While many of us spent our weekend racing in Hermann, MO Cooper, Tyler, Brian, and co. spent the weekend riding out to watch the races. Here's a report: Words and photos by Cooper.
We meet at Ernie’s for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Tim and I are first, and we take a table outside while we wait for the other half of our group to arrive. Shortly later, Tyler and Ryan roll up on their bikes. They’re riding with all of their camping gear, whereas Tim and I have decided to take advantage of our car-driving friends and have our gear sagged down to Hermann.
Breakfast is consumed quickly. My stomach is waking up slow and it’s hard to fill up. Ryan reveals he thought we were going to take the Katy Trail, not the roughshod mixture of county highways and crushed limestone roads we have planned. We leave by 8:45, the tables are full of college kids and their parents fueling up for a game day we are all too eager to escape.
The first 35 miles, the transport stage, goes quickly. We navigate a set of out of the way roads and Mark Twain National Forest gravel that are familiar to us by now. We alternate attempting to ride and pushing our bikes up a muddy hill at the end of Englewood Road that provides a shortcut through the national forest land. Stopping briefly at a gas station in Fulton, we bob to some funky music playing through the outdoor speakers. A glass jar full of fried chicken and mashed potatoes is eaten, jokes are cracked, and the sweet lil’ ole’ lady behind the register tells us to ride safe.
The gravel roads east of Fulton, being flat, straight, and relatively smooth, pass surprisingly quickly, and the transition from what-we-are-used to to holy-heckin’-hills begins. The big hills begin about 25 miles outside of Hermann, with a handful of climbs in the last ten miles that make it hard to fathom how Tim and I rode out here to participate in the Hermann Gravel Challenge this past spring. The hills are long, slippery grinds, paved with what Tim describes as “powdered sugar and baby heads”. Gaps begin to form between Tim and I and the other, fully loaded, half of our crew.
The hills of Hermann are intense, but the countryside is equally intense in its beauty and the descents are ripping fast. Even though our legs are tired and our stomach’s grumble, we bomb the last hill to the trail and cruise into town in high spirits. We quickly search out beer and clean clothes, and join the Walt’s Team to heckle and cheer on the cross racers at the stairs. I blow a vuvuzela until my lips are numb, and with the finish of the A’s race our posse shuffles off to a fat dinner of buffalo wings and fried food.
On Sunday I wake up at 7:30 a.m., feeling slightly discombobulated from last night’s beers but with surprisingly fresh legs and an empty stomach. A small but brave part of our group spins across the road to Hardee’s to choke down a greasy breakfast. While tents are put away we talk of the ride ahead, which packs nearly five thousand feet of climbing in the first fifty miles. Tyler’s struck with the serious beginnings of a head cold and Ryan is heading down the river to visit family. In normal circumstances I’d be bummed out to lose half our crew, but our numbers are bolstered by Brian, who has the day off and is fresh to ride.
Our trio pedals out of the park past racers warming up bodies and carbon rims for a full day of cross. Our kit is different, but no less purpose-driven, flannel shirts and enormous saddlebags stuffed with food and extra water.
The first part of the day’s ride is similar to yesterday’s, with powdered sugar dusted hill climb after hill climb. On the south side of the river the forests seem more dense, and at the top of each climb is a level path with a smattering of century farms and long distance river valley views that put the Columbia area Eagle Bluffs to shame.
My legs are tired, but it’s impossible to not be inspired by terrain like this, and we find ourselves laughing absurdly as we granny gear our way up wall-like grades and dodge six inch ruts and rocks the size of dinner plates on the way back down. The planned route is touch-and-go, and we make some changes on the fly to abbreviate the ride to Jeff City.
When we arrive in Osage City, Tim and I are tired, but remain fully stoked. Brian’s knee is bothering him, and while we celebrate to see the Jeff City city limit sign a few miles outside of Osage City, it seems like a cruel joke when we are still approaching our food stop over half an hour later.
Prison Brews provides plentiful water and fat burgers to fill our stomachs and buzz our brains with red meat endorphins. Brian’s knee has put him out of the running, so Tim and I are the last men riding when hop back in the saddle and slow pedal across the Missouri River bridge.
On the ride into Jeff City we evaluate our options. Riding the Katy Trail the entire way back home is considered as a mere courtesy—our millenial-grade attention spans are too short and our butts unconditioned for forty-plus miles of flat path. Our second idea is to take the trail towards Hartsburg, and cut through Ashland back to town. This option is discounted on the same grounds as the first; too much trail riding. We settle on what seems perhaps the craziest, but also the most fun—use the Cedar Cross course to head north.
Rolling northward, I’m beginning to feel the trance-like tunnel vision that encroaches towards the end of an epic ride. Four years of Cedar Cross have imprinted the course map in my brain like a petraglyph on a cave wall. Before we know it we are past Holt’s Summit and opening cattle gates into a single-track shortcut. We gently herd cattle out of our way in one field, and in the next are informed by some whiskey sipping, cigar smoking horseback riders that we are most certainly going the wrong way. I’m confident in our route, and in no time we’ve cleared the last bit of single track and surfaced on a gravel road. I’m a bit sad there’s no shirtless Bob Jenkins to see me on my way.
The last few miles—another transport stage—pass quickly. Tim and I have a solid riding dynamic, and we cruise back to town on the same roads we left on just the day before at a swift pace. We cross highway 63 in the failing sunlight, and we make it to Gasless to buy celebratory beers just before the sun sets in Alley A.