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Friday, September 12, 2014

Bike MS Ozarks

I haven't ridden Bike MS since 2010. The Kansas City ride changed routes and weekends. The route wasn't an issue, but the weekend was, it's a weekend that is eaten up by a freelance project, a regular one that pays its bill quickly that I've been doing for almost 20 years.

Clients like that don't grow on trees.

But my original plan to ride the Pony Express Gravel Dash wasn't working for me. At all. I wasn't able, on any of my training rides, to make the minimum speed to avoid getting swept by the first checkpoint. Plus, I wasn't digging riding on gravel and getting chased by farm dogs every mile or so.

Casting about for another ride the weekend I'd cleared for an epic ride, I found a century out of Newton, Kansas, Bike MS Wichita and Bike MS Ozarks.

No offense to Wichita, but that sounded flat and boring. Newton sounded moderately better, but I'm not sure the glaciers that made north Kansas' hills made it that far. The Ozarks, on the other hand, would be beautiful with fall colors just starting and lots of hills. Plus, the Ozarks ride offered a to and from, Clever to Joplin, where the Wichita offered a loop that doubled back to the start each day. The idea of ended up at the same place at the end of both days lacked romance to me, plus the Ozarks offered a century loop both days.

I've never done back-to-back centuries, and I was looking for a new challenge.

The Ozarks offer challenging hills, it turns out. I'm not sure any of the climbs were as long as a mile, but there was 3,000 feet or so of elevation to deal with.

The photos are courtesy of a Powershot I bought off Craigslist for $80. I can't really shoot my Nikon D7000 from the saddle, and the camera bag is heavy and crowds out my Camelbak. I left the D7000 in the car and took the Canon with me. It's also the camera I took on the Trashboat Regatta this year. It'd suck to lose $80 to a river, but it'd suck a lot more to lose $1400 or so.

I was originally going to camp both Friday and Saturday nights. But while I enjoy camping, I don't sleep nearly as well in a tent as I do in a bed. And I sleep with a CPAP (sleep apnea), so I need a 110 outlet wherever I pitch my tent. Clever, Missouri is a town of a bit over 2,000 people, and I worried that I wouldn't find a suitable camp site there or near there. I found a $57 motel room in south Springfield about 9 miles from Clever and took that.

A wise choice as I woke to rain. It would have sucked packing up wet camping gear and putting it on a truck to haul to Joplin and set up wet camping gear. Though it turned out in Joplin the camping area was on a soccer field with no outlets but we could sleep in the gymnasium where there were outlets. In other words, I needn't have packed a tent at all.

I rode hard. On Saturday I averaged 12.6 miles per hour—I normally average about 10. The rest stops were frequent, and I was focused on hydration to prevent the cramps I so often get on or after long rides so I stopped at each one and topped up my Camelbak, ate a bit, etc. After rest stop #7, I inquired about the century loop turn off and found out it had closed a half hour earlier. This surprised and upset me as it not only derailed my double-century plans, but last time I rode BikeMS I made the cut-off easily. But that route closed at 7:00 p.m. giving me a full twelve hours to cover the distance. To make life easier for the SAG staff, they'd shortened it to a 5:00 p.m. close, and necessarily moved the cutoff for the century back.

On Sunday I rode harder, spent less time at the rest stops and still didn't make the cutoff for the century. We had wicked headwinds on Sunday, which in addition to challenging hills dropped my average to 10.5 mph. I was a half hour late again.

The ride went through a lot of Amish country. Besides the usual wagons, I passed a passel of boys in their Sunday best on day 2, obviously on their way to church but stopping to stare at the passing cyclists like they'd never seen such a spectacle.

I also saw a miniature pony being used as a draught animal towing a little buggy with two kids in it.

And I met so many cool people. The social aspect of a ride like this is a lot of the selling point. You can ride along having a conversation and ten or twenty miles just fly by.

And I caught a cool image of a but riding on Vanessa's cycling computer. Vanessa was riding with her Dad kind of like the friend who recruited me for my first Bike MS back in 2009. She and her Dad slept next to me in the gym and we had a nice talk Saturday night. They're both really sweet people, I should have gotten last names so I could friend them on Facebook and whatnot.

There was a patch of gravel on the first day, wet gravel owing to the rain. Maybe a quarter mile to a half mile, and nothing about crossing it made me think I'd made the wrong decision about riding the Pony Express ride. It rained all night before it, I'd learned that from Facebook. I wouldn't have stood a chance on dry gravel, wet gravel is even slower.

I ended up with 93 miles for the first day (I poached a bit by riding upstream on the century loop from where it rejoined the regular route). I chickened out after a half hour for fear of meeting a SAG motorcycle or pickup while riding the wrong way. These are volunteers and I didn't want to piss them off. When I got to Joplin I realized I'd forgotten to pack some Vagisil (very handy for saddle soreness since it's 20% benzocaine—I keep thinking I should get them to make a private label version for cyclists. I picture an ad campaign with the slogan 'Not just for pussies'). I rode to a Walgreens and bought some, but then I worried I'd miss dinner if I went on to finish my century exploring Joplin. Rather than have to buy dinner in town, I went back to the school we were overnighting at. I figured keep my powder dry for a century on day two, though obviously that didn't work out. I only had 71 miles on Sunday.

And I won a deep freeze, some wine, and some dog-sitting in a raffle Saturday night. They must not have sold many tickets because I wasn't the only multiple winner. I gave the dog-sitting back because I don't live anywhere near the business that offered it. But I'm going to go down next weekend and get the deep freeze and wine (I didn't have a way to haul the freezer and the wine couldn't be brought on school property because of some stupid law). We'd been talking about getting a new deep freeze to replace the 50 year old one we have to bungee shut and which still leaks a lot, frosts up like crazy and probably runs up our electric bill something fierce.

All in all, though, I had a great time even if I didn't get my double century in. I was plenty sore the next few days from pushing the pace as much as I did, so the epic ride itch was scratched anyway. I'll probably do the Ozarks ride again next year.

I got lots of compliments on my helmet mohawk and bestickered bike. At lunch on Sunday someone commented about how it was the least diverse Bike MS they'd seen. I said I was doing my best. But no penny-farthings, no BMX bikes, no unicycles, and I was about the only touring bike in the field with my Long Haul Trucker. I saw one other plausible touring bike, though it had no racks. It did have a Brooks saddle, though. There was one recumbent.

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