Opal Wapoo Racers

Opal Wapoo Racers Resilient Despite Flooding

The Race directors of the Opal Wapoo Gravel Experience, Husband and wife team Phil and Stacey Scherer, got a call in the wee hours Friday morning that waters in downtown Excelsior Springs had begun to rise and the race they’d worked so hard to organize may need to be canceled.

For those of you not in the know, the Opal Wapoo Gravel Experience is an annual bicycle race offering 100 mile and 52 mile course options that wind along the backroads surrounding Excelsior Springs. According to BikeRadar.com, “Gravel riding began in the US where long, remote stretches of fire road bridged the gap between the worlds of road, mountain biking and cyclocross.” Gravel grinding, as it is sometimes affectionately called, has been growing steadily in popularity with bicyclists with some races in our region bringing in as many as 4,000 to 5,000 racers! The Opal Wapoo race, established in 2018, has quickly gained a reputation amongst gravel riding enthusiasts as one of the best races in the Midwest.

Stacey said that this year’s race had around 400 racers registered from 19 states from as far away as Florida, Texas and Colorado. Stacey went on to say that “with any kind race you have some drop outs” and they were expecting 300 to 350 on race day. When word of stormy weather made its way through the cycling circuit the numbers did drop, but not as much as they had feared. By the time all was said and done there were an estimated 250 participants in the race with 216 finishers.

By 6:00 am Friday morning the starting point for the Opal Wapoo Gravel Experience was under about 8 feet of water and Stacey and Phil knew they wouldn’t be able to have the race they had planned. After they showed up to the race location and saw the flooding Phil began to formulate an alternate strategy. He talked to Waterfest Chair, Brian Rice, and received encouragement. He then reached out to some of the other leaders in the city who he knew he could trust when seeking advice. “I wanted to have the race but I also didn’t want to do anything in bad taste. I wasn’t sure how people would react to us having this race after we’d just had this terrible flood.” With so many people making an effort to get here Stacey and Phil felt like they owed it to the riders to make an earnest effort to offer them some sort of race.

Phil immediately thought of the airport as an alternate starting location due to it’s proximity to the original course. But with much of the original route under water they had to improvise a new layout. Both Stacey and Phil are avid cyclists themselves. When trying to to come up with an alternate route Phil began to think of all the places they like to ride here in the area. “I know these roads like the back of my hand,” he said which made it pretty easy for him to recalculate a new route within a few hours. “He just went out driving and when he came back he had this 44 mile route,” said Stacey. Phil said he got the go ahead to use the airport as the new starting point and began to feel more confident that they might actually be able to pull something out of their hat. “It was super amazing of the city to step up like that,” he said.

Husband and wife Kevin and Jenny Kuhne traveled from Elk River, Minnesota to participate in the Opal Wapoo Gravel Experience.

Saturday morning amidst scattered showers the cyclists streamed out of the airport runway and began the 44-mile course that Phil had so quickly devised. Phil and Stacey said they received many thanks from the participants for working through adversity to present a fun-filled day of riding.

The duo is already planning to try and organize some “social rides” with large groups of riders testing out the routes they have mapped around the community. We’ve made all of our routes available on our website OpalWapoo.com so that anyone can come and enjoy our little city any time they want, said Stacey. She concluded, “Ultimately, we just want to bring people to Excelsior and to know about Excelsior.”

1 thought on “Opal Wapoo Racers Resilient Despite Flooding”

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