Those were some of the first words I spoke when we arrived at Bass' River Resort on that Sunday morning. Brian and Nate had never officially met. I knew them both well and had no worries about the trip. Nate and I originally started talking about something like this months ago. Planning it for Saturday the last weekend in March was a shot in the dark with the weather, but I thought rain would be our major obstacle, not inches of snow and freezing temps. The forecast Saturday forced us to put the trip off for a day. It was that or potentially not go at all and if there was any possibility at all, that wasn't going to happen. I talked to Nate Saturday night and told him that Brian and I were going, he was on the fence but just needed a little nudge.
We arrived at Bass' at a little after 8 a.m. to much less snow than Columbia and St. Louis had when we left. After the introductions and few chest bumps, we were ready to head out. I was nervous, fo sho. I had a plan that in good conditions would be tough. Ride the gravel over to the Berryman and head straight south on the Ozark Trail, traveling on much of the Courtois(pronounced: Code away)section, at Hazel Creek Campground the North Trace section begins, at hwy DD the South Trace section begins which we would ride 2 or 3 miles of and then take a right turn on the Middlefork section ending our ride about 7 miles later at a campsite in Wolf Pen Hollow. We did all of that with one exception. We turned onto hwy DD and skipped about 4 miles of trail. The iffy conditions up around Hazel Creek had slowed us down and sapped us of precious energy. So to keep from setting up our camp in the dark, we made this decision. I will say this, when we left, I had no intentions of making it to our destination. I just didn't think it would be possible. We all had a few extra pounds of gear due to the temps, possible trail conditions and the forecast for snow that night.
It was clear that we had all given this trip the respect that we felt it deserved. Everyone had their gear together and very few adjustments had to be made on the ride. I've been on regular rides where there is that one person that constantly has issues and slows the whole group down. We were a tight group all day. We all made some clothing adjustments when we got to the Berryman trail entrance and we were off.
As you can see, there was some snow on the trail, but not too much. Most of the falling snow had melted from the exposed ground of the trail and hung around only on the leaves leaving us with great trail to explore. We were all very surprised at how well we could ride with all the gear on our bikes and our stuffed packs. My bike is heavy to begin with at close to 30 pounds. With my gear, extra tubes, full water bottle and a front fender it was right at 45 pounds. Would have been an issue if everyone else had normal rides, but we were all in it. Nate is the light weight of the bunch and probably did the best job of packing for the trip so he would toy with us on the climbs. He won't say he was, but he was riding at our pace and could have ridden away from us at any time. All was going great. We came to one of the new reroutes on the Berryman and decided to take it. I don't think it's officially open but it was the right choice. When finished, it will eliminate several muddy sections, long sections where the trail has become the watershed and is simply a creek bed now along with the section where I crashed last year. Almost 100% benchcut single track awaits you. Lots of armouring specifically near one of the creek crossings, it's very cool. It appears to me that this reroute will add some length to the Berryman loop as it heads way up into one of the valleys that the old trail just passed by. It was in this section that I noticed some tire sealant spraying from my front tire. A knife like rock had gone right in the tread area of my tire so I pulled out my little tire plug kit, dislodged the rock and plugged it. The sealant stopped the airflow but it was a big cut so I added a second plug and away we went never to have an issue with that tire again.
Soon we were finished with the trail that is shared with Berryman and on our way south on the OT. I rode ahead knowing a prime photo op was nearing.
We crossed hwy 8 and came to the Lost Creek crossing that we knew would be deep and would probably require this:
Shoes back on, no whining and we were off again. That next climb is a bitch! I stopped to take a shot a little while later of Nate just ahead of me on a section of trail where I swear they just got tired and gave up on normal trail building rules as it is crazy steep on both sides. Really I just needed a break.
Only notable thing from here until lunch was that some pricks had ridden the trail on motorcycles and did some damage to the trail which was making it tough for us. The ruts they cut were holding the melted snow and making it a slow go for us. If it's dry, motorcycles can do wonders for a trail but they had no business being on that trail when it was that wet. Soon we stopped at Hazel Creek Campground for lunch taking advantage of the good water source and picnic tables. Not sure why I didn't snap a pic, guess I was a little out of it?
After about an hour lunch we headed south on the North Trace section of the OT hoping the motorcycles hadn't, they had. We pressed on to Hazel Creek which in the past has been too deep to ride across but to our relief, was ridable. Within minutes we rode by the tree that the swarm of hornets came out of last year and attacked me, no hornets on this 38 degree day. After a while we came to Martin Road. We stopped for a breather and then I led us out from there, no more motorcycle tracks! Wohoo! Trail was firm, fast and dry, amazing! I soon started to have some bizzaro drivetrain noises and decided to do an on trail diagnosis. Separated chain link. Whipped out the tool chest and had her up and running before Nate could finish his Tiger Milk bar.
We were all getting tired so I presented Nate and Brian with an idea. I really wanted to make it to the campsite on Middlefork but knew we were running out of time and our legs were feeling a little like, well, we had ridden 7 hours on really heavy mtbs. So when we finally climbed up to the end of North Trace at hwy DD we turned right and bypassed a few miles of trail to get to the DD/hwy 32 parking lot quicker and easier. Saved us probably 20-25 minutes but we were going to make it and still had some tough riding to do this late in the game. Soon we were there! My goal was 6 p.m. and we arrived at about 6:15, not bad. It felt good, great! Gathered firewood, set up tents and started cooking some food. The waterfall was running strong and the firewood was dry enough to get a fire going with only a little tender that I brought along. Only after my belly was full did I think about taking any pics.
Then I asked Nate how he felt.
At about 10 it was cold and we decided to call it a night. It was easy to sleep, for me anyway. Had to get up once in the night to find a fresh snow on the ground and still falling, EPIC! Planned to get up early, slept until almost 8!
It was tough to get going that morning. Knowing that we had to pack all our stuff back up and then ride back was a little daunting. Collectively, we had already come to the realization that riding the trail all the way back wasn't going to happen. This was one of the reasons I picked this route for our trip, there were many, many ways to short cut. We were finally ready, the warm sun had melted away all the snowfall from the night and we had a clear trail ahead of us.
10:15 and we were rolling, about 2 hours later than we talked about leaving. After only minutes of riding, I could tell the slow leak I had been nursing in my rear tire was going to need some attention or I would slow us down all day. I stopped and put a tube in and Nate added some air to his tire at the same time. I led out down the next hill and almost immediately his tire blew off the rim! I didn't hear it and climbed the next hill before I figured out they weren't behind me. I started back down when I saw them heading toward me on the other side of the valley so I stopped above a double switchback section for a pic.
We pushed on and finally got back to hwy 32 and went by the memorial site for John Roth, a very special individual whose efforts made this trip possible with his love and dedication to this trail system we call the Ozark Trail. He will be missed. The dedication and completion of the memorial is supposed to take place this weekend, but it is still impressive.
From there we headed north on DD, end to end all the way to hwy C. We all had enough food but I remembered that there is a small bait store at that intersection and started wondering if it would be open and it was. Without haste, we started grabbing stuff off the shelves. Nate and I had the nice fellow make us a salami and cheese sandwich then split a big bag of chips. It was as good for the mind and it was for the body. Sun was shining but the increased speeds on the roads made it feel cold so we all layered up. We left there traveling east on hwy C then turning left on hwy P. I knew that the gravel road used in the Berryman Epic eventually came all the way over to P but I wasn't sure exactly how far we had to go. I started to wonder if I had missed our turn but didn't give in to the doubt and Nate nor Brian questioned me. We rounded a corner and there it was! Only one short wrong turn and we were soon in recognizable territory, what a relief! We actually saw some course markers for the Berryman Epic still posted on trees. The climb back up to Berryman campground destroyed me and I think it did Brian also. Nate floated away in the distance but I think he had motivation in the form of a latrine!
A short break and we started out on our last stint of gravel that would take us all the way back to Bass'. There are a few monster climbs between Berryman and Brazil Creek that I didn't remember as it's been a long time since I've ridden that gravel. I sat up for one last pic knowing the end was near.
51 miles on the way out, mostly single track. Over 9 hours start to finish.
47.5 miles on the way back, mostly gravel and road. 5 1/2 hours start to finish.
Thanks to Brian and Nate for helping make this happen. I know this trip made me a stronger person.