Once again I made the trek to Missouri for the always enjoyable BT Epic. Chris Hon picked me up Thursday night and we spent Friday morning on the local single track near his house, which is a hoot. One thing that always impresses me is the amount of trail work Missouri mountain bikers undertake. Every year I come out there’s miles of new singletrack. Chris explained that the trail creation process is as simple as flagging a route, consulting with the parks and making sure the planned trail doesn’t intersect any ancient Native American burial grounds, and then finding volunteers to help with trail nights. It’s amazing the community and organization they get into the woods on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. We were lucky to hit a new trail right as they were taking the caution tape down. We hooted and hollered as we shot through the rock gaps on fresh dirt. “You’re the second and third riders ever come down this!” the trail workers yelled as they pulled up the flags. “The first just came through a few minutes ago.” And thus a trail is born.
We hit the road and made our way down to Bass River Resort, however knowing my fascination with caves Chris had scheduled a stop at Merimac Caverns on the way. We shuffled into the gift shop and got our tickets for the eighty minute tour. While I’m a fan of a keeping nature natural I tried to appreciate the multi colored lights and “God Bless America” slideshow on the stalactites. I suppose they have to make people feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. The cave system is impressive with over twenty-five miles of underground labyrinth, some of it still unexplored. The tour hardly scratches the surface, sending visitors only a half-a-mile in but it’s enough to get a feel for the grandeur. Back onto the road and into Bass River.
I felt a little pressure to win this year with a close second place finish the year before and a huge improvement over 11th place in 2015. I brought out my own bike this year and had opted for the 27.5” Anthem. But what tires? I pulled off the Rocket Rons and threw on the 2.35” Nobby Nics. Berryman/Ozark Trail is chunky, damp, loose, and usually covered in wet leaves. I needed all the help I could get.
The morning of the race was worm. Almost hot. At sixty-five degrees it was about thirty degrees above the previous years starts. I went out hard. There’s a cash prime for being the first rider into the woods, which means you have to hammer four miles of a gravel road climb with a frothing peloton of 500 riders chasing.
It also means you have the trail to yourself when you get there. I broke again this year. It worked. A train of four riders latched on to my wheel and chased. But, this being a race of awesome midwest MTB dudes and not agro LA roadies, no-one tried to pick me at the finish, although they should have. “You deserved it dude, you put down a huge effort” was the response I got after thanking a chaser. Wow. I love this place. This is what riding should be.
Once we entered the woods things got strung out. Aaron and I were off the front. Way off the front. By the time we hit checkpoint one at ten miles in we had a two minute lead. It was clear he wasn’t going anywhere. Every move was countered and we rode together through the forest alone until mile 26, when, out of nowhere we were over taken by Bryan Foley who blasted around and disappeared into the foliage ahead. We’d reel him in on the climbs and he would loose us on the descents. And suddenly he was gone.
As usual by mile 35 and the long gravel section I was suffering. Aaron who had dropped back to seal a puncture caught back on and chased up the Three Sisters and back into Bass River, where he passed me on the paved climb. I was cross-eyed trying to keep the pace but eventually had to relax and let him slip ahead if I was going to make it seven more miles. The last portion of the BT Epic is the hardest, in my opinion. After rolling past the finish line you still have close to forty five minutes left including the biggest climb of the day. You’re so excited to finish you become convinced the next descent will bring you to the finish, until you find yourself hitting another kicker, a step up, another road crossing, and there it is. The tight turns into the campground.
The afterparty is legendary. On Friday evening Chris and I helped unload ten kegs so I know there were at least that many in the beer truck. There’s all you can drink beer, all you can eat BBQ, live music, and, after the awards…a hayride that fits somewhere in-between Burning Man and Deliverance.