Tour Of The Ozarks

September 16, 2000

Rolla, Missouri

103.5 miles

Bicycle:  Cannondale H-300

Ride Info: Tour Of The Ozarks

After a week of too little sleep (avg. five hrs/night), I decided to really push my luck and attempt the Tour of the Ozarks century. I was still on a high in spirit and physical condition after finishing the Grand Illinois Trail a week earlier. I left work around 2 PM  on Friday, went home, loaded up the car and drove down to Rolla, Missouri, about 450 miles away. After a minor car problem, I arrived at a motel across the street from the start at 1 AM. It seemed a shame to drop $50 on a room I would only be using for five hours. Oh, well. I barely stayed awake long enough to turn off the light.

At 6 AM I got up and got dressed. I wore my Route 66 jersey since part of the course followed Historic Route 66. By 6:30, I was registering in Buehler Park. Somehow preparing for rides always takes longer than I plan, and I missed the group start at 7 AM. It was a brisk 49 degrees then, but the high was supposed to be in the 70's. I debated what to wear. At one point I was pulling on tights, then I thought about carrying those around all day and decided to take them off. Finally, I put on a wind-breaking jacket, taking advantage of the extra pockets to stash some food just in case. I started only 5-10 minutes late.

The course began with a half mile downhill. I hit 35 mph, and I was COLD!!! The ends of my fingers were numb, my feet were numb, and my legs were bright red. This was the Route 66 section of the tour, and it went quickly. Soon we were climbing, something I did an awful lot of that day. After all, these were the Ozarks. I passed a lot of people, mostly those doing the  50-mile option, many of them on mountain bikes. I was feeling very strong, but I feared that I was going too hard. The road markings were tiny and easy to miss, and I kept catching up with people who were totally confused about which way to go. At one point I came upon a group of five riders, none of whom had bothered to bring along the map/cue sheet. As I pulled it from my jacket pocket, one woman said, " Oh, you have a map!" Well, of course I did--I was 450 miles from home! People never cease to amaze me with their poor planning and unpreparedness. Actually, it was a pretty easy route to follow because there were many stretches that ran seven to fifteen miles on one road. This was far from boring, though, because these roads wound their way back and forth, up and down. By the first rest stop at 13 miles, my average speed was 16.7 and my legs still had splotches of redness from the chilly descent. This was the first ride I did where the organizers attempted to keep track of everybody by number--everyone had to report as they passed by or came into the rest stop. The ride was very well run. There were plastic bottles of water and Gatorade, which was much nicer than the often badly mixed Gatorade powder at some other rides. I think it also encouraged riders to drink a little more (to finish off the bottle). There were plenty of cookies, as well as bananas, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and pretzels. I think I drank a bottle of Gatorade at every stop. Several of the rest stops were in front of small stores, offering indoor plumbing and a chance to satisfy whatever cravings had developed along the way. I didn't go into any of the stores, but I liked the idea.

The scenery was as breathtaking as the climbs. I'm proud to say I never stopped on an uphill to rest all day, although I paused a few times at the crests to take in the view. Many miles ran through Mark Twain National Forest, too. Just before the third stop I had a new experience. I was chased by a cat! It chased me just like a dog would, meeting me at the property line and running alongside, tracking me. Somehow I managed to escape -). The temperature was rising, so at rest stop #3 in the one-blink town of Blooming Rose, I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist. This was the first stop without the 50-milers, and I noticed I was the only one not riding a road bike. Near the cluster of houses known as Beulah, I saw a mailbox with the name " RAMBO" painted on it. I looked across the street, expecting to see some crazy survivalist hillbilly's bunker. Instead, I saw " Rambo Assembly of God Church!" I wasn't sure whether to be relieved that it wasn't what I expected or concerned that it might be a whole congregation of survivalist militiamen. This segment had a few good climbs and a brief stretch on busy U.S. 63. That road had full width paved shoulders, so it wasn't bad at all. Then we turned off onto old U.S. 63, a pleasant back road, and followed it past the Bronz Bunz tanning salon and into Licking. I could make some corny remark about taking a licking, but actually I felt pretty good. I had been playing leapfrog with two guys on Bianchis all morning (I spent less time at the rest stops early on), and here I talked to one of them. He paid me a great compliment: " You're scooting along pretty well on that bike. If you got yourself a road bike, you'd be a terror!" There were several times I was glad to have the tougher tires and suspension seat post of my hybrid, though. The county-maintained roads in that area had the most awful excuse for pavement I've ever seen. Even the more recently repaved roads were of the same uneven surface, so this was by design! A suspension fork would have been even better.   When I loosened my grip on the bars as I rolled along, they vibrated violently. The roads seemed to get worse throughout the day, but I know it was simply fatigue. I joked with someone that my arms and shoulders would be more sore after the ride than my legs. Near the end I became so frustrated that I just kept cursing while I bounced, as if that would make the road smoother.

There was a fairly long 20-mile gap between Licking and the next rest stop. To my surprise, a few hundred yards after I turned onto Highway H, I came up to a house with two young kids standing by the road waving at me. They had a table set up with a sign that said " Free Lemonade!" Even better, it was pink lemonade, my favorite. Yum! That extra burst of energy no doubt helped me through some serious climbs over the next few miles. I passed a rider who had given up pedaling to walk his bike up a  hill. A few hills later, I was rewarded with a fantastic vista overlooking rolling hills with farms and forests. I regretted not bringing along my camera, but in retrospect, it might  have added an hour to my time--I would have stopped for so many pictures. Finally I reached the Edgar Springs rest stop in front of the firehouse. The volunteers there were chatty, as were the yelping poodle puppies for sale across the street. A woman told me about the bird dog that someone dumped by their house. He was a great pointer, but gunshots made him nervous. She laughed when I told her how our older dog is afraid of thunder but our younger one barks at it. The volunteers were impressed with this year's turnout. Last year only a dozen riders had done the century (12, 25 and 50-mile options were also offered), but this year there were 42 centurians. After finishing my bottle of Gatorade and topping off the water bottles, I headed out for the final 25 miles.

Around this time my left ankle became noticeably sore. I could feel it especially on the climbs. It wasn't bad enough to quit, though. The next stop was in a town called Flat (fortunately my tires did not emulate the name) a mere five miles away. I stopped, but some people just rolled through and shouted out their numbers. This was the last I saw of the Bianchi guys. I was rewarded with an interesting conversation with some young women and the leader of their Venturing crew. I guessed from the logo on their shirts that this was a scouting-affiliated organization. Sure enough, the leader confirmed that several years ago the Explorer posts were transformed into Venturing crews (Venturing is open to young men and women 14-20 years old).

After I left Flat, I was dazzled by still more fantastic scenery in Mark Twain National Forest. This was also where, despite the beauty of nature around me, I began cursing as I bounced over the ridiculously lumpy road. The last stop was in Newburg at 93 miles, about ten miles from the finish. This was the same spot where several hours earlier I had been amazed by the people who hadn't bothered to bring along their cue sheets. I stopped just long enough to guzzle one last Gatorade and headed for home.

For the last three rest stops, people had ominously referred to the hill after the Newburg stop. It figured that this challenging ride would have to end with a steep climb. It turned out to be a bunch of climbs, but the one just north of Newburg was the toughest. I saw later on the map that I had descended this very hill earlier, but I had no recollection of it (the only big downhill that I remembered was the first chilly  one). Here I once again passed the guy who had been walking his bike up a hill earlier. He was so retro--wearing gym shoes with not even toe clips and riding an old Schwinn ten-speed that squeaked like a box full of excited mice. He had passed me while I was gabbing at Edgar Springs where he paused for only a minute, just long enough to say he'd never done this before and this was his first rest stop (keep in mind, that was at the 75-mile mark).

I crossed a bridge over Interstate 44, and the climbs continued. The Ozarks were doing their best to break me. By this time my legs were somewhat fatigued. I slogged along and climbed slowly, not experiencing the " almost there" euphoria that usually propels me through the last few miles of a century. I was just plain tired. Maybe those five-hour nights of sleep were catching up with me, but more likely it was the previous 100 miles of the Ozarks. My aching ankle wasn't helping me, since it discouraged me from attacking the hills. I finished at Buehler Park in 6:57 of riding time (about 8:30 elapsed time) for a 14.9 mph average. For the first time ever, my total distance matched the cue sheet to the tenth, 103.5 miles. The pavement had been rough, but the scenery was fantastic. The hills were challenging but not impossible. My riding in northwestern Illinois the week before  had prepared me well. Everyone was friendly, and the weather got better throughout the day but never too hot. It was a great ride.

On  the way back toward Illinois, I laughed at billboards for the Jesse James Wax Museum. The signs said " as seen on Real People." That show has been off the air for over 15 years now! I doubt that anyone remembers seeing the museum on TV so long ago. I spent the night in Highland, Illinois, where the Flat-As-A-Pancake Century was set to begin at 7 AM Sunday morning. Upon receiving my 6 AM wake-up call, I took a short walk around the motel room and determined that discretion was indeed the better part of valor and my dreamy twin century quest would have to wait for another weekend. The last thing I wanted was for my ankle to get ornery halfway through the ride. Besides, the Tour of the Ozarks was hands-down the toughest century I had  ever done, so I was quite satisfied with that. Instead, I enjoyed a leisurely drive home away from the interstates. It was exactly the relaxing day that I needed. When I reached south suburban Matteson, I stopped to locate the one Grand Illinois Trail checkpoint I had missed, Caboose Park.

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