For years my buddy Christian has been singing the praises of Missouri singletrack and the Berryman Trail Epic that’s held yearly in the Mark Twain National Forest. We’d ride together in LA and I’d listen to him tell tales of epic trails and forests. I’d nod, feeling sorry for him, and his “great riding” in a fly-over state that I assumed was flat and boring. I pictured trails through cornfields and a few climbs of 1-2 feet. Poor guy. Boy was I wrong. Missouri please accept my apology for doubting you. By the end of the weekend I was just about ready to move. The riding was that good.
50 miles of un-repeating singletrack, that’s how the BT Epic is billed and it lives up to expectations. The race starts at Bass Lake campground and while the drive in features vistas of blown up meth trailers we also saw Bald Eagles eating a dead armadillo on the road. America!
We stayed at a cabin about a 1/2 mile from the start- these apparently fill up very quickly since there is nowhere nearby to sleep. The closest nearby town is Bourbon, which seemed to lack booze, and St. Louis is about an hour and a half away- which makes for a bit of a drive to hit the 8:30 start.
The conditions were more than perfect. It was overcast and 68 when we lined up and by the time we finished it was 65 and cloudy. Perfect. There were a fair amount of leaves still on the trees but the ground was covered, making it very difficult to see the trail in places, the local boys sure had an advantage.
The start was quick, about 430 riders lined up and hit the fire road climb and the field immediately separated into about 10-15 riders by the time we hit the singletrack at mile 4 and all the usual suspects were there: Steve Tilford, Garet Steinmetz, and Bryan Fawley just to name a few. I was trying to hang with these boys as we started to fly through the woods. I was a bit out of my element. As we hit checkpoint 1 Tilford pulled over to fix his bike. I didn’t think we’d see him again but sure enough he came flying back at mile 18.
I borrowed Christian’s Santa Cruz Highball with his fancy pants DI2 but managed to bend my chain in two places at mile 17 so it was 33 miles of ghost shifts and dropped chains. First came anger, then frustration, followed by acceptance. Every time I pulled over to fix my drivetrain another few riders flew past, it’s a terrible feeling.
There’s just over 5000 feet of climbing but it’s the toughest 5000 you’ll ever do. There’s 100 up 100 down, 200 up 200 down, and it’s all steep and punchy. There’s no sitting and spinning. By mile 30 I was cooked and looking for a second wind that managed to come around the “three bitches” at mile 39. I made up a few places on the paved climb through the last aid station but got caught by Hunter Henry on his single speed 20+ at mile 49 and dropped to 11th overall, just out of reach of getting my name on the shirt. At least he’s an awesome dude. There were so many times during the race that I wished I was back on my single speed. Technology can be a bitch.
The party afterwards was some of the most post race fun I’ve ever had. In CA I’m used to getting one, maybe two beer tickets and a coupon for discounted foot. At BT they pull up a keg truck and it’s all you can drink beer and BBQ, they’re really on to something in the midwest. Overall, the best race trails I’ve ever ridden. It’s like the Shenandoah 100 but without the pavement, fire roads and brutal climbs…and half the distance. I’ll be back again for sure, I can’t rest until I get my name on the shirt.