If you weren’t at Cedar Cross, you might just want to stop reading this right now. I don’t know of any other grassroots race that begins with an electric guitar and ends with fireworks, but those were only the bookends to an epic day. The weather was about as perfect as you could hope, the singletrack was in good shape, the beer was cold, I hear the potatoes were hot, and the company was spectacular. So basically, if you missed this year’s Cedar Cross, you really missed out on something special.
Covering 113 miles in a combination of gravel roads and singletrack, Cedar Cross would be an awesome race no matter what, but it’s particularly important to me because it’s put on my one of my best friends (and teammates). That connection gives me a small feeling of ownership, despite the fact that I do none of the planning or legwork, so I spent the weeks before the race stalking the “who’s registered” page like a hawk and was thrilled to see the surge of entries as the race date neared.
A number of those late entries had spent the previous weekend at the OGRE (150 miles of uber-hilly gravel in the Missouri Ozarks), Cohutta (100 mile mountain bike race), or Trans Iowa (300+ miles of gravel and farm roads in Iowa), and I was especially excited to see Jim Phillips appear on the roster. I’ve been reading his blog (you should check it out. He totally qualifies as SuperJim, except that in his case it’s actually true and would be bragging) since my first attempt at Dirty Kanza, but we’d never met in person. Having just stalked his attempt at Trans Iowa (giving my completely uninterested husband detailed updates every time new information appeared on Trans Iowa Radio or Facebook), I was stoked about the opportunity for an in-person race report instead of waiting for the blog post. Plus, his friend (and my facebook friend) Collin was coming as well, which meant I could move two more people from the internet-only column to the “friends I’ve actually met” side.
In vast contrast to all these gravel badasses, I’d spent my previous weekend volunteering with my bike at running races, first leading the way at my school’s 5K and later patrolling a 5-ish mile section of Katy Trail for 4 hours during the Uncorked 100K relay. The 47 miles I rode that day is embarrassingly small compared to what I should be riding, but spending hours riding your bike back and forth on the same short section of flat trail is certainly good mental training.
A scheduling snafu (I can only imagine Bob’s stress level when he found out at pretty much the last minute that a local 5K was being held at his reserved race HQ) had necessitated moving the start/finish, and I pulled into the new location plenty early. Even so, I felt sure I was forgetting something as we headed towards the start line. Perhaps I should spend more time on organization and less on socialization, but there were so many cool people to greet and catch up with…my teammates, Chuck, the gentlemen of Team TOG, Jeff and Carrie, Peat, Jim and Collin, my bike fixing hero John, my stlbiking forum buddy David (who enjoyed his initial gravel foray at Tour of Hermann enough to sign on for the Cedar Sapling), Stephanie and Lisa, Don, Zoll, and Anne and Ceilidh (Team Virtus’s family by choice rather than by blood)…and so many more cool people all in one place.
|Me, Anne, and Luke. Anne has been super supportive of our team ever since hearing about it.|
Because I lined up way towards the back of the pack, I couldn’t hear Bob’s pre-race speech, though the laughs, clapping, and partial striptease suggested it was pretty entertaining. Next year I’m lining up at the front (or commissioning a video); one way or another I’m going to hear what’s so funny. Bob finished talking, and then his dad led a neutral rollout …to a second (original) starting line, where Kayne, the teenage electric guitar player, was set up after not getting the message that the race had been moved. The amount of stress he had probably felt when he arrived at a 5K instead of a parking lot full of bikes wasn’t in evidence as he shredded the National Anthem and then sent us off (for real, this time) with Led Zepplin ringing in our ears.
|And this is the view from the back|
|Team TOG. Love those guys.|
Second rollout to SAG stop (47 miles in):
I started off in a small group with Adam, Chuck, Jody, Kevin, and Stephanie, and the beginning of the race was pretty nice, surrounded by friends and comfortable on the gravel. We all rolled together for quite a while, and though I recognized a lot
of the territory from previous excursions, I managed to keep my internal
tour-guide spiel to myself (“Bob used to live down that street!” “This
was the first gravel road I ever rode on!” “That radio tower was a CP at
|L-R: Jim’s hand (I think), me, Collin, Jody, Chuck. Jim is apparently part ninja and somehow avoided being in any pictures from this stretch of the ride. Photo credit: Kevin Autenrieth|
The first big hill sucked, but I had the chance to talk to Collin and Jim (when I could catch my breath) and get a small demonstration of the “does this make you nervous game” where people ride as close to you as possible until you get uncomfortable. My handling is crappy enough that it doesn’t take much to scare me, but I just trusted that Jim probably wasn’t going to knock me over and focused instead on not having a heart attack as I climbed.
|“This pond is where the mystery event was at the Deuce! There was a checkpoint in the woods to the right of this pond at the CAC!”|
I enjoyed getting to know Collin a little better. Having read Jim’s blog with stalker-ish thoroughness, I felt like I already knew him well enough to just focus my interrogation on his Trans Iowa experiences. Getting to follow those guys through the field and down the first stretch of singletrack was pretty cool, and learning that Jim had gone over his handlebars at the end of it made me feel a little less bad about bailing on a spot that made me nervous.
|Me chickening out.
Photo credit: Dave Beattie
|Me saying, “Don’t take a picture of that!”|
We split from our big group about 25 miles in when Adam knocked the valve off of his Camelbak hose and we turned around to see if we could find it. The few minutes we looked were enough to separate us from the pack, but neither of us was too concerned since our main goal was just to log some miles in preparation for Dirty Kanza. The second stretch of singletrack was far more rideable than last year’s mudfest, though it also featured a lot of this:
Kate [putting foot down after getting nervous about something easy]: Why don’t you just go ahead of me? You could ride this and then I wouldn’t keep stopping you!
Adam: It’s fine…I’m not in any hurry.
|Looks fun, huh? It’s easily as steep as it looks.|
The “Jeff Yielding staircase of pain” sucked just as much as it did last year, but then we were off of the singletrack and pretty quickly back onto the gravel. A highlight of this next stretch was the hill leading down to Rutherford Bridge where we built up some serious speed; after I chickened out and started braking, I saw 41 mph on my Garmin and smiled again at my progress since last year’s Cedar Cross. Adam, who witnessed numerous examples of my downhill wimpiness in 2013, noticed it too: “You never would have done that last year!”
The doubletrack after the bridge was mostly rideable, but the rollers afterwards were covered in a thick layer of new gravel: big, chunky, almost river-bottom gravel that wasn’t a lot of fun to ride through. Still, I felt great when we pulled into the SAG stop at mile 47, and I was super excited to see that there were still a lot of people there.
I hadn’t eaten a ton of food during the first stretch of the race, which made refilling my stocks from my drop bag a little tricky. I ate some food while stopped, stuffed some extras into my pack, and then saw John eating a pickle spear, which immediately sounded like the most delicious thing possible. Thankfully, he had extras and shared with me. We probably spent around 40 minutes at the SAG stop before riding off towards the third and final stretch of singletrack.
SAG stop to Hams Prairie gas station (70 miles in):
Chuck, Steph, Jody, and Kevin had left ahead of us, but we caught up with them on the singletrack because Steph had broken her rear shifter. I really felt for her since the exact same thing just happened to me at Tour of Hermann, and with almost over half of Cedar Cross left, I knew she wasn’t going to be able to finish. In actuality, I knew nothing and got a good lesson in toughness and overcoming adversity; the guys helped her get set in a rear gear she could ride, and she finished the last 70ish miles of the race with only two gears.
Steph’s mechanical woes gave us more company, but our little pack fractured once again when Chuck stopped for water at Dry Fork campground (“We camped here for the first CAC!”). Adam and I rode ahead, but the group soon passed us when Adam started feeling sick and we slowed down. He urged me to go on ahead, but I wouldn’t leave behind the guy who babysat me for all of Cedar Cross last year, especially the last 12 or so miles where I was one notch below full-on meltdown. Instead, I’d ride for a little bit and then wait for him to catch up. I spent this section of the race yo-yoing with the same people: they’d pass me while I was stopped, then I’d catch up once I got going again.
One of the yo-yo people was a guy who was having some issues with his brakes, and he ended up riding quite a bit with Adam. I was a good enough teammate to wait, but not to stick together, which kind of made me feel bad about myself, but knowing that I’d feel way better if I got some breaks off my bike seat, I was selfish. There was a little girl with a lemonade stand set up at mile 58; I thought about stopping but knew I didn’t have any change or anything smaller than a $10 (a common problem, so that little entrepreneur made bank). As we passed a house at mile 59 a woman called out to us: “If you’re thirsty I have a cooler full of Gatorades over there!”
Whaaaat? Last year the only interaction I had with the public was someone yelling at us to go ride on the Katy Trail. This was soooo much better. The woman came over and explained that she’d been working in her yard and, seeing all these bicyclists going by, thought that they must be really hot and thirsty. How kind! I can’t imagine anything tasting any better than that Gatorade did, and I’m definitely taking something special to leave at her house next year. While we were chugging our cold drinks, I introduced myself to yellow jersey guy: “Apparently we’re going to be seeing a lot of each other today. I’m Kate.” It turns out Dan has read my blog, something that never fails to surprise me and make me happy.
It seemed like no time until I was pulling into the gas station at Hams Prairie, and I was delighted to see that most of my friends were still there. I laid my bike down so that I could run in and buy some food and drinks; instead Noelle, who was there supporting the Red Wheel crew, filled up my Camelbak and both of my water bottles. So, in case you’re counting, that’s two people in ten miles who gave me drinks and took care of me (plus Luke, who’d brought me a sandwich to the SAG stop). I don’t care what my grumpy husband says…people are awesome.
Adam and I took our time at the gas station. Once again, I had a hard time finding something I wanted to eat. I settled for a Snickers ice cream bar, a Coke (which I don’t even like, but drinking Diet Coke would be silly on a day I needed calories), one of my own rice cakes (half of which I proceeded to drop on the floor), and a big dill pickle. No, I’m not pregnant.
Hams Prairie to the finish (113 miles):
With Adam’s stomach now behaving itself, we made fantastic time after leaving Hams Prairie. Last year we’d had trouble riding together on the flats because his singlespeed would spin out once we got going too fast (and on the uphills, where he’d crush me…and on the downhills, where he’d fly down while I gripped the brakes the whole time), but with Adam riding gears on his new Vaya it was way easier to stick together. We made short work of the ten miles to the nuclear power plant, both of us riding the big hill that we’d had to walk last year.
|Mandatory power plant picture|
We caught Christine on the hill before the power plant and then passed Dan and another guy we’d been leapfrogging near the descent to the Katy, riding downhill as a group of four to the entrance to the trail, where we got an awesome surprise. Jim and Aaron were waiting there! I was thrilled to meet up with them and get to ride some together.
The wind, which had barely registered all day, had picked up a little, so Dan and the other guy suggested riding in a paceline. We did that for a while, but by the time we reached Mokane that had kind of broken up. It’s effective but boring, and eventually we opted to pass the time with conversation rather than efficiency.
I had dreaded the Katy Trail section. If you look at the elevation profile of the race, it looks like once you get to the flat Katy section you have it made. No more hills! But then it’s just a long, boring grind. Maybe it was the fact that I felt far better at this point than I had last year or maybe it was the paceline moving us along that helped, but the Katy Trail flew by. The gravel roads afterwards…not so much. The first one seemed to take for. ev. er. By the second one, I was done enough to ask Adam (who’s much more familiar with the area) how much longer we had…and to be very unhappy with the answer. The last 7 miles or so crawled by, but eventually we were on the paved road that signaled the end was near.
And then we were riding up to the finish line, where I spotted Bob waiting to douse us with a big cooler and slowed waaaay down, letting Adam take the brunt of the shower.
And then it was over and we’d finished, before dark, not last, and feeling overall pretty darn good. Yes, I had lots of breaks and perfect weather, but as pre-Kanza long rides go, it was very encouraging. My cruising speed is up, I’m far more comfortable on gravel, faster on downhills, and better on climbs. Besides that, my attitude towards uphills is shifting. I won’t say that I enjoy them, but I’m starting to see them more as challenges than affronts.
|See that light behind us?? That means my main goal for the day was met!|
I wouldn’t say that I’m confident about Dirty Kanza — even outside of the weather variable (and don’t think I haven’t been reading reports of awful winds there with dismay) you’re talking about a race nearly twice the distance of Cedar Cross — but I’m certainly less un-confident. That’s probably as good as it’s going to get until I cross the finish line, but it’s a good start.