Cedar Cross 2015

To be perfectly frank, after my disappointment in the way Trans Iowa V11 went, I was feeling pretty down. Poor weather conditions couldn’t be helped, but I felt like I severely underprepared, both in training and in getting my bike ready for the race. I was also upset with myself that I didn’t go any farther into the course than I did. Overall, I just wasn’t happy with the way it all went down. I had anticipated that it would be a stepping stone to Trans Am Bike Race and I felt as if I had stepped backwards. Not good.

On my way home from TI, I got a text from Jason, one of the other TI riders from St Louis that just said, “Cedar Cross?” I didn’t even know what that meant. Was it another race? Did he send it to the wrong person?

After a quick Google search, I found out that Cedar Cross is a 113 mile gravel and single track race in the Jefferson City area just one week to the day after TI. At only $30 the price was right. I had really hoped to move on to more pavement riding in prep for TABR, but I already had everything set up for gravel.  I decided to give it a go. At least I would be able to get the “quit monkey” off my back and move on with a more positive outlook.

I texted Jason back and found out that all three of the TI riders from ST Louis were not going to Cedar Cross. Things had come up for each of them preventing them from attending. I really wanted to go do this with someone else, so right away I contacted my 3 friends in Farmington that would ride gravel. Two of them weren’t able to go, but one, Lucas, said he would like to go. As we discussed travel, it was determined that we would drive separate. I couldn’t leave until Saturday morning and with an 8:30AM start, that would mean leaving town about 4:30AM to have time for the drive. Lucas isn’t exactly a morning person and was free Friday evening to travel, so decided to go up early and spend the night. This turned out to be a blessing.

So Friday evening, I found myself staying up WAY too late. As usual, I was gathering things late and didn’t get to bed until midnight. Ugh. My 4AM alarm was not a welcome sound, but I was excited to get moving and get racing! I left the house right on time at 4:30, stopped at a local gas station for coffee and hit the road.

I rolled up into the parking lot across the street from Red Wheel Bike Shop about an hour prior to the start. Plenty of time to get dressed, hit the can and get my number plate and cue sheet. Once ready, I quickly found Lucas and lined up with everyone in a behind the shop in preparation for the group rollout by 8:30ish.

After the National Anthem and some encouraging words by the race organizer, we all took off behind a pace bike for the 2 mile roll out. Across the Missouri River bridge and down some paved roads we went. Soon we passed the official starting point and quickly hit gravel. The race was on!

Lucas and I stayed together, chatting and navigating through the crowd, but we weren’t hitting it hard at all. The course was fairly hilly early on- lots of rollers. My choice of ride (Stompatron is my MTB, loaded up with rigid fork, WTB Nano 2.1’s, a Fred Bar and Profile aero bars) was proving to be a bit of a challenge along the hills and gravel as compared to the majority of the riders’ bikes, which were cross bikes with skinnier tires. No biggie. I’ll get mine when we hit the single track!

And at 14.8 miles, that is what happened. The course went through a portion of Mark Twain National Forrest land that was basically cow field. Through the fields it was dirt road or double track. Just a bit down the trail, it went to a short section of fast single track and then back to gravel. The double/single track had been only about 2 miles, but when I looked back, Lucas was nowhere to be found. He was on skinnier tires and just couldn’t navigate the rougher stuff as fast as I could on Stompatron. I was feeling good and wanted to stretch my legs so I went on.

Over the next 15-20 miles, the course went through two sections of trail that I would call single track in earnest. That first section early on had been more like a cow path. Not the next two. Now we were in the woods on true trail and there were places where it was really pretty rough. I found myself passing quite a few cross bikers and it gave me a surge of adrenaline, or at least in my mind, to go harder. I was racing! There were some places where horseback riders had demolished the trail by riding when it was wet. These areas were just covered with 6″deep hoof sized holes that beat you to death. It would have been difficult had I been riding with suspension. With my rigid fork I was still being beat up, but not near like the cross bikers. Most were waking. I rode the vast majority of it and kept moving forward, feeling good.

About 35 miles or so, I hit a wall. Bad planning strikes again. I SWORE that I had seen online that there would be a convenience store somewhere in the first 40 miles. With that in mind, I had brought a few snacks, but not much. I had stretched those calories out, but now I had burned through them and needed food. It was also getting hotter and I hadn’t been drinking as much as I should. I could tell that my body was dehydrated and bonking so I backed off my pace a bit. Hopefully there would be a stop where I could refuel soon. Nothing came along. I was struggling and still had 80 miles to go! I just kept going. There wasn’t another choice.

On the cue sheet, there showed a drop bag station at 46 miles. A note on the sheet said, “grab a sammitch and a beer”. I figured there would be something there. I just needed to nurse myself to that point. With roughly a half mile to go to the drop bag spot, I got a puncture in my back tire. No problem, I thought. I’m running tubeless so the sealant in my tire should close up the hole and I can keep riding. When that didn’t happen, I stopped to give it a few seconds to seal. Every time I would get it to seal and try to take off again, it would pop back open. After several attempts to get it to seal and continue riding without success, I started walking the bike to give it more time to seal. I figured at least I was making headway and with me feeling so crappy, it gave me a break.

It wasn’t too long and a bunch of the riders I had passed on the single track were passing me as I walked. One of those that passed was Lucas. He asked if I was ok, I said I was and they went on. After walking about a quarter mile, I hopped back on and the tire held. I had lost an estimated 15 minutes, but now I was going again and I was almost to the bag drop.

Upon reaching the bag drop, I realized my folly. Having thought I would pass a convenience store early on, I didn’t do a bag drop. I also read too much into the note on the cue sheet to “eat a sammitch”. The only things at the bag drop other than the bags that others had for themselves was a few water bottles and a few beers. Quickly weighing my need for calories over the possible dehydration associated with in-ride alcohol, I drank a beer and also a water bottle. I finished off what little bit of food I had left, bummed some water from my better prepared friend Lucas to fill my Camelbak and rested in the shade. The next 30 miles or so (to a known c-store on the route) would be rough at this rate.

After resting a bit, off we went. This time I stayed with Lucas. The break at the bag drop had been good for me, but I was not doing well. I knew I needed to drink, drink, drink to get back in it. The break had also been good for the sealant in my tire. The tire was fine and I was ready to roll, albeit slowly.

Right away we hit the last section of single track on the course. We had been warned at the drop that it was rough. That was an understatement. This was the most horeback-destroyed section of trail I have ever seen. So rough that I couldn’t ride most of it on my wider tires. I rode when I could, but it was miserable. I was beat up both mentally and physically and feeling like I was ready to quit. This was my lowest point in the race and I made the decision that I wouldn’t do this race again.

Eventually this 2-3 mile section ended and we came out on more gravel. There was a little country church there and I leaned my bike against the fence to wait on Lucas. He was quite a bit slower on the single track and I didn’t want to run off on him again. Several minutes later he came out of the woods and was not a happy camper. Actually, everyone around us (3-5 riders) was not happy either. One guy mentioned something about taking a turn off course up ahead and calling it day by riding back. We were roughly 50 miles in and that turn was about 10 miles ahead. Lucas said he was seriously considering it.

Over the next ten miles, I was feeling pretty beat. I couldn’t keep up with Lucas and it was irritating me, especially knowing he was considering quitting. Despite not feeling well, after my disappointing showing at TI, there was no way I was quitting. I just couldn’t.

Around 60 miles in, we came to a left turn. This was the point where Lucas had to make a decision- turn left and head for the finish or go straight and ride off route back to Jeff City. We stopped and he checked the map app on his phone. It seemed like it took forever to me, but I know that was just me bonked out and crabby. I didn’t want to leave if he was going to carry on so I waited. After several minutes, he decided to call it a day. We said our goodbyes and rode off in different directions. It sucked that we wouldn’t finish together, but in reality, it was probably the best thing that happened for me. Now I was riding my own pace and could do what I needed to do to get back in it.

Since the bag drop, I had been drinking regularly. I needed to get my hydration back up enough that I could eat without getting sick. It was working, but the headache from not having enough water in me and the lack of food for fuel was hurting me.

About 65 mile in, we passed a house that had coolers with water out front. Earlier they had been BBQing hotdogs, but because I was so late, they were all gone. I drank more water, popped some ibuprofen I remembered I had and took a rest in the shade for a bit.

Back on the road, I only needed to cover 5 miles to get to the Hamm’s Prairie Gas station. I was literally looking at this as an oasis! I needed fuel and I needed it bad. I was rolling along and feeling better. I just needed to eat. Then I got another puncture.

This time it was the front. It was the same story though- it just wouldn’t seal. After a few attempts, just as before, I started walking. Quickly though, I decided to just sit in the ditch and give it some time. To pass time, I called my wife and chatted. I told her how it was going and said that it didn’t matter what happened, I was finishing this even if I had to walk it in. We talked for maybe 5 minutes and I saw the one and only Derrick Boos of Orange Lederhosen come over the hill toward me. I met him last year at the OT100 and he is a hoot. I got off the phone, grabbed my bike and hoped my tire would stay sealed.

I rode with Derrick a short bit. He was feeling bad with stomach cramps and just wasn’t very talkative. I understood how he felt! Different issues, but the same result for me. You just feel crappy and don’t want anyone messing with you. At the next hill, he needed to get off the bike. I made sure he was ok with me leaving him and carried on. I needed to stay moving. Time to get to the oasis!

I rolled into Hamm’s Prairie and my mood did a 180. Dropping the bike, I ran inside, ordered a big double cheeseburger and fries from the kitchen, refilled my Camelbak, grabbed a whole bunch of snacks and candy, including an orange juice, a Poweraide and a can of Mt Dew. When the burger was done, I paid, went outside to a picnic table and proceed to chow down. It was like manna from heaven! Exactly what I needed! I ate the burger, the fries and drank the Mt Dew. The rest went in my bags. I was not going to run out on the way back!

I rolled out of Hamm’s Prairie feeling like a million bucks. It’s amazing how much better you feel when you have fuel in you! The first 70 miles of the ride had been fairly hilly. I knew I would have a rough time along the way if there were more hills, but at least I was fueled and as ready as I could be for it.

The first 4 miles or so out of the station were flat and on pavement. I cruised in the aerobars, munching on Sweetarts here and there. When it went back to gravel, there were a couple rollers, then a monster downhill to river bottom farmland. Across the valley, over a bridge and up a monster hill! At 75 miles in, this was probably the steepest hill of the day. I just got in little gears and kept my head down. I didn’t know it, but this would be the last hill. Once at the top, the road rolled along fairly flat and then BOOM! Smack dab in front of me was the Calloway County Nuclear reactor facility! That’s pretty cool! Not something you see everyday.

A winding flat gravel road led me south and east of the reactor to another monster downhill. This time, the downhill brought me to the much bigger Missouri River valley and the Katy Trail. My legs would have felt it had I needed to climb, but the flat of the Katy meant I could cruise at high speed. Once I was wound up, I just kept rolling.

The next 30 miles or so were on the Katy and other river bottom farm roads between Hwy 94 and the Missouri River. The gravel was good and fast, I felt great and the sunset was spectacular! As the sun went down and I still had 10 miles or so to go, I had a bit of remorse on being slow for the day, but I really felt good. I just kept cranking it out.

I rolled back onto paved roads shortly before getting back o the Missouri River bridge. Following the course, it was up the pedestrian ramp, across the river and down the hill to the bike shop and a cranked up party of finishers and their friends. Everyone cheered for me, just as they did for each finisher. Cowbells clanked, I got high fives and it was over! 113.6 miles of course with about 2 miles of rollout made for 115-116 miles (my Strava showed 118, but who is counting). 🙂

It was a long grueling drive home. I finally rolled back up to my house at 12:15AM. I unracked my bike, stumbled inside, showered and hit the sack. What a fantastic day!

My biggest takeaways from this event were that I was able to nurse myself back from a pretty bad place to carry on and not only finish, but feel like a rockstar doing so. I wasn’t fast. I finished way in the back. No matter. I finished and that is what I went to Cedar Cross to do! The quit monkey has expired! Oh, and I will go back. This one was a winner of an event in the end. Good times!