The Ride of a Lifetime
Alan Marrs and Buck Brooks have been friends for more than four decades now. They went to junior high together in Bethany, Mo., where Buck moved when he was 12 years old. They’ve known each other so long, they no longer know how they met.
“That’s a great question” Brooks said.
“I don’t know, you live in Bethany, you better be friends (with everybody),” Marrs added. “Probably hanging out at the Pizza Hut.”
Over the years, they’ve done some things. Sledding down icy roads, ski trips, pick-up basketball games, Homecoming weekends in Columbia. Brooks has moved from Bethany to Memphis, Mo., to Kansas City to Jefferson City. Marrs has been a lifelong resident of the Show-Me State, minus a hiatus of a couple of years in Idaho. Through all of the decades, they’ve stayed in touch.
“We’ve tried to get together every couple of months at least,” Marrs said.
“We’ve had some adventures,” Brooks said. “My wife knows if I’m in tandem with him I’m probably screwed most of the time anyway. I’ve hitched my wagon to him a lot of times.”
But not like this.
“I’ve always had in the back of my mind I want to ride my bike to an away game,” Marrs said.
Last spring, Alan called his friend, who recently retired from the Missouri Department of Transportation after 22 years.
“I’m not working,” Brooks said. “That’s the biggest lynchpin in the whole thing.”
Marrs said his wife thought the idea was crazy. Brooks’ reaction wasn’t quite that extreme.
“I didn’t think it was out of the realm of doing,” he said. “At first it sounded pretty far fetched.”
Marrs wanted to do the ride self-supported. Brooks didn’t think that was going to work, so he enlisted Bruce Bielby, another Bethany native, to drive a support vehicle. When Bielby said yes, Brooks was on board and the planning started. But if you’re going to do something, you do it all the way. Apparently, one game wasn’t enough.
On October 12th, the pair will go to Mizzou’s 6 p.m. Homecoming game against Ole Miss. That night, they’ll drive down to Buck’s house in Jefferson City. The next morning, they’ll set out on the Katy Trail, Alan on a Soma Touring Bike he had customized and Buck on a Giant road bike. Over the next 20 days, they will ride from Jefferson City to Nashville, Tenn., to Lexington, Ky. before ending their trip in Athens, Ga. They will see Missouri play at Vanderbilt, then at Kentucky, then at Georgia.
“I looked at the schedule and I go Vanderbilt, I looked at the mileage and I go, I think I can make that,” Marrs said. “Then I looked at the next game, Kentucky. From Nashville to Lexington is only like 250 miles or something like that. That’s totally doable. Then I looked at the next game, with the bye week, we can make it to Georgia.
“They made this schedule for me. The next 15 to 20 years we will never see a schedule where this is possible.”
“Riding their bikes?” Mizzou cornerback DeMarkus Acy asked when told about the trip. “That’s crazy. That’s hell of (a lot of) support. You can’t ask for more than that. That’s dedication right there. It just shows you what type of fans we got. They’re bought in.”
There will be stops along the way to eat. They will stay in hotels overnight. Bielby will drive the route in the support vehicle with a cooler of water and Gatorade, some protein bars and extra clothes.
“And the powder,” Marrs said.
“Chamois butter is the proper name,” Brooks said. “Butt butter is what we call it. I just told somebody I’ve got two tubes of that. And I may need to double up.”
They plan to arrive in the city of each game the night before and leave the day after. Game day, Marrs says, “that's for fun.” The first week will be their toughest. The ride from Jefferson City to Nashville is about 480 miles. They need to average 80 miles a day, hoping to make it to St. Charles by the first Sunday night and Nashville on Friday.
“I like the challenge of it,” Brooks said. “It’s overwhelming. The first week really. I can wrap my brain around the rest of it.”
After that, things get easy; well, easier. Nashville to Lexington is only 250 miles by the route they've mapped out. The ride to Athens will be another 400 or so (the path isn't finalized for that part of the trip yet), but with a bye week in between, they’ll have two weeks for the final leg.
“After the first wave to Nashville, it’s 40 miles a day average,” Marrs said. “Forty is going to be like a vacation. There will be days off, there will be more drinks had.”
Along the way, they’ll stop for a photo at the Gateway Arch and another in Metropolis, Ill. at the Superman statue. There’s one other predetermined stop, somewhere between Nashville and Lexington.
“Funny you should ask,” Marrs said. “Our route takes us through the town that’s within like a mile and a half of the (Maker’s Mark) distillery.”
After a pause for effect: “We are going there.”
The ride was Marrs’ idea. Throughout an hour-long conversation with the two, Marrs seemed to be the one taking the lead.
“The opportunity to do something to support him and do something that he wants to do and probably wouldn’t be able to do otherwise,” Brooks said. “It was a no-brainer.”
Marrs calls himself an “avid, but casual cyclist.” The two have done, by their estimation, 15 to 20 multi-day rides, including The Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa (RAGBRAI), which covers about the same distance as Jeff City to Nashville in a week.
"I probably will be very cautious the first week because 80 miles a day is stretching my comfort level,” Marrs said. “The comfortable mileage would be 60 miles a day. Eighty’s stretching it.”
Marrs said he’s logged about 1,000 miles on his bike this year, though he hasn’t really followed a specific training regimen. Brooks says he’s ridden considerably less than that.
“Believe me, not nearly as much as I’d like,” he said. “So, yeah, there’s some unknowns.”
The ride is a personal bucket list item. It is also a chance to see their favorite team play three times. Marrs has been a regular attendee at Tiger football games since his freshman year at Mizzou in 1981. Brooks first remembers going to a game when he was working in Memphis, Mo. and would come to town to stay with a friend and watch games during the Woody Widenhofer era.
“That was pretty damn painful,” Brooks said. “Those are my first memories of really going to a game.”
The game at Vanderbilt will be Brooks’ first Mizzou road game. Marrs made 10 games last year, including a guys' trip when they rented a houseboat on the Tennessee River in Knoxville to see the Tigers play the Volunteers.
“That was a blast,” Marrs said. “The game turned out well too.”
Is it about the cycling or the football? Marrs says it is both.
But really, it’s about something much more than that, too. Marrs’ wife works in the business school at Missouri. Last spring, when the idea for the trip was becoming real, they approached people in the athletic department about making the ride a way to raise money for charity. They wanted input and a decision was reached to donate any money they raise to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Columbia.
“Mizzou football’s been a way for me to remain connected to a lot of the long time friends I’ve made at Mizzou,” Marrs said. “We realized we remained connected because of football games, the bowl games, the away games. So wouldn’t it be great if we can connect with alumni and do this for a charitable cause?”
They'll attend Alumni Association tailgates at the games and hope to spread the word about what they're doing to other Tiger fans who have made the trip in a more traditional manner.
“What a great initiative for them to take time out of their schedule for the next three or four weeks,” head coach Barry Odom said. “For them to make the commitment they’ve made to try to help others, what a selfless act. Much respect and admiration for guys that want to do something bigger than themselves.”
Marrs and Brooks set a goal of $71,004, a figure which matches the former seating capacity of Memorial Stadium. The Mizzou Alumni Association will put a link to donate on its website this week. Along the way, Brooks and Marrs will have Bielsby helping them update social media and a blog. Marrs, who is an independent computer consultant, hopes to mostly unplug during his month on the road.
“I’ll probably take a computer,” he said. “We have a lot of international people in our office and they’ll take a month off to go back home. I’m like, hey, why can’t I take a month off? This is my month.”
It’s a quest for a cause. But even more, it’s a story they hope to be able to tell for the rest of their lives.
“We’ve been to away games, we’ve been to bowl games and all the people you meet,” Marrs said. “If I come up to you, we’re sitting there watching a bowl parade or something and I’m on a bike, I say, ‘I rode my bike here from Columbia,’ you’re like, ‘What the hell’s wrong with you?’ I think that would just be wonderful.”
Marrs said he frequently runs into bikers on the Katy Trail and will turn around to ride and talk with them for 15 or 20 miles. He recently bumped into a man from Ireland biking through mid-Missouri midway through a cross-country trip. Trying to drop weight, the man was giving away some of the beer he had been given along the way and a full bottle of whiskey. The kindness of strangers helps a biker along a 1,200 mile trip.
“All the friendly people you run into,” Marrs said. “I’m expecting that all along.”
Three games, four weeks and more than a thousand miles will end in Athens a month and a week from today. Marrs’ wife will be there for the Georgia game. The hope is to see their third Tiger win.
"We'll try to give it to them," Odom said.
After that, they’ll pack the bikes on to the support vehicle and make the drive back home. They have no desire to double the distance with a return ride.
“I know there’s going to be agony along the way,” Brooks said. “I’ve experienced it before and I figure I can live through it again. I’m looking forward to it. Cautiously.”
Marrs is even less hesitant.
“This will be great. I think it will be life changing.”