An Overnight Gravel Grinder to Hermann, MO for Cyclocross

Friends and I rode 80 miles on hilly gravel roads to Hermann, MO to watch the cyclocross races ... then we road 100 miles home.

When: September 19–20

Bicycle Adventurers: Tim Donahue, Tyler Cordia, Ryan “Toad” Toedebusch, Brian Adermann, and myself, Cooper Mittelhauser

Accommodations: Hermann City Park

Distance: 180 miles in two days.

Bonus tip for this adventure?

  • Wings A-Blazin’, Hermann, MO. Delicious food and beer. 
  • Hermann City Park, cheap camping with showers and water. 
  • Roads to and form Hermann on both sides of the Missouri River — gorgeous, challenging, and mostly devoid of traffic.

Note: The route above is very approximate. Click here for the exact route details for the first day and here for the second day.

Day One

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, 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, MO.

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 homecoming and we are all too eager to escape.

The first 35 miles, the transport stage, go quickly. We navigate a set of out-of-the-way roads and Mark Twain National Forest gravel roads that are familiar to us by now. We alternate attempting to ride and push 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’ ol’ 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 cyclocross racers at the stairs. I blow a vuvuzela until my lips are numb and with the finish of the race, our posse shuffles off to a fat dinner of buffalo wings and fried food.

Day Two

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 Sunday of cyclocross. Our kit is different, but no less purpose-driven, flannel shirts and enormous saddlebags stuffed with food and extra water. I opt to send my camera back in the car, not wanting to worry about its safety and unwilling to shift food into my saddlebag to make room for the camera in my handlebar bag. In just a few miles, when I begin to understand how beautiful the ride will be, I will rue this decision.

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-old 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 Jefferson City, MO.

After a switchback descent carved into the side of a bluff bedecked with “baby head” rocks, and some deft fence hopping, we find ourselves in the quaint little town of Osage City, MO, water bottles getting low and stomachs starting to complain.

Brian’s knee is bothering him and while we celebrate to see the Jefferson 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. The paved route offers some interesting views, the best being a hilltop view of the Algoa Detention Center down in the valley, with the Calloway Country nuclear reactor visible on the horizon. Even from a long way off, we can hear the sounds of a baseball game being played.

Prison Brews in downtown Jeff City 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 we 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 millennial-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 petroglyph 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 onto 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 conclude with celebratory beers just before the sun sets.

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