Monday, September 21, 2009

Council Bluff trail ride

With the Burnin' at the Bluff race next month and a break in my race schedule this weekend I decided to meet up with my Burnin' teammates (Stephen Venters and Zdnenek Palecek) for a ride at the site of the upcoming race; Council Bluff Lake near Potosi MO.   It was an epic day.

I invited Jesse (a regular at the Midwest Fat Tire Series events) along for the ride but he didn't commit until 10pm Saturday for the Sunday trip.  It rained all day Saturday and he wasn't looking forward to driving 3+ hours just to ride around in the mud.  I told him I'd been watching the radar and it didn't look like that area had gotten nearly as much rain so he took the plunge and we planned on leaving town by 9 am.  The plan was to meet Stephen and Zdnenk around noon and be on the trails by 1.

I'd never been to Council Bluff Lake before so I relied on Google Maps to find the place.  We took my girlfriends Honda CRV instead of my Jeep mainly because it handles much better on the Highway (doesn't struggle to maintain 70 mph) and gets 20+ mpg vs the jeeps 12.

For some reason Google doesn't mind gravel roads.  As we were driving down MO-8 between Berryman and Shirley the directions called for a right turn on Jinkerson Rd.  It wasn't a major intersection and we drove past it without even noticing it.  After a u-turn we were back on track but about a mile in Jinkerson turned from asphalt to gravel.  It was nice and wide though so it wasn't a big deal.  The directions then told us to turn left on an "unnamed road".  It was another we drove right past since the unnamed road was very steep, narrow and almost completely washed out.  It looked like lots of trails I've driven in my Jeep.  After another u-turn we took the unnamed road, somehow made it up the hill and Jessie commented that it was a good thing we weren't in his car and how do they expect the other races to be able to climb that hill.  I figured it was google just trying to save us some time and shrugged it off.  That road eventually lead us to an intersection where we turned back onto a paved road (MO-8 I believe) and I started feeling much better.  Then we turned onto another gravel road that was the worst one yet.  There were sections where the bike rack scraped the ground and I was having to get a run at some of the ruts to make it over them.   When we got to an area that was completely impassable I decided to turn around, retrace our path back to the last paved road and find another way there.  Luckily we were able to make it back to the road but unfortunately my iPhone didn't have cell service so I figured we were screwed.  I thought about giving up on Council Bluffs and going to ride the Berryman since we'd driven right past it earlier and I knew where it was.  Then we spotted a guy pulled off the road unloading a 4-wheeler and stopped to ask directions.  He pointed us in the right direction and about 10 miles later we pulled into the park.  As we were driving around looking for Stephen and Zdnenek we happened to drive past Stephen and together we headed down to the boat ramp where we found Zdnenek pulling off the trail having just completed a lap around the lake.  It was just after 12; we were right on time.

The day was starting to look much better.  The temperature was very nice and although there was lots of humidity it wasn't raining.  After talking about the course and what to expect we suited up for the ride we headed out with Zdnenek in the lead.  He rides a Specialized 29er singlespeed and flies on that thing.  When we reached the spot where the transition area will be for the race we'd only ridden about a mile (mostly uphill) and everyone but Zdnenek was already drenched in sweat and breathing very hard.  I was thinking it was going to be a long day.  After a couple minutes we headed back out to finish the lap.  The trail at Council Bluff goes around the lake and is about 12 miles long.  For most of it you are right next to the lake hugging the hillside, with lots of dips, lots of rocks and lots of exposed roots.  There are a few flat sections and a few long hill climbs but most of the time you are riding the curves of the coves and can't see much of the trail ahead of you.  There are lots of steep drops followed by steep climbs where you need all your momentum to make the top of the hill.  If you're in the wrong gear you hike-a-bike.  The hardest thing was being unfamiliar with the trail and not knowing what's ahead and trying to go fast.  It made for a nerve racking ride.  Before too long Zdnenek had pulled away from me and I had pulled away from Stephen and Jesse so I was just motoring along by myself, huffing and puffing and wondering what lay ahead.  Every once in a while Zdnenek would stop and wait for everyone to catch up and when we regrouped he'd take off again pulling away as he went.  I really liked the trail there.  There's never anywhere you can relax and turn on auto-pilot.  You have to pay attention and watch where you're going and know what gear you're in and what gear you'll need to be in for the next obstacle.

After crossing the dam which is near the end of the lap I stopped and waited for Stephen and Jesse.  The trail crosses over to a short section on a gravel road and then through a swimming area and I wasn't sure where to go.  From there on Stephen led most of the way since he's been to the park several times and knew where to go.  The first lap felt like it took forever but was actually only 1:24 of riding time.  When we made it back to the cars Zdnenek had changed into a dry shirt and looked like he'd been waiting for awhile.

He asked if we were ready for another lap.  Stephen and i said yes but Jesse said no.  After spending some time refilling our bottles and eating a bit and talking about the race Jesse was feeling better and decided to head back out.

On that lap I wanted to get a better idea of what to expect as far as lap times for the race so I took off in the lead and rode pretty hard.  After about 20 minutes I let Zdnenek pass me since I felt like I was running from him and not riding at a sustainable pace.  He pulled away and I just worked on learning the trail and finding the lines that would allow me to keep my feet off the trail.  That lap was much more fun than the first one and seemed much shorter.  About 2/3 of the way around the lake there's several sections where large rocks cover the trail.  You have to really work to get good lines and time your pedaling so you don't smack your feet on the rocks while still maintaining your forward momentum.  It's challenging and a lot of fun.  About a 1/2 mile from the end of the lap I met Zdnenek heading the other direction.  He was going to ride out and meet up with Stephen and Jesse.  I just kept going.

I finished that lap in about 1:14.  I know I could have done it faster but I figure that will be about my average on race day when fatigue starts setting in and the evening laps start.

I waited about 1/2 an hour for everyone else to make it back to the parking lot.  It turns out Stephen wrecked and banged his knee pretty hard at the beginning of the second lap.  His front wheel slipped out and he went down pretty hard.  After that he wrecked a few more times so they took it pretty easy.

By then it was getting late so we decided to call it a day.  After cleaning up and deciding on a name for our team (Zed's Dead) we mapped out a route home that would keep us on pavement.  It sounded pretty straight forward so we packed up and hit the road a little before 6.  Before long Jesse and I were starving and looking for some place to eat.  It took a while but when we pulled into Salem the first place we saw was a small Chinese restaurant so we stopped.  I ordered the pork lo mein with an egg roll and it was delicious.  I ate until I couldn't eat anymore and we headed out.  Turns out Salem is a pretty big town and if we had waited a few minutes more we would have had lots of options for dinner.  But we were hungry and the food was good so I didn't have any regrets.

After stopping for gas we headed out of town and about 30 minutes later I realized that we missed a turn that would have taken us to Rolla where we could take I-44 home.  We decided to soldier on.  Eventually we made it to Licking so we took 63 down to Willow Springs and headed east on 60 towards Springfield.  We pulled into town at 9:45.

All in all it was a pretty good day and I think Jesse is glad he came.  I'm looking forward to the race at Council Bluff, but I've got 2 more MWFTS races between now and then.

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