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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  1. Great job out there! Sorry I missed you...I think I glimpsed you once that morning right after you pulled in and I was busy messing around with one of the many last-minute things I realized I needed to do.

    This report made me smile all over again at the differences between us. You're all, "Ooh, non-race, great opportunity to push possibly to blowing up and see what happens!" and I'm all, "Ooh, non-race, no pressure and I can just relax and have a good time."

    1. Yeah my morning was super frantic. Sorry that I missed you! Next time :)

  2. Awesome as always to see you out there! I overlapped Collin's wheel and crashed into the ditch on the Katy, glad I wasn't the only one.

    1. Yes! The Katy is a highly technical trail which demands 100% focus. FOCUS.

  3. Energor certainly was not smiling upon me when he prevented me from partaking in this year's Ced0r Cross. Next year.

    Looks like you had a kick-ass ride, musta been those socks.


    -The Crotch

    P.S. nice word - "glom"

    1. We had a moment of silence during the first roll-out for you. And by we I mean I. Next year, indeed. meow!

  4. An amazOrs day indeed, Kitten!