30 May 2014

Race Report: 2014 Odyssey Wild Wonderful 24hr AR

Tuesday, 12:38pm. I get a bookface notification on my phone. New message. From Mark Lattanzi?!?!?! Of course I open it right away:
"Emily, Team Odyssey might need a 4th for Wild and Wonderful this weekend. Interested? We should know today if Jen can't make it. Race fee is all paid so you just have to get to New River Gorge..."
The "Wild and Wonderful" he's referring to is a 24 hour adventure race in the New River Gorge area of West Virginia. It's directed by Ronny Angell of Odyssey Adventure Racing, and staged out of ACE Adventure Resort. It's a race I've been wanting to do ever since visiting this area in 2012 for Checkpoint Tracker National Championships, a course designed by Mark and directed by Ronny. This part of West Virginia has very challenging terrain, and Odyssey puts on very high quality events. Mark and his teammates are very experienced, fast, and friendly racers. Did I mention the race starts with 2 hours of Class III-V whitewater rafting on the New River? The only bugger was travel - it's an easy but long 8hr drive from St. Louis to Oak Hill, and I'd need to move some work commitments around. So the next 24 hours were filled with emails and phone calls and we eventually figured out that I was able to race! So exciting!
Almost there! Ready for some Wild and Wonderful adventure racing!
So I loaded up my iPod with listening material and made the drive over to Oak Hill on Friday. I actually listened to the TA1 podcast that Mark did with Legendary Randy Ericksen and called it "team research". There are also tons of country music stations all throughout Kentucky and, judge me if you will, I love country music. So I was a pretty happy girl until Frankfort, KY, where I'd planned to stop and ride some singletrack...I mean "off-track bicycle trail"... at Capitol View Park, but it was raining, so I just kept on driving. I rolled into Oak Hill pretty much on time, and met Mark in his Sprinter van for some pizza, tea, and chat before Andy and Shane arrived.
Andy declares victory over DC traffic. Shane agrees.
Eventually the boys made it to ACE (also with Kristen from TeamSOG, I mean TOG. Side note: this is what adventure racing is all about - carpooling with your toughest competitors!) and we proceeded to piddle around with bikes before the race meeting. Since I don't make it out to the East Cost area very much, I don't know hardly any of the racers here, but it's really cool to see the adventure racing community alive and well. Sure, there are a few faces I recognize from one of the Nationalses last year, but for the most part I feel anonymous which is awesome. What is not awesome, though, is the Oak Hill weather - cold and drizzly. The forecast is not predicting much improvement for race day, which will make staying warm overnight a challenge. We also learn that recent rains have put the New River above flood stage, making it unsafe for commercial paddling. We're not sure what Ronny plans to do about the start of the race now, but we do know that with the rafting being cancelled, we'll be on our feet and bikes a whole lot tomorrow.
We're clearly up to no good. Mark, me, Andy, Shane.
We attend the pre-race meeting and it's nothing unexpected. Ronny announces that we will be given maps in the morning, and be bussed to the start. There is a vague course overview but really, we just need to show up with all of our gear/water/food for the next 24hrs. So with that, we check into our hotel/motel and mess around with gear until it's time for bed.
What, you don't see the girls bathroom sign?
When we arrive back at ACE in the morning, we learn that Ronny has decided to bus us to the original paddle take-out, and start the race from there with a short LeMans run to CP1 and then a quick TA onto bikes. So we plot maps, waterproof them, load busses, and strategize on the ride down to the New River bank, which requires the bus to make a few three-point turns to negotiate the switchbacks. Love it! Once we unload, me and a few other girls declare a random pick-up truck as the girls' bathroom and all pee. Bonding! We also get a good look at the New River and....dang. It would have been very scary and probably very fun to raft that. But it's also nice to be alive. So Ronny counts us down and it's time to race!
Uh, yeah. Lotta water.
TREK 1 (CP 1, 0.3mi)
The first tiny trek.
There isn't much to this first leg. We run uphill a ways, get the punch, and the run downhill a few hundred meters and transition onto our bikes.

BIKE 1 (CP 2, 4k)
Biking from CP1 to CP2.
We get everyone into their bike shoes, under their helmets, and onto their bikes and pedal our way out of the New River Gorge. I think TOG (3-person coed) is already in front, and GOALS (2-person male) is right ahead of us and we can see them as we ride the singletrack up the western side of the gorge. Mark knows these trails really well and is surprised when GOALS takes the same (unmapped) shortcut he was planning. So we all ride into CP2 together, and see TOG just leaving the area on foot. We quickly transition, and I take Mark's mandatory gear so we only have three packs between us. Fun!

TREK 2 (CPs 3-5, 7k)
The second trek. 2-4-5 and then return to 2.
Before the race started, Ronny threw out CP3, so we only had to go to CPs 4 and 5 before returning back to our bikes. We run through the town of Fayetteville with TOG and GOALS leading the charge. I'm feeling just about as good as can be expected for a slow starter like me, and the boys all seem happy with the pace.
Yes. I navved the whole thing. NOT!
Since the urban-style nav is pretty easy, we goof around a little bit to pass the time between CPs on the outbound leg. On the way back, we get to cheer for a lot of other teams, and then Mark takes my pack for the last 1k. What a difference it makes! I feel amazing now! To me, that really highlights two things: a) the large effect that 10 extra pounds has on my pace, and b) I need to log more training hours with a pack. Noted. We run back into TA just on the heels of GOALS, excited to continue putting Mark's trail knowledge to use for the next leg.

BIKE 2 (CPs 6-13, 12ish mi)
The first part of the bike - left CP2/TA and rode to the Arrowhead trail system.
Our next route is to punch 6-7-8 in order, and then we can get 9-13 any way we chooise (aka rogaine style). So we use some singletrack connectors to get into the Arrowhead trail system which is pretty great. We think we've made up some time on TOG as we punch CP6, and then even more time on the attack to CP7. Our plan is to bikewhack across a switchback (see map) and then land directly at 7 for the punch. Mark leads us into the really open woods (almost ridable, they were so open) and I'm last of the bunch. About a hundred meters into the woods, I see something that is really, really not good - Mark on the ground, grabbing his leg, with Andy and Shane standing by him looking concerned. Something is definitely up, and in my mind I rule out cramps because it's early in the race and Mark is pretty experienced with managing nutrition/hydration/effort, so I figure it's a snakebite. This all happens in the few seconds it takes me to catch up with the boys. Once I get there, Shane says, "Get out your phone and call 911." This is bad!! As I'm digging my phone out (yes, the SAME ONE I was grateful to be carrying at the BRAWL), I take in the situation. Mark has a stick in his leg. As in he is impaled on a stick. As in he walked into a stick and it skewered his calf. As in he is a human shish-ka-bob. And it does not look comfortable.
In one side, almost out the other.
I get ahold of 911 and hand the phone to Shane, who is a former paramedic, to talk medical to EMS while Andy and I try to comfort Mark. There is very little blood, which is surprising to me, but evidently the stick's wedged in there pretty good. Mark even threatens to pull it out and continue racing, but Shane pulls rank and denies that request. We strategize how to get Mark out to the trailhead parking lot where the ambulance is going to meet us, and it turns out that he wants to use his bike as a crutch to hop back through the woods to the trail we attacked from. But before we leave, Mark is sure to tell Andy to "go get CP7 while we're this close anyway". So Andy goes and punches CP7 as the rest of us bikewhack back through the woods. Surprisingly, or perhaps not surprisingly to those people who know Mark, he's really fast at this. Faster than I am with no sticks in either of my legs. Amazing.
Apologies on the orientation of this photograph. Blogger dislike.
We make it back to the gravel doubletrack, and my phone rings again. It's EMS. "Is this the guy who was biking and got a stick in his leg?" Yes, yes it is. They are asking for more specific directions to the trailhead that I cannot give them. So, logically, I hand the phone to the actual guy with the stick in his leg, and Mark responds beautifully, chatting with the EMS folks and giving them perfect directions. A horrible situation, for sure, but definitely one of my favorite race moments this year! Andy bikes ahead to fetch the ambulance, and pretty soon it's trundling down the gravel with the Park Ranger right behind. We load Mark up, making sure he's got his pack with calories and water, none of the mandatory team gear, and at the last minute I grab his race camera so we can document the rest of our day. It wasn't much of a discussion that the 3 of us would continue. Mark even cheers us on to go after TOG and GOALS. We wish him the best medical care possible, and then re-mount our bikes for the remaining CPs.

Given our current location, we have to ride right past CP10 on our way to get CP8, which is a slight bummer but race rules are race rules. Andy's taken over the maps which isn't that far-fetched because I'm told he does a lot of co-navigation with Mark anyway, and I completely trust his leadership. I have a hard time getting back into race mode, and am not especially speedy on the singletrack. It's hard to endure such emotional swings like that. Teammates are teammates, regardless of how long we've known each other, and it's difficult to see one of us injured. We work our way through the remainder of the singletrack (8-10-9-12-13) and by the time we get to TA/CP13, we're back on a roll. Sure, we've lost a bunch of time and positions, but a lot can happen in 24 hours and we aim to make the most of our Wild Wonderful race!

TREK 3A (CPs 14-15-18-16-17-19)

It's fun in TA because the boys are plotting (something I normally do for Alpine Shop) so I get to do the "other" TA tasks, like switching everyone's shoes, packing up bikes, getting food out, etc. I notice one of my hair ties has gone missing but a race volunteer gives me hers - it's the little things that mean the most! Thank you! The bikes get loaded up for transport back to Race HQ and we are staring at a looooooooong trekking leg. Honestly, I couldn't be happier because I have been lacking in time-on-feet-with-pack recently so this will help my trekking toughness a lot. Ronny is not making it easy on us, either, it takes three pairs of eyes on the map to determine the "best" route. We settle on 14-15-18-16-17-19 and run out of TA.
Here beginnith mid-race selfies! Mark's got an old-school camera WITHOUT a rear-facing lens so this shows some real skill on my part.
We are in the mix with the Halfway There/Spokes, Etc, but they find a better way through the rhodo to CP15 and we are by ourselves again. Then we have some trouble with CP18, located in a shallow reentrant that we attacked too late. While we're relocating, we run into Rafael, aka Lone Wolf, who's racing solo male. Andy and Rafael work together to find our subtle reentrant and boom, there's the flag! Awesome! The four of us end up staying together for 16 and 17 too, and we both use the road route to CP19, since we are all running a bit low on water and are hoping to find a house with a hose. It's always exciting meeting non-adventure racers during a race, since we usually look all crazy (in spandex and very dirty) and unexpected. But, almost unfailingly, people are so kind. This time it's no different - we find a man with a hose and a beautiful, fierce Rottweiler. The four of us all fill up, say thank you, and hit the road running. After we hit CP19, it's down to the red trail (I don't know the name but it contours quite nicely along the New River Gorge) for some more easy trail running. Everyone's feeling pretty good at this point, and we're able to keep a great pace all the way to CP20.

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I think CP20 is the one where we had to climb a cliff to check a code stamped on a utility pole. By this time we'd caught another team in front of us (Race Day Rush, but we just called them "The Canadians"...because that's where they're from, eh?) so now we've got a 3-team convergence on the pole. Of course it's the girls who are sent scrambling up the loose cliff, and after we write the code down (after some confusion), the Canadians continue up the power cut while we (Odyssey) and Rafael (Lone Wolf) continue to CP21. 
We love adventure racing! So does Rafael, he's in the background.
One picture, three teams: The Canadians, Rafael, Odyssey.

TREK 3B (CPs 20-21-23-24-22-26-25-27-31-29-30-HQ)
1:24k USGS map. Our route from CP20 to HQ.
ACE Trail map.
Now that we've hit CP20, it's time for the real strategy to begin. We can collect the remaining 16 points in any order, either on foot or on bike. Our bikes are located at Race HQ/CP35 and are available to us at any time, but we also have to finish with them. Ronny's done a devlish job placing CPs - there is no obvious/best route back and we study the map for several minutes, determining which combinations are optimal. In addition to the USGS map, we have an ACE trail map which has a TON of trails marked on it. We decide to trek indirectly back to Race HQ and then pick up our bikes for the last few points. This means A LOT of time on foot, but like I said earlier, I'm thrilled about the chance to bash through the woods with my pack.
Shane and Andy cruising.
We work hard to collect as many CPs in the daylight as we can. ACE property is a confusing place. There are trails everywhere, and while most of them are marked, some of them have developed around-routes to avoid huge mud holes, and some are so overgrown they're hardly visible. To top things off, there are some parts of ACE property that have been strip mined, forming vertical earthen "cliffs" that can be impossible to down/up climb. Of course those areas are best shown on the USGS map and not the ACE trail map. It takes a masterful navigator to assimilate all of this information run cleanly through this area, and Andy's doing a great job. We're being super careful with our route choices, and it seems to help quite a bit that Rafael is keeping our same pace, giving all of us the confidence of staying found.
32? or 23? #racebrain
Night falls just before CP25, and we take a short break to put on lights and for Shane to change socks. Andy nails CP25 easily and then we make our way through the spiderweb of trails to CP27. We have a fairly obvious trail bend as an attack point, and we stride off into the briars confident that we're heading up the correct reentrant. Except, we can't find the punch. There are loads of other lights thrashing around the area, and it's so hard to tell if anyone else has found it. We have to relocate multiple times, first using the road to the NE and then the powerline to the S to re-attack. But then, success! There is nothing more satisfying than pinging a control flag after it's given you trouble. The next few controls are along the same powerline, so we trek along the powercut and cross our fingers it doesn't get too briar-y. I happen to be holding the USGS map at this point (Andy has been switching between them all night, and whoever's closer between me and Shane holds the other one) and have the itch to pull out my compass and help with the nav a little bit. Sure, these are about the easiest controls on the whole map because they have a HUGE handrail, but it's still fun to play navigator.
Realities of overnight racing - not really seeing your teammates for 8-12 hours.
Andy resumes navigational duties for CP30 and then back to HQ. Rafael is still with us and it's pretty awesome to see him doing so well. His navigation is solid! On the way back to HQ, we start seeing other teams and get word that TOG is finished. FINISHED! I'm not going to lie, it feels somewhat depressing to still have a TA plus 4 controls left at this point. We were hoping to be neck-and-neck with them for as long as possible, and now the gap is clearly going to be larger than we'd hoped. But the only way for us to enjoy a finish line is to keep trekking! So we do! We don't have too far to go until we're back at Race HQ. TOG is there, huddled by the fire, and we have a quick congratulatory chat with them as we transition onto our bikes for the last 4 points.

BIKE 3 (CPs 33-34-28-32-F)
USGS map of our final biking section.
ACE map of the same thing.
We bike out to CP33, punch that really easily, and then trek down to CP34 in our bike shoes. It requires a little creative footwork, but we make it and then climb back up to our bikes. We overshoot the attackpoint to CP28 just a bit, but Andy adjusts and uses a trail junction instead for another successful spike. Now we just have 1 more control left! And it's a toughie. We get to our hilltop easily enough (basically...go UP), but then have a really difficult time descending the spur to the correct trail. There seem to be a couple phantom trails in the area and none of us are processing that information very well right now. But we doggedly keep at it, and pretty soon Shane shouts that he's got the punch and we just have to ride home! On roads! Mostly downhill!

POST-RACE (21:20 total time, 4th overall but unranked)
We finish about 5am which is awesome. The sky is just starting the lighten up, and we've made it through the coldest part of the night without getting chilled. We have plenty of time to chat with Ronny and shower before breakfast is served at 7am. As we're walking to our cars, the door to the Sprinter van slides open and out pops Mark! He reports that he had surgery to remove the stick and is now on pain meds and antibiotics. The doctors wanted to keep him for a second overnight, but he somehow negotiated his early release and is eager to hear race stories. Of course we share them with him, and with the rest of the Wild Wonderful racers. It's a great finish line atmosphere, and especially because of the delicious pancake-and-eggs breakfast! Yum!

Overall, I was SO GLAD I made the trip out to West Virginia to race with Odyssey. I have to admit I'm proud that I can add in a 24hr race with only a few days' notice and not freak out. My body and my mind are familiar with the challenges that overnight adventure racing brings, and every race is another chance to work on getting stronger. The Odyssey boys, Andy, Shane, and Mark, were excellent teammates and I really enjoyed tromping around the woods with them, all sticks aside! These three are also racing Untamed New England with Jen in June so you can be sure I'll be cheering them on!

Team Commie Bar: http://teamcommiebar.blogspot.com/2014/05/team-commie-bar-at-odyssey-wild.html
Photos from ACE: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152212430814748.1073741918.6328979747&type=1
Team TOG: http://teamtoyotagbg.blogspot.com/2014/05/odyssey-wild-wonderful-race-report-2014.html
Results: http://www.oarevents.com/events/2014/documents/ResultsforWebWWAR14.pdf Pin It

19 May 2014

Race Report: 2014 Mission 18hr AR

The MISSION 18hr adventure race in Versailles, IN was hotly contested this year, with the lead bouncing around between several teams throughout the day. I could share with you the race from Alpine Shop's perspective, but if you're a regular reader, you've seen plenty of that. I wanted to do something a little different for this race report. Turns out, members from the top 3 coed teams each wrote a quick race summary on AttackPoint, an online training log used by adventure athletes and orienteers across the world (and you can use it too, it's free!). I asked Hilary from Michigan Racing Addicts and Rachel from Bushwhacker if I could combine their race comments with mine, and give you a birds-eye view of the race as it developed over 18 hours. They agreed! So here it is! I've made a few edits for clarity and brevity, but kept true to their narrative as best I could. Also, sorry I don't have photos of the main USGS map we used, it's buried in David's van and we all know it could take months to extract it. 

MISSION follows the beat of its own slightly deranged drummer, and by that I mean there are always one or two "twists" that can be different from a traditional adventure race. First, the race almost always starts with a crazy prologue challenge. Second, the race consists of multiple loops that keeps teams returning to Race HQ/TA. Instructions for each loop are not revealed until the team has completed the previous loops, so the race is constantly evolving and requiring teams to adapt to new challenges. 

Part of the Race HQ area at Versailles State Park.
RACHEL: Friday night was rather enjoyable as we didn't have to do any race planning or plotting. So the evening was filled with gear prep and jokes of the gutter nature. Mike and I both forgot to bring our sleeping bags and made do with sheets from my car that had bike grease on them and whatever extra clothes we had for pillows. Thankfully it wasn't too hot or too cold, but I still didn't sleep all that well.

HILARY: We got pretty much NO info Friday night - not even what clothes to show up in. I guess we got a little extra sleep without having to plot and plan our routes, though I would have liked a general overview. We showed up in trekking stuff assuming some sort of foot prologue. 

EMILY: Alpine Shop rolled into Versailles ("ver-SALES") State Park right as dinner was about to start, and quickly met up with our friends from Bushwhacker, Silent Chasers, Michigan Racing Addicts, All-Terrain Females, and a bunch of other teams. We scarfed down a delicious lasagna dinner while listening to the Pre-Race Meeting, and then piddled with our gear until well after dark. Rachel had kindly reserved spots for us in their cabin, but when David and I went to go to sleep, everyone had already turned the lights out! What, like we have a race the next day or something? We tried to be as quiet as possible getting to sleep (or did we...), but I'm not sure anyone slept the best. I didn't find out about Rachel and Mike's sleeping bag situation until the next morning, and I'm sorry I didn't offer them any extra covers!

EMILY: Race HQ was located at the top of a hill/spur (about 880'), and at 0550, Brian revealed the prologue challenge: there were 10 CPs hung at 800' elevation, and we had to find 7 of them within 60 minutes to be given the maps and coordinates for the first loop. We were not given a map for the prologue - it was a true Easter Egg Hunt! At 0600, we made the choice to run down the northwest side of the hill/spur, given that it was the steepest hillside and we figured we had the best chance of spotting the first CP, which we could then use to gauge the rest of them. This strategy worked great initially as we found the first flag almost immediately. We debated going right (clockwise) or left (counterclockwise) from that CP, and guessed left. From there, we struggled to find the remaining flags and at the end of the 60-minute time limit, we only had 6. We knew Bushwhacker and MRA were ahead of us, as well as several other teams. We were frustrated with losing time on a chance decision, as we knew that every minute counts against teams of this quality. But, the only thing we could do was keep racing hard!

RACHEL: We were a little unsure of how to approach this at first, but Mike was wearing his altimeter watch, so once we found one we used that to track along the same elevation. The first area we went had some thick undergrowth and we only found 2 after 20 minutes, so we were concerned this wouldn't pan out for us. Then we found 2 more and headed to the north side of the hill the HQ was on. There we found 3 CP's in quick succession and were suddenly running back to HQ already! We were the first team to find 7, in 45 minutes. Teams were already lining up to get the instructions for the next segment once the hour mark hit - strategy to just save their legs since there was no penalty for not getting 7. 

HILARY: We took off on one direction... and were the only team to go that way. That doesn't bother us, though. We found one, and then continued on that contour and eventually found all 7. We got our 7th, and got back to the race start 10 minutes before the hour cutoff when they would mass distribute UTMs to those who didn't get them. Only 2 or 3 teams found 7 to get any advantage, so it didn't really have the intended effect of spreading teams out. Not a fan of this even though we got lucky and got the slight advantage.

BIKE 1 (CPs 1-8)

RACHEL: The first real section of the race was singletrack and road biking. We hit the singletrack first and Mike did a great job of navving us through the many trails in Versailles State Park, and picking select spots for some bike-whacking. We saw Michigan Racing Addicts a lot here, ahead of us after one of their own bike whacks, but we beat them to the first road point after we were done with the singletrack. We tried to push the pace on the road, taking advantage of our teammate Greg's super bike strength. Rode into HQ and transitioned to a paddle/trek. I think MRA came in not too long after us. Saw Alpine Shop biking in as we ran down the hill from HQ to the paddle put in, so we knew they weren't far behind.

HILARY: We quickly plotted and took off on the bike leg. THIS was a fun leg. It started with bike orienteering on the local single track trails, which were very nice. We did some creative route choice and managed to take the lead for maybe 20 minutes. Then, Bushwhacker made a better route choice and passed us back. Darn. We did a little road riding with CPs off the road for short runs into the woods. 

EMILY: We plotted the first 8 CPs and took off on our bikes. David was a little nervous with the trail mapping and on our attack to our first CP, we took a jeep road instead of the singletrack we wanted. We took a few minutes to figure that out, then bikewhacked up a short steep spur onto the singletrack and proceeded to hit the rest of the points cleanly. The trails contoured and switchbacked a lot, giving several opportunities for creative bikewhacking, and we took advantage of that where we could. There were several teams bouncing around us as well, but we were able to get some separation once we popped out onto the gravel and hit the two road points. On our return to Race HQ, we saw Bushwhacker running with their paddle gear and estimated their lead at about 10-15 minutes. MRA was plotting when we arrived in TA but left before us.

PADDLE 1A (CPs 9-13)

18hr teams starting the paddle in the banana boats!
RACHEL: The paddle gave us some strategy options - we were able to split up for the CPs which were located on the north part of the lake. Everything had to be punched on the same passport so this really just meant we could drop one person to trek to the points while the others paddled to a better location to pick them back up. We chose to get the only CP on the east side of the creek together on our way up to the northern-most point, drop Mike off to get the 3 CP's on the west side, then paddle back south and meet him back across from the put-in. I flubbed where to get out for the first CP and cost us a few minutes there. After we dropped Mike off and turned back downstream, we saw Hilary from MRA paddling alone upstream, quickly followed by Alpine Shop all together still, meaning they had the same strategy as us. Sure enough, after Greg and I made it to the southern meeting point, we saw Emily and Jeff pull up not too far away. Then it was a waiting game...will we see Mike or David first?? Otherwise Greg and I lounged and relaxed. Well, we did get water out of the boat and tie a daisy chain (part of our required climbing gear) to the front handle to help with the boat dragging Mike knew we would be doing soon due to a previous race experience in the area. We finally heard someone crashing down through the woods, thankfully it was Mike! He threw himself into the boat and we were off, lead intact for the time being. 

EMILY: We made it to the put-in in about 5th or 6th place overall, and immediately paddled northward to CP12. Since we could split up, we let David get CP12 on his own while Jeff and I waited in the boat. We ran into the all-boy team Youth For Christ here and chatted with them as David and their navigator worked together to punch. Jeff said something like "We're just waiting for our boy to get back" which the YFC people interpreted as Jeff and I were David's parents, racing as a family team. Ha! (It's funny because Jeff and David are closer to my parents' ages than my own.) We laughed about that for the rest of the race. David returned from CP12 and on our way up to the northernmost paddle point, we passed Hilary who was paddling MRA's boat by herself as Phil and Mike attacked the trekking. We also saw Bushwhacker paddling the opposite direction, having already dropped off their Mike. So we knew we were 3rd but anything could happen on the mini-trek. Jeff and I dropped David off again for CPs 10-13 and paddled south to pick him up, where we waited with Bushwhacker for a weirdly relaxing but also tense several minutes. Finally Mike emerged from the woods, and they took off! David came through about 10 minutes later, having made up some time which we were thrilled about. We portaged over the spillway/dam into Laughery Creek with MRA hot on our stern. 

HILARY: We got back and, as expected, we were paddling next but with a twist - we were allowed to split up on the first 4 points. We decided to drop Phil and Mike off on the south end so they could work together to get the points that were up on the ridge. I paddled the canoe solo north to what I figured was about to CP10. I had a little hand-drawn map with the river bends. It was an oddly leisurely paddle for the middle of the race. I got there, ate, drank, took a bathroom break, and maybe 5-10 minutes later, the guys showed up. Cool. We paddled back down, at a much faster pace, stopped for CP12 and somehow didn't notice the big wide path to it, probably losing more than 5 minutes looking for the reentrant in the thorny mess of roses. As we paddled up past where the guys had gotten out, we saw Alpine Shop pushing out to continue the paddle a hundred yards in front of us. Dropped to 3rd, but in sight of 2nd. 


PADDLE 1B (CPs 14-15)
RACHEL: We had to portage over the dam, then were paddling in a small, at times very shallow, creek. Lots of boat dragging and teeth gnashing. Then we got hit by a pretty severe thunderstorm - super heavy rain and some scarily close lightning. Quite a treat! Thankfully the storm passed without issue, but we were still paddling...and still paddling more after that. I didn't keep track of how long the paddle was but it was a serious section of paddling for an 18 hour race. Might have been quicker if we could have actually paddled the whole time, but who wants to do that when you can jump out and run with your boat instead? (sarcasm..) We started to see a yellow boat in the distance behind us, and our assumption that Alpine Shop would catch us on this section was coming true. They have some serious river reading skills and seem to be more efficient at the whole in-and-out-and-in of the boat thing. Finally we saw the bridge that signaled the takeout, and Alpine Shop pulled up right after us. 

EMILY: Laughery Creek was a slog...think USARA Nationals "adventure paddle" except longer and with less portaging and more pushing. Jeff and David were in and out of the boat hundreds of times. I was in the middle and only got out on the worst ones - it turned out to be more efficient to have just the boys hopping in and out, but of course this made me feel lazy. We hit CP14 with MRA right behind us, but after we started "paddling" again we were able to gain time on them. In the middle of this section we got rained on quite hard. but we kept working the creek and towards the end we caught up with Bushwhacker. I am proud of my teammates all the time, but after this paddle I was especially proud of them - they worked really hard on a difficult section, and we made up a good chunk of time on Bushwhacker.

HILARY: We saw this river before the race and talked about how we REALLY hoped we wouldn't be hauling canoes down this super low river. Oh, we were... for 4 hours. We did get out once to get CP14 up a hill. Oh, and we got out probably a hundred times due to being stuck on rocks. Well, Mike got out a hundred times. Phil and I got out fewer times than that, but too many times by probably a factor of ten. This would have been a fine paddle with 6" more water in the river. This was one instance where whitewater was neither exciting nor scary. Just a sign of annoyance to come. About halfway down, the thunderstorm started. If it was hard to see hidden rocks before, it was pretty much impossible in the rain. It felt like forever, but it was probably only 15-20 minutes. Eventually it cleared up. We tried to tell ourselves that this would help with the water level, but I think it was wishful thinking. Not a fun section.
TREK 1A (CPs 19-23)

Rachel returning back to Race HQ.
RACHEL: Unfortunately our map was too wet to plot the next section, but we could see we had a significant road run to start with, so we just decided to take off and air out the map for a mile or two and try again. After a while we saw a dumpster that looked like a great table for plotting, and gave it shot. While we were finishing up the plotting and route planning, Alpine Shop came into view, running up the road at a pretty good clip. We finished plotting right as they passed, so we ran and chatted with them for a bit. They had picked up a stray dog as a fourth teammate who looked quite content to run alongside, and he stayed with them as we eased back and they pulled ahead. The first CP on the section (CP22) was in the woods and we both used an obvious road intersection to dive in. We got to CP22 pretty much together, and then we decided to book straight north through the woods instead of heading back out to the road. Alpine Shop took a different route, to our relief as we didn't want to be navving next to them for the whole trek. When we hit the next road, we had a couple of route options to the next CP (CP21). We decided to run the road east then north until we hit a trailhead that would take us to a distinct trail bend that we could use to hit CP21. The CP was in the middle of a very flat section and had no distinct feature (and the clue was "change in forest maturity" - what??), so we wanted to be careful. Alpine Shop chose a different route, taking the west trail instead of the east one that we used. The trail map we were given didn't match reality exactly, but the distinct trail bend we were looking for was at least there, along with a nice old horse trail that led us directly to the control. We then tried to take another trail but ended up back in the woods when that didn't match up with where we wanted it to go. We thought we saw Alpine Shop running close by and assumed they were now ahead of us. We hit the next two CP's without issue and then headed into town for the rappel. 
Coordinates and supplemental trail map. We plotted all of these on our USGS map as well.
EMILY: After seeing Bushwhacker leave TA in a hurry, we turned our attention to our sopping wet map. MISSION is one of the only races I've seen to have "extra socks" on the mandatory gear list, and normally we would never consider carrying them for an 18hr race. But here, they turned out to be actually useful as we used David's extra socks to dry off our map and get the CPs plotted. Then we got going on a longish road run after seeing MRA take-out just as we were leaving. Close race! After a few kilometers we saw Bushwhacker relatively stationary on the roadside and were surprised to have caught them - turns out they were plotting. We had some friendly banter with them, and introduced our newest teammate - a collar-less black lab that was happily running beside us. We kept thinking it would turn around but it hadn't yet. We pulled just barely ahead of Bushwhacker on the road, but ended up all attacking CP22 together after Mike executed a freaky-fast bushwhack. We took different exit routes from CP22 which I know we preferred and I think Bushwhacker did too. 

CP21 had a sketchy clue "change in forest maturity" and a sketchy location - hung in a nearly featureless (i.e. flat/no contour lines) location on the USGS map. The supplemental trail map showed a large bend in the trail so we took a super-conservative route to the second western trailhead, then onto the "X" trail looking for the bend. Very little about the western portion of the trail matched the supplemental map and David was going crazy trying to assimilate both maps. We also couldn't picture what a "change in forest maturity" would look like. We ended up attacking off of the property corner boundary but no luck. We canvassed the area, no luck. I tried to ask the black lab for help but he just wagged his tail. We finally popped out onto the eastern portion of the trail and were going to relocate from one of the eastern juctions. But before we got there, we noticed an obvious bend with an unmapped, overground connector trail branching off of it. We took it on a whim and found CP21. We were happy to have got the CP but frustrated at how much time we lost! Time to GET OUT of those woods!

With the dog still with us, we ran north to CPs 20 and 19. We tried to shoo it away before Hwy 50, but it crossed with us and was almost hit twice. I screamed. The dog made it to the other side alive, and we caught up with MRA at CP20. We each took different routes to the waterfall at CP19 but they were about equal after we both had trouble finding the physical punch, hung several meters above and to the side of the waterfall itself. We knew the next CPs were in town so yelled at the dog and tried hitting it with a stick. It wasn't fun but finally stopped following us. We ran as much as we could on paved Hwy 50 climb into Versailles.

HILARY: We finally got out of the water a bit before 4:00pm. Alpine Shop was in TA finishing plotting the next section - a foot trek back to Race HQ. With our soaking wet map, the plotting was challenging - even with a sharpie. We got our points and started moving, but we were tired and stiff, so not as much running as we would normally do. We weren't feeling a lot of hope for catching the two speedy teams in front of us. We picked up the few points that brought us up to the North, including a "vegetation boundary" that wasn't (CP21), a weird building foundation on a hill, and a waterfall. At the foundation CP, we were surprised to run into Alpine Shop, who had picked up a buddy along the way - a friendly black lab, who befriended us as well. As we all headed out toward Versailles they yelled at the dog to make it run away, effectively pawning him off on us. We tried doing this as well, but eventually, the dog joined back up with us. Highway 50 was "legal but discouraged" by the race director, but it was the shortest way into town so we took it anyway. Unfortunately, this dog kept finding us and then randomly running out on the highway. Cars were giving us evil looks like we were the worst people ever running down the road with our backpacks and unleashed dog. I was mouthing "not ours" at them. I doubt that helped.

TREK 1B (CPs 16-18)
The water tower!
RACHEL: I am not exactly a heights person, so climbing straight up a water tower on a rung ladder 120 feet, then rappelling back down didn't look like a ton of fun to me. Somehow I made it through getting up there without freaking out (using a song to keep my rhythm of climbing and mind off the height helped!), but once ready for the rappel, it took an extra 5 minutes for me to figure out exactly how to get over the railing. If I were taller it would be no problem, but it was awkward for me. I closed my eyes for most of the way down too!

On our way out from the tower we saw Alpine Shop running towards us, to our surprise. David said something about CP21 (the forest maturity one), and we realized they had had trouble and we now had a good 20 minutes on them.

Somewhere on that trek section we all ran out of food, too. I had packed all of my food for the whole race, but knew I was short and was planning to bum off Mike and Greg towards the end of the race. However, when we transitioned to the paddle, we didn't restock their food as much as we needed to, so neither of them had more than just a few hours of food with them. I shared mine and ran out myself as well, so we were all in a definite hole calorie-wise by this time. We somehow managed to run the rest of the trek through town and back up to the HQ (okay we walked the last hill...more like plodded). I think Mike's comment was that he felt "hollow," so we knew we needed to eat, quickly!

EMILY: Finally dog-free, we ran straight into town and got a split on Bushwhacker as they were leaving the rappel - I think we were about 20-30 minutes down at that point. We got to the water tower, climbed up the 120' ladder, and rappelled off. I went first and took my time getting over the railing, then everything else was fine. Except, the dog was at the bottom!! It had followed MRA instead, and I felt really bad that they had to deal with that not-smart animal on the busy road. Once the boys were done with the rappel, we got the other CP in town, and the covered bridge CP18 on the way back to Race HQ. The dog was still with us entering the park. Once back at HQ, we learned that Bushwhacker had left about 5 minutes ago but we still needed to plot the next section. 

HILARY: We made it to the water tower for the rappel with the dog still alive. We had to climb up the ladder to the rail on the water tower and then rappel down. The safety on the climb was a prussic, but I would have much preferred an ascender. I would have felt safer and it would have been easier than manually pulling this prussic up the rope. The climb was the hardest part. The rappel was a rappel. After picking up 2 points on the way back to the TA, we moved on to the bike section, which they said wasn't the last leg.

BIKE 2A (CP 26)

RACHEL: Once back at Race HQ we gorged ourselves. I even ate some protein frog gel thing Mike had that was absolutely disgusting. We had a big biking section ahead of us, and knew there were even more CP's once we got done with that. This transition took a little longer because of that, but it was much needed. Finally we were on our bikes and ready to hit it.

We could do the bike loop clockwise or counterclockwise, and Mike chose clockwise, which worked out really well. The first CP (CP26) actually had an extra challenge at it - we had to paddle a raft across the river and get the punch on a hilltop. The hill was insult to injury for us since we were still waiting for our food to hit our legs, but we made it back across and were happy to do that in the daylight instead of later at night. As soon as we got back to our bikes, Alpine Shop rolled in, looking strong. So we knew they chose the same route, and had made up some time on us to boot.

EMILY: We plotted and zoomed out after Bushwhacker. The bike section was a big road loop that we chose to go clockwise on. It should be noted that Jeff decided to put on dry socks and his "good" mountain bike shoes for this. At the first CP, we saw Bushwhacker and initially were surprised to have made up that much time. But it turns out CP26 was a surprise paddle event and they were just leaving. We took an inflatable raft and toy paddles down to the lake, hiked it across a mud flat and then paddled to the opposite shore, hiked up a pretty steep hill for the punch, then paddled and mud-slogged back. Jeff's shoes were not dry after this fun little event and we were sure to remind him of that for the rest of the bike. 

HILARY: We took off on what looked to be a clean road ride so everyone put on dry stuff except me (I hadn't brought it). Our first planned point changed things. When we arrived, they told us we had to paddle a raft with mini paddles across the lake and get the point up on the hill. I hate surprises and "special challenges" like this. The water was too shallow, so we were mid-calf in muck. It was really just a gratuitous out and back in the mud to get us dirtier. Annoying and time wasting.

BIKE 2B (CPs 24-31)
RACHEL: After CP26 it was just digging deep to keep a fast pace on the bike. Greg and I took turns pulling while Mike waited for his calories to kick in. Mike's calories kicked in right about the time Greg started to really feel the fact that his rear brake had been rubbing the whole time, probably taking an extra 10% effort level out of him. We made it through a couple of out and backs without seeing Alpine Shop, so we were holding on to hope that we could see it through.

EMILY: Once back on our bikes, we chased HARD. Jeff and David alternated the biggest pulls and I put in a couple shorties. We kept hoping to see Bushwhacker's blinkie lights appear ahead of us and it just didn't happen. Even after the sun went down, we all still felt good and I was starting to lose hope that we would catch them. The nav was simple enough on roads, and all of the drivers we encountered were very polite. On the last out-n-back, we finally saw Bushwhacker's lights, cheered for them, and guessed that they had about a 10 minute lead still. We knew the race would come down to the final trek so we rode back into Race HQ pumped up.

HILARY: We got back on the bikes and hammered as much as we could. At least I felt like we were pushing the pace. About a third of the way through, my rear derailleur started acting up when I was in middle ring, so I was only able to use my big and small rings. I eventually settled on using mostly big and standing on the hills. Cross-chaining! At CP28, we had to make a choice - go down and get CP30 to try to clear the course or skip it and be sure to get back before the cut off. I was thinking we would probably make it, but the guys thought definitely not, so we skipped it. 

TREK 2 (CPs 32-35)

Supplemental map for final trek.
RACHEL: Once we made it back to the Race HQ, we quickly plotted the last trek. We were down to a little more than an hour of racing before the cut-off, so we knew immediately we weren't going to clear the course. Mike made the decision to just go for the two closest and easiest points, and maybe a third if there was time when we got the second. We ran down to the first one, another mile or two of road running since we hadn't had enough earlier. On our way back up we saw Alpine Shop running down to it as well, and estimated that we still had about 10 minutes on them. The clock was ticking, and at this point we knew it was impossible for us to get the third. We were just going to get the second one and then wait and see if Alpine Shop was moving quickly enough to get the third CP themselves. We soldiered through the last two climbs, up to the CP and then up to Race HQ, finishing with 34/36 CP's in 17 hours and 37 minutes. After a mere 11 minutes, Alpine Shop finished, having only punched the same two CP's we got. The third place team was our friends Silent Chasers, who managed to finish the full bike loop with less than one minute to go to the cutoff!! 

EMILY: We got back to Race HQ with about 55min remaining and 4 points left. Bushwhacker was gone but we TAd quickly and got out as well. We thought we had time for 2, mayyyybe 3, of the remaining CPs. We saw Bushwhacker on our first out-n-back for closest CP so we knew they had same route choice. As we were running to our second CP, we had a big strategy conversation and decided that we would not have enough time for a third, so our only chance for the win was to hope that Bushwhacker got greedy with 3 CPs/overtime. We ran back to Race HQ and saw Bushwhacker waiting for us at the finish line, having made the smart choice of getting only 2 CPs and therefore the win!

HILARY: We arrived at the finish missing 1 CP at 11:22pm. We still had almost 40 minutes , but DINO said we had to get 2 CPs to make continuing on the final trekking loop worth it and it didn't look doable in the time we had, so we called it a day.

RACHEL: The race was tough in the regard that there was a lot of road running, which seems to be common for DINO races, and the paddle was probably one of my more memorable ones as well. I actually felt pretty good the whole race, though, so that was nice. Exciting and close race, awesome job to Alpine Shop, Silent Chasers, and Michigan Racing Addicts for pushing hard and getting it done!

EMILY: Obviously we were bummed about the prologue and CP21 but what can you do. Bushwhacker ran a great race and I was stoked to see my 2 Cowboy Tough teammates crush it. As always, it was really fun to hear everyone's race stories as we all hung out eating meatball sandwiches and SALAD!!! 

HILARY: A 2 Male team, Silent Chasers, came in 10 seconds before the cut off with all the bike points, and edged us out for 3rd overall. We ended up with 3rd in the 3-coed, though. Overall, it was a solid race and we were happy with how we did.

Final results: http://www.dinoseries.com/storage/results/2014/mission/MissionResults2014.html
Adventure Capitalists/BDAR: http://heathersyapcrap.blogspot.com/2014/05/2014-mission-18-hour-adventure-race.html
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12 May 2014

Race Report: 2014 Cedar Cross

Just 6 days after finishing 8th at the 2014 Cohutta 100, I was packing up again for another hundred-mile journey on two wheels. This one was a lot closer though, just a 2-hour drive from St. Louis instead of the 7+ hours it took to get to Tennessee!

In just 3 short years, The Cedar Cross has established itself as one of the most fun bike events of the entire year. The brainchild of Mr. Bob Jenkins (Team Virtus-ian extraordinaire), this ride/non-race/race is a 112-mile odyssey through the gravel roads, singletrack, and Katy Trail of central Missouri. Most riders choose 'cross or gravel bikes, but the course can be and has been crushed on everything from a vintage single-speed cruiser to a geared carbon fatbike. The soul of the event is true to Bob himself - just show up with the bike you have, give the course a good college try, and then stick around for the festivities afterward. If you want to race it, then race it. If you want to pedal with your friends, then pedal with your friends. Stopping for hard salami sandwiches is encouraged, as are picnics in front of nuclear reactors. No douchebaggery allowed.
Me and Tyler discussing the awesomeness of Cedar Cross.
Photo by Brent Newman.
So you can understand why I was eager to get on the road to Cedar Cross. To avoid an 0430 wake-up call on Saturday morning, Maria and I left St. Louis on Friday night to meet up with some jerks at a little hostel in Tebbetts, MO. Close to the starting line and decidedly NOT expensive, we found the Turner Katy Trail Shelter/Hostel to be the perfect launching point for a weekend of bicycle fun. We were hardly expecting everyone to be sleeping already when we rolled in at 10pm, but they were, so we just grabbed two bunks and crashed out! The next morning we were serenaded by Nico...'s radio crooning Merle Haggard's Okie from Muskokie. This could not be more perfect. The five of us (me, Maria, Zoll, the "other" EK, and Matt) run through normal morning routines, and I am fascinated by the boys' breakfast of tamales. So fascinated in fact, that I almost forget we still have to drive 15 minutes to the Cedar Cross start line and it's like 7:30 RIGHT NOW!! Ha! Classic Emily lateness! So we hurriedly throw the bikes onto Maria's car and peel out of Tebbetts.
Bob addressing the crowd, before the first roll-out. Challenge: how many EKs are in this picture?
Photo by Brent Newman.
We arrive at the Cedar Cross HQ with not very many minutes to spare, but turns out the 8:00 start time's been pushed back a bit as well so it's all good. I get the Thunderchicken all ready to go, and line up for the first of two neutral roll outs. Two roll outs? Yes. It's Cedar Cross. Just go with it. So first we ride over to a nearby shelter where Kayne Kirchner is waiting with his shred-tastic version of the National Anthem. Then we have a SECOND roll-out led by Bob's dad's truck out of Cedar City until we hit the first gravel section.
Bob, Luke, and Dave in Bob's Dad's truck.
Photo by Nicole Stacey.
Peat, Maria, and I on course, right about the time where we were discussing the day's strategy.
Photo by Nicole Stacey.
Let me give you a little side note here. When I'm racing the "bigger" races like NUEs, I like to ride rather conservatively. A strong finish is more important to me than a podium finish, which is WAY more important to me than a DNF...mostly because I've usually invested significant money and travel time into getting to that start line. But for local, less-big events like MFXC and Cedar Cross, all bets are off. I use these events to ride hard, above my perceived all-day threshold, because if I blow up, it's not a big deal. And if I don't blow up, then I know I can go harder at the next big race. It's SO beneficial to my development as an endurance racer to have these low-risk opportunities to push myself. So that's my plug for grassroots (non-)racing. Love it!

Second neutral roll-out.
Photo by Nicole Stacey.
The first part of the first 47 miles are spent easing into the day. I started with Maria, Peat, SS Kate, HH, LT, Nico, and Matt towards the front, but I feel lonely for my Alpine Shop teammates so I drift back a ways to find Jeff and David. We joke about going through teammate withdrawal since we haven't trained together recently (boys were at the OGRE when I was at Cohutta), and it feels good to be reunited. So we all bring each other up to speed on our respective races and recoveries, and then I get the bug to catch up to Maria and SS Kate. Jeff, David and I work together (also good practice for our adventure race next weekend) to bridge within sight of the lead group, and then latch onto the group that Maria and SS Kate are a part of.
Lamb child minding the gate!
Photo by Brent Newman.
Right as we catch the herd, we are funneled through a narrow gate by the Lamb family and into one of the special features of the Cedar Cross course: the cow field. We are riding through University of Missouri research land, and I guess they are choosing to research grazing patterns of cattle because the course takes us through several gated sections of pasture, each patrolled by an enthusiastic Lamb child. What an awesome family! The course follows a faintly rutted jeep road that is very bumpy - even bumpier than the final singletrack of Cohutta, and I'm on a rigid fork this time!
The cow field. There is a faint two-track but mostly we are just riding through the grass.
Photo by Brent Newman.
But I focus on relaxing my upper body and pretty soon the jeep track narrows into....SINGLETRACK! ON A CROSS BIKE! Seriously this is my favorite thing ever. I don't know why - something about drop bars, skinny-ish tires, and narrow trails just plasters a huge grin across my face. Maria and I rip downhill with Jeff and David following closely behind. We pop out onto gravel and hook up with Peat for a few miles of Team Noah bonding.
Shred it!
Photo by Dave Beattie.
A few more miles of gravel, another singletrack section (wheeeeeeeee!), and the 4 of us (me, Maria, David, Jeff) are still all together. We buckle down and ride hard, trading pulls on the gently rolling Missouri gravel. We are able to catch SS Kate a few miles before the drop bag station, and continue to push the pace. Or rather, I continue to hang on to Jeff's wheel as he puts in a big effort (since he's decided to wait for Carrie at the drop bags) and pulls us all into drop bag heaven.

I have a moment of slight panic when I realize that the drop bag station doesn't have extra water! I've packed 24oz, and have some left in my bottles, but I really need another 40oz to be happy for the rest of the day. Thankfully, a dude in a Walt's kit has extra water than he lets me use...thanks! David and I quickly re-supply and then roll south onto another section of singletrack. Could this day get any better? No, no it could not. The Battlefinch crushes and we even stop to be super nice to some equestrians, just sharing the trail karma love. Plus I like horses. David and I pop out on the other side of the singletrack and work together to keep the pace high. I am pretty sure I'm the lead chick at this point and I'd like to keep it that way!
Rolling out of the drop bag station.
Photo by Dave Beattie.
Around mile 50 we come down a hill and make a right turn, and almost immediately my Garmin chirps "off course". I haven't really been paying attention to the cue sheets, so we ride slowly as I try to figure out just exactly where we are. And while we're inching along, my rear tire flats out. Ugh! So David helps me change it, and I spend a few extra minutes digging a very stubborn thorn out of the tread. Annoying but at least I found it now! HH rolls by, and then back again with the Rolla Green Giant as they both agree we are off course. Now that my tire has decided to hold air again, we re-trace our steps about 1/2 mile back to the confusing intersection, where HH stops to re-position the tape (so nice!) and David and I keep motoring. I am fairly certain that SS Kate is now ahead of me since she wasn't that far behind at the drop bags, so David and I go into full-blown chase mode. This is exactly what I wanted out of this day - a really hard, honest effort to see what would explode first: my legs, my brain, or my heart.
If you're going to go All Out for a rest or sprint, you've got to be able to pull the pin, hold the grenade, go all in, and not care what happens after. Focus on what needs to be done, not the consequences immediately after. Be willing to blow sky high to get what you need to get. #projectdeliverance.
The miles click over as the day continues to be perfect - sunny, some wind but not horrible, and temps that are warm but I'm loving them. David and I work together, sharing pulls with whomever we happen to roll up on next. I remember a lot of the course from last year and start checking off the landmarks - crossing Hwy 54, Ham's Prairie Gas Station, the long swooping downhill to Auxvasse Creek, and then the grunty climb up the other side. It's here that I hear a familiar voice behind us, which turns out to be Zoll and Matt! These guys have been flip-flopping with me all day, due to Matt's leaky tire and Zoll's luxurious rest stops. But we all glom together at the top of the exposed climb. They wisely stopped at Ham's Prairie for a sandwich (not hard salami though...turkey) and share some course intel that SS Kate is still ahead but with a steady pace we might be able to reel her in. My mind doesn't process the "steady pace" part of that sentence and I jump ahead like I'm an attacking roadie. Zoll calmly rides up and scolds me for trying to take on the chase by myself. It's much smarter to stick with these three super strong (and much taller) guys to work together against the impending wind and monotony of the final 30 miles. He's right, of course, so I tuck in behind as we all swoop down the "totally badass downhill" and robert onto the Katy Trail.

Oh, the Katy Trail. I said it last year, and I'll say it again this year: when you get to the Katy, your mind shuts down. You think you have "just a few, flat, easy" miles until the finish line. Ha. WRONG! You have almost 30 miles of the same 10' wide, pea-gravel path between you and a deliciously cold beer. Some of it's exposed to the sun and wind, too. Physically, yes, it's easier than the rest of the course. But mentally, you're really only half-way done. And in my case, there's still a lot of gap to chew up between me and SS Kate, and the real estate is rapidly running out.
Bridge on the Katy Trail. Photo by Brent Newman.
Matt and Zoll stop to tend to Matt's tire, and David and I set the pace at a comfortably firm 16-17mph. We roll up to a Walt's rider, who turns out to be the person that gave me water at mile 47! It's great to meet Generous Ben! We begin to talk calories and David's decided that he wants to stop at mile 88 for more water. I'm feeling good about my situation, and still wanting to chase down SS Kate, tell him that I'm going to ride through. He offers to pull the next 3ish miles into Mokane so I happily slot in behind his wheel, just off to the side a little bit to hide from the cross wind. I decide to dig a sandwich out of my bento, stop paying attention for the smallest fraction of a second, and before I can react, my front wheel overlaps into David's rear wheel, knocking me off balance and sending me crashing to the ground. Owwwww. David, who escapes unscathed, stops immediately to survey the damage. I'm scraped up on my left side, and the Warbird's bars are skewed at a horrible angle. Generous Ben stops too but we urge him on once we figure out that neither bones nor bike are broken. David straightens my bars, I make sure my (brand new) shorts aren't torn, then I gingerly remount for a noticeably less tenacious chase pace. I feel pretty dumb. Overlapping wheels is a big no-no for drafting, and it's entirely my fault that I'm bleeding.
Earlier in the day, NOT on the Katy. Photo by Nicole Stacey.
David pulls me the rest of the way to Mokane, and by the time we get there, it's clear that I've only suffered mere flesh wounds - riding is just fine. David peels off and I'm left to chase on my own now. I continue hustling until the mile 93 turn onto some flat farm roads. It's nice to take a break from the Katy, but I know from last year that these farm roads are completely exposed to sun/wind and can be really tough. I do my best to keep chasing but after only about a mile, I mentally crack. I haven't got any idea how far the gap is up to SS Kate, I have no idea if it's shrinking or growing, and I've just stopped having fun. Cedar Cross, above all, is supposed to be a fun day on bikes, and I'm not here to disappoint Bob Jenkins. So I relax my pace, sit up a little bit, and very shortly am caught by Generous Ben. He is hurting too but together we can at least laugh at ourselves. We chat and make a pact to have a snack at mile 100 - Ben has a banana and I have a Snickers to contribute. It's a great idea! With our easier pace, I can look up and actually appreciate the perfect weather we are enjoying today. As I'm glancing around, I spot another beautiful sight - Zoll and Matt motoring on up to us! I am so happy to have their company and gleefully jump on Zoll's wheel as they pass by. Ben is with us too and we (wo)-man train back to the Katy at mile 97.
The Cedar Cross
Missoury loves company.
The boys' company has re-energized me and we hit mile 100 soon after. I'm not paying attention to mileage, but Ben is and we enjoy a rolling banana/Snickers buffet. Yum! Matt and Zoll are crushing their singlespeeds and the pace is high for me at this point, but if I stay in their draft I can hang on. Ben drops off at some point and that leaves the three of us to make the final turn off the Katy at mile 102. Matt stops to mess with his tire one more time, but Zoll and I continue soft-pedaling. AND THEN I SPOT A LONE RIDER IN THE DISTANCE!!! Could it be SS Kate? Honestly, the rider is pretty far ahead, and I'm not terribly thrilled about the pain that a 10-mile hard chase could bring. But Zoll encourages me to go for it, so together we ramp the pace back up. It does not feel good, and I try to argue that we should wait for Matt. Zoll assures me that Matt will be able to catch us, no problem, and we definitely need to at least see who that rider is way up there. So we grunt and whine our way back up to 16-17mph and hold on.
Matt, me, Zoll in the final miles. Photo by Nicole Stacey.
Sure enough, Matt catches us and we do our best to crush out the remaining miles. We are reeling in the lone rider bit by bit, but as we get closer I'm pretty sure it's not SS Kate. At this point I'm completely fine with 2nd place; I just want to be done! We pass through the tricky section from last year with no issues, and are greeted at the finish line by an enthusiastic crowd, complete with beer spraying from water bottles! How festive! Turns out the lone rider was my friend Don, so we congratulate him on an excellent ride as everyone stuffs their faces with beer, baked potatoes, cupcakes, and SuperCookies. We also found SS Kate who didn't know she had passed me until the finish line! Congrats on an excellent ride!
Official results!
The finish line at Cedar Cross is one of the nicest around. There is plenty of cold beer thanks to Team Fohty and Schrock Bike & Brews. It seems like everyone who rolls across the line made a new friend or two out on the course, and can't wait to have a beverage together. The whole atmosphere is just a celebration of what makes Missouri grassroots cycling great - a guy with a cool idea, the motivation to make it happen, and a bunch of his friends who want in. Thanks again Bob Jenkins for all of your hard work! Besides my Team Noah and Alpine Shop teammates, I get to catch up with my favorite ultra-runner Jim, who apparently decided 265 miles of Trans-Iowa was not enough and needed to tack on 112 more for good measure. Good on you Jim!
Beer, baked potato, blood.
Photo by Zoelle.
I got exactly what I wanted out of my day at Cedar Cross. I pushed hard, suffered through a mental blow-up around mile 95, then rallied and finished over TWO HOURS faster than last year. That's huge, and I only got there because I was willing to take chances. Non-races like this are very important to me for finding weaknesses in my endurance racing armor, and then figuring out strategies to eliminate those weaknesses. AND I got to ride with some of my favorite people - thanks to everyone who kept me company out there! Can't wait until the next long one! And make sure you read about the final finisher at Cedar Cross, next year I will stick around longer!

photos by Dave Beattie: https://www.facebook.com/skibum77/media_set?set=a.4077065103042.1073741825.1774947996&type=3
photos by Nicole Stacey: https://www.facebook.com/matthew.stacey.353/media_set?set=a.698747043516997.1073741827.100001451225058&type=1
photos by Brent Newman: https://www.facebook.com/brent.newman.505/media_set?set=a.4204236721161.1073741910.1742185097&type=1
photos by Luke Lamb: https://www.facebook.com/lukaslamb1/media_set?set=a.10152494182218777.1073741832.620703776&type=1
SuperKate: http://kate-my-mind.blogspot.com/2014/05/cedar-cross-2014.html

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