that I'll probably just stick with regular shorts and trailside stops in the future.

Scott got my bottle switched and water refilled quickly, I made a quick stop by Becky to explain why I hadn't shown up the previous night, and then I was off. Once again people kindly stopped right in front of me on the couple of spots I don't try anyway (I always assume I'm the only one who has to walk places, so it's kind of nice to have confirmation that I'm not alone), but for the most part the trail was even emptier on this section than the previous ones.

I leapfrogged for a while with one of the Cyclery guys and Tina from Memphis. Both were much better than me on downhills or anything remotely technical, but I kept reeling them back in on the climbs and eventually passed them.

I also passed Doug, Randy, and Chris while they were regrouped on the trail. Naturally they caught up easily just a bit later, and we ended up riding semi-together past Whiskey Ridge and down a fast downhill section. Doug warned me that he was going to call me out the next time I wrote about how timid and slow I am on singletrack because he said I didn't look either of those things while we rode together. While I've come a long way from the rider I used to be, I don't have any downhill times remotely close to a top ten on Strava and very few in the top 40, so there's infinite room for improvement.

The Three Sisters section went much better than usual, though I still didn't manage to ride any of them without walking. Lisa passed me on the first one after taking an extended break with her sweet family at Berryman Campground.  We were near each other for the rest of that section, and it was so fun to see her looking strong in her first big post-baby race.

2017 vs 2018: 6 minutes slower than last year, another second-fastest time.

Leg 4: OT loop west of Bass ~8 miles, 1:06

I'd forgotten to ask Scott where he'd be at Bass, so it threw me momentarily when I didn't see him at the turn onto Butts Rd. Thankfully Becky was there with the Cyclery crew, and she filled up my water bottle and they fed me Coke and a donut, which I figured should cover my calorie needs for the last few miles. I then left my Camelbak with Lisa's husband and started towards the hill.

I almost immediately saw Scott, so I stopped for a moment to get my last bottle of Roctane and check in on how the rest of our group was doing. The climb up Butts was infinitely better with gears, the gravel road section seemed to take forever, and the singletrack was slightly faster and less taxing than I remembered. I'd thought maybe I'd ride the couple of drops since this year I had suspension, but I got to them and walked them like always. Maybe next year...my constant refrain.

2017 vs 2018: My time from the start of this to the finish line was 1 minute faster than last year, tied for my fastest time but this year included some extra distance to a further-away finish line. Strava tells me I rode the loop 3 minutes faster than last year and just barely faster than my 2016 time.

Like always, there are plenty of ways I could have improved my time. Time management, for one: I'm not sure how I managed to waste over a half hour. Then there's general fitness so I can make it up more hills without having to walk. The biggest need, of course, is just improving my skills so I'm not slowing to a crawl on switchbacks and hopping off the bike every time I approach something that makes me nervous; at the very least, maybe I can at least raise the bar on what qualifies as scary. Still, I finished feeling strong and happy, which almost certainly means I could have ridden the race harder but made for a really nice 50-mile training ride. I'm glad I didn't stay home.

2018 moving time: 6:37 / elapsed time 7:09 (32 min)
2017 moving time: 6:28 / elapsed time 6:49 (21 min)
2016 moving time: 6:56 / elapsed time 7:15 (19 min)
2015 moving time: 7:22 / elapsed time 8:41 (1:19)



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