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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dirty what?

A quick look back through my blog posts since February will give evidence of the main track my mind has been traveling over the past four months, and "track" is a good term for it because some of the roads I'll be riding in Kansas are little better than dirt tracks between farm fields.  That's right, Dirty Kanza weekend is almost here. 

I've reread my posts about last year's race, especially the section about my feelings about my DNF, over an over again.  I've read and reread every other race report I could find, not even so much for information as to relive it through someone else.  I bought a new bike (and even made sure it was all tuned up for the race).  I've tried to turn over a new leaf as far as training, with moderate success.

May '12 is basically every training mile I rode before last year's race.  This year, I have 888 since the beginning of Feb.
I've ridden a lot of challenging gravel miles.  Thank goodness for Chuck, who got roped into this crazy race and lives much closer to me than my teammates.  He was way more conscientious with his training than I was, but he was always up for a training ride...and for figuring out where and how far and when we should meet.

Part of our North Hermann ride, perhaps my favorite of the year.

I've worked on my nutrition and know things that work for me. Perhaps more importantly, I've learned several times over how important it is to keep eating...something that tends to elude me on the bike despite never being an issue in real life.  And hey, I'm not riding my saddle for the very first time in a 200 mile race (like I did last year...not recommended and yet very much the right decision for me).

In short, I've done pretty well for me.  I spent the long weekend fighting a sinus infection and doing family stuff and planned to start packing yesterday.  And then Nathan woke up with a bad stomachache. 

The medicine didn't really help, so by 9:30 we were sitting in our doctor's office.  I always go into his appointments with him, but yesterday I thought, He's almost 19...he can go in by himself, and stayed in the waiting room.  That lasted until our doctor poked her head out the door and motioned me back.  Uh oh.  "I'm worried about appendicitis," she told me.

Along with appendicitis, I was worried about the fact that we're still paying on the boy's last surgery, so when she told us we could go home and see if the pain went away (if it wasn't appendicitis) before going for a CT scan I was up for that plan.  Nathan napped, and while I could've spent that couple of hours getting things together, instead I spent it freaking out and crying about medical bills.  But that's OK, because then I had it out of my system when he woke up still in pain.

Nathan was actually scheduled to see the doctor who did his previous surgery that very day and I had hoped we'd finish with the scans in time to cross the parking lot to the other office, but when his appointment time came we were still waiting for results.  I called the doctor to explain why we were missing, and he asked if I wanted him to find out the results.  It was a short jump from getting my answers to offering to do the operation, which is how my boy was in surgery within two hours and home by 9:00 yesterday evening.  A stressful day, made so much better by someone I knew and trusted stepping in and taking care of things.

Today, Nathan is sore but recovering.  Even though he's 18 I feel a little guilty leaving him on his own for the weekend right after surgery.  I'm leaving tomorrow evening, and I have almost nothing ready.  I spent tonight watching Harry Potter with my boys.  It'll all get done, or it won't.  It's so weird to have been thinking about this race so much for the last few months and now feel so...huh...it's almost here.  Detached, I guess. 

I'm sure the excitement (or terror) will kick in once we're on the way.  I've got a lot of online friends I'm looking forward to meeting this weekend, and every trip I take with Team Virtus is a blast.  You never know what will happen with weather or mechanicals, but if everything goes well I think I can finish.  Not fast, but honestly just dragging my ass across the finish line will be win enough for me.  We leave at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, and I'll try to post some updates on my facebook page or the SuperKate page; remember that my phone is my only way of calling for a rescue, so I'll probably keep the posting to a minimum.  You can also check for updates on the Team Virtus facebook page, where hopefully our crew can post some information about how it's going. 

Also, good luck to Cory, Cheri, and Christina, who are all tackling their own monster events on Saturday.  I can't wait to hear all about it!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Broemmelsiek +

With all the gravel riding I've been doing as Dirty Kanza prep, it's been easy to ignore my other bikes.  The road bike has been languishing on the trainer ever since February, when my cross bike arrived, and the mountain bike has been resentfully lurking in the garage, waiting for its turn for fresh air.  Despite really really wanting to do well ("well" defined as finishing) at DK, though, one of my major goals for the year was to improve on the mountain bike.  This goal, like my bikes, has been sadly neglected. Goals aside, I really love mountain biking, though this love is complicated by layers of fear and self-loathing interspersed with dashes of joy, relief, and pride.  I've never stuck with something so difficult for me in my life.  Well, except my first marriage, and mountain biking is definitely more rewarding than that.

When the Broemmelsiek race showed up on the schedule two weeks before Dirty Kanza, I decided to do the 3 hr race and then ride gravel afterwards. That would give me three hours of mountain bike practice as well as some additional training miles.  I wasn't the only one thinking along these lines.

Great minds think alike!

So that was the plan, though my excitement tapered as the race neared. I rode Cliff Cave with a friend on Monday, and the fun swoopy trails had instilled some confidence in me.  This was reversed Wednesday night when I felt much more slow and tentative on my home trails.  Then Friday night I woke up remembering a tricky root followed by a short, sketchy downhill where I'd struggled last time I rode Broemmelsiek.  Nerves commenced.  Having been chastised by a friend for my relentless negativity about my (lack of) skills, though, I made a real effort NOT to say anything negative (out loud) during my pre-race preparations.

Marathon (the 3 hr division - as many laps as you can ride in the time given), Cat 3 (they ride 2 laps), and Juniors all started at 9:30: first marathon men, then marathon women, then cat 3 men, then cat 3 women, then juniors.  Since I was racing marathon, that left basically all of the cat 3 men and likely all the women and juniors to pass me within the first section of the race.  The thought of being passed used to really stress me out (I'm not competitive enough to care that someone's passing me, but I don't want to hold anyone up), but once I started racing I realized it's not a big deal.  The cool person to douchebag ratio is super high among the people I've encountered in the St. Louis mountain biking scene, and it's not as hard to get out of the way as I'd feared.  On the other hand, having to constantly get out of the way is a pain, so it was a relief once they were all past.

Each lap started with a slight downhill into a creek crossing, then a climb to the field.  Broemmelsiek has wooded areas connected by prairie paths.  Due to the wet weather, the field paths were badly eroded and hadn't had much bike traffic to smooth them out.  Never a particularly fun section of the race, the joy was compounded by the near 90 degree temperatures as the race went on.  This being my first ride in real heat, I struggled, and the realization that everyone else was dealing with the same conditions wasn't much comfort.

Don't I look like I'm having fun?  (Photo credit: Mike Dawson)
If the fields kind of sucked, though, the wooded sections were pretty awesome.  While my pace was nothing to write home about by anyone else's standards, it was good for me.  Better yet, I felt much more comfortable and confident on the singletrack than is typical for me.  I spent most of the first lap waiting for the tricky section I remembered from 2011, and when I reached it I went over the root with no problem and down the loose rock of the hill without stopping.  Progress! If nothing else, this year's race serves as a benchmark showing that yes, two years of mountain biking have led to improvement.

Compared to other racers' pictures from the day, I'm still very stiff. (Photo credit: Mike Dawson)
The laps ended with a gravel downhill that was a blast, back through the beginning creek crossing, and across the grass to a hairpin turn in front of the feed zone, where you could stop for a new bottle/nutrition or head back out past the scoring table.  Though each lap ended with this easy opportunity to eat something, I struggled more with nutrition in this setting than I do on a long point-to-point ride or race. I'm not steady enough to eat much of anything on the bike, let alone get it out of my jersey pockets, and my instinct at the end of the lap was always to go back out right away rather than stop.  I did stop after a couple laps for a quick GU or some bites of an energy bar, but I definitely didn't eat enough or at well-timed intervals.  I'm sure that contributed to how crappy I felt as the race went on.

One thing I did right was wearing my Camelbak.  I'd considered just using bottles, but again because of my bike handling opted for the hydration pack.  I definitely needed the easy access to water in the heat, and several people mentioned wishing they had theirs.  The decision was further reinforced the one time -- in a field section -- I tried drinking from one of my bottles.  The drinking went fine, but the path was so rough I couldn't put my bottle back into the cage.

Finishing up one lap/heading out on another. Still stiff-armed.  (Photo credit: Jim Davis)

I really wore down as the race went on, and a perk of my super slow pace was that I got to briefly chat with lots of friends as they passed me.  It's really cool how many people say hi and encourage you during a race.  I ended up riding 5 laps (around 20 miles) and coming in 7th out of 7 in my division.  I finished my last lap a few minutes too late to go out for another (which would have put me in second-last place instead of last place), but I'm not sure I'd have gone out for another lap anyway.

It was definitely a tough race for me, and a little discouraging.  I didn't anticipate placing well or being fast, but with all the biking I've been doing (and not flat, easy rides, either!) I'd expected to feel ok riding three hours at endurance pace and didn't.  I'm sure the heat and poor nutrition didn't help, and another likely factor is that we've been training with long, steady efforts rather than higher intensity pushes.  It also might have helped if I'd been on my mountain bike more than the 35 miles I've logged this year prior to the race.  But whatever; that's why I was looking at the race as training.

We hung around a while to eat some free Qdoba (one of my favorite fast food restaurants), talk, and cheer for the winners and then headed to the Mound with a decision to make.  The wind was blowing 20-25 mph, which would make at least half of any out and back ride suck, but our preferred wind option, Busch Wildlife, is short on shade.  Opting for shade, we hopped onto the Katy Trail via the Hamburg Trail after a couple of other routes didn't work out.

"Hopped" sounds a little peppier than my riding actually was.  My knee had stiffened up between rides, so pedaling hurt, and my allergies were bringing on a major headache.  I actually had both allergy medicine AND ibuprofen in my car, but for some reason (possibly heatstroke) opted not to take any OR bring it with me.  This proved to be a very bad plan.

We were at 10 miles when we hit the Weldon Spring trailhead, so we planned to ride 10 more miles down the Katy into the wind and then turn around to enjoy a tailwind.  That would give us around 30 miles.  Not what we'd planned, but OK considering I'd wanted to get back into my car ever since the first mile.  Despite trying to eat my way back out of the nutritional hole I'd dug earlier, nothing sounded good and my stomach was clear that another GU was unacceptable.  When Chuck offered me one of his rice bars at mile 18 I just wanted a little piece but ended up eating the whole thing. Good lesson: rice bars work when my stomach hates me.  Those are definitely going to Kansas with me.

My knee loosened up as we rode, but my allergy headache only got worse.  By the time we made it back to the trailhead again I had dropped nearly a half mile behind Chuck while I daydreamed about sitting on the trail and refusing to go on.  "Do I look as bad as you do?" he asked as I rode up.  (He didn't.)  I sat down miserably on the bench and asked Chuck if he had ibuprofen.  He didn't, but a couple at the trailhead did.

These people were my saving grace. Talking to them after taking as many ibuprofen as my liver (kidneys?) could handle, I found out they're doing the Katy Trail bike ride next month.  I did that ride in 2009 and 2010 and have lots of great memories of the experiences.  Another lady there was also registered for this summer's ride, so they all started talking and I sat down again and joined Chuck's conversation conversation with a couple who recently moved here from Atlanta and LOVE the area. By the time we finished talking, the ibuprofen had kicked in and my headache was gone.  I felt like a new woman.

We made pretty quick work of the trip back, and I've rarely been so happy to get off my bike as I was after that 30 miles.  I know it was a full day, but that was by far one of the toughest days on a bike I've had in a long time...and I'm saying that just two weeks after riding 114 miles at Cedar Cross.  Because we'd done a little exploring before hitting the Hamburg Trail, we had passed our cars about 5 miles into our gravel ride, and I was already done.  The only thing that kept me pedaling past the parking lot was the knowledge that I'm going to feel done more than once at Dirty Kanza, but I'm not going to be finished until I cross the finish line.  I'll just file Sunday under "mental training".

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Another weekend, another bike ride

This has been an atypically chilly spring for our area, but this weekend seems to have been a breakthrough of sorts with reasonable temperatures and sunshine, which have been in short supply lately.  Because of Dirty Kanza, I pretty much have one day each weekend reserved for the bike, and that day was Saturday.

I started out with 30 miles on the Great River Road with my friend Kristen.  It was pavement, not gravel, but the Mississippi River views are beautiful and the company was good.  It was good for my ego, too, as even with a decent headwind on the way out I felt comfortable.  We'd hoped to ride to Pere Marquette Lodge, but that plan was short-circuited by river flooding.  Annoying.  We were flying with a tailwind on the return trip, and our shorter miles made it possible for me to meet Chuck and Lori in Weldon Spring to tack on some gravel miles.

I actually got there earlier than planned (crazy, I know), so I had a few minutes to get ready while I waited for our meeting time.  I spent most of it trying to figure out how to put on my new Garmin Edge 500 (happy birthday to me from all my wonderful family and friends who gifted me with money and bike shop gift certificates :D) before finally sort of figuring it out (still put the mount on sideways).  Lori handed Chuck off to me and headed home.
This was so pretty in real life.

The wind was getting progressively stronger (I think it peaked at 20-25 mph), and after some route discussion we decided on Busch Wildlife.  Because it's a network of gravel roads around the many lakes, we'd never be stuck riding into a headwind for too long.

Snack break.  This made me laugh.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, and it felt great to finally ride comfortably in just shorts and a jersey.  We did our best to ride every possible road we could find as well as some short stretches of singletrack.

Loved this short trail

Heading down a service road we passed a couple at their truck.  The road dead-ended shortly after, and on our return trip we were obviously interrupting a romantic moment...or one that was going to get romantic pretty quickly.  Oops.

Old bunker we passed while exploring

We did our best to eat about every hour.  I was also testing out some of the beet juice powder samples I got at Cedar Cross.  I mixed it with lemon-lime gatorade powder that I had on hand, and while the taste didn't really float my boat it wasn't bad either.  I have other friends who liked the taste plain, so maybe I'll try it that way.  And I will be trying it again, because as we found ourselves at the far back of the park shortly before our designated time to meet Lori, I felt great climbing the hills.  Now, these aren't monster hills or anything, but I was maintaining 17+ mph pace going up, and that's not characteristic for me.  Maybe it was just a good day, or maybe there's really something to that beet juice. Stay tuned...

Because we were running late, we took a shortcut back to the Mound.  Remembering a short, steep dirt hill I'd had to walk on our night ride, I downshifted so I'd be able to ride up it. Chuck coached me from in front, "We're both going to downshift, then pedal fast and ride right up that."  I was all in, right until it looked like he was riding straight up a wall.  And this is so stupid, because it's barely more than a mound of dirt; I don't know why it gets in my head, but I slowed down, got about halfway up, and put my foot down. Lame.

I really ought to quit wimping out on "scary" stuff, because the same type of thing always happens.  We were riding back to the parking lot, and as we made our last turn (on the flat crushed gravel path) my wheels dug into some deep, loose gravel and I went down.  At least if I fell on something trickier I'd have a better story.

Laughing at myself, not with myself.

Since I landed in the grass, it was a pretty easy fall as they go. Walked (rode) away with a bruised hip and a lot of laughing as Chuck and I cracked up over my crash about 50 feet from the parking lot. On possibly the easiest terrain ever. Typical.

So close to making it back with no bruises.

My stomach was pretty crabby when I got home, but J was in the driveway waiting to go for a bike ride. Earlier in the week we'd gone for a bike ride and his rear wheel started locking up. Seeing as it's a Wal-Mart brand bike that we bought at a yard sale and has non-working hand brakes (the coaster brakes do work) and weighs as much as my mountain bike, I didn't think it was worth fixing. I posted on Facebook about the bike's demise and asked is anyone knew of a cheap boy's bike available. Within the evening, three friends had offered him a bike , and the second one worked out.

Look out...now we have two people in the family in love with bikes. :)

He was delighted when he tried it out. "This bike is so light!! It's so easy to pedal!" He's all about riding his bike now, and though I really wanted to sit down and relax, I couldn't tell him no. We rode laps for a couple miles in our neighborhood and then headed home when he wanted to.  I only ended up with around 57 miles for the day instead of the 100 on the plan, but I couldn't have asked for a nicer day.  That said, I'm hoping for another day just as nice this coming Sunday, when if the weather cooperates I'll follow a 3-hr mountain bike race with some more gravel miles.  18 days and counting to Dirty Kanza...

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cedar Cross

About a year and a half ago, my friend Bob started talking about how he thought he could put together an epic monstercross (basically, cyclocross on steriods) course.  Because I'm the kind of person who totally lacks follow-through, I thought it sounded cool and then didn't think much more about it, but lo and behold, last May 6 Bob held the first annual Cedar Cross, 100+ miles of gravel, singletrack, hills, and natural obstacles like creek crossings and steep run-up hills.  Intending the race to basically be a fun way to spend the day training for Dirty Kanza with like-minded friends, Bob was slightly overwhelmed by the response when nearly 200 people signed up for his free race.  In the end, 100+ racers showed up for what was an epic day.

Family first, even when it hurts a little

Me, I wasn't there. My 8 year old son was making his First Communion, which is pretty much textbook can't miss. So while many of my friends were out sweating and suffering in high-90's temps on a course that Amnesty International just might term cruel and unusual, I was being proud of my little boy while simultaneously suffering from intense KIMO (knowing I'm missing out). When the 2013 date for Cedar Cross was announced, I was relieved to have no family conflicts and registered immediately.

Everybody knows that one of my charming quirks is my willingness to sign up for events way above my pay grade and then finish them out with slow but gritty performances, but I've been working hard to change that this year.  While my "consistent training" remains equivalent to most peoples' rest weeks, I've been logging many more bike miles than I did in the lead-up to last year's Dirty Kanza, including several forays onto gravel.  I went into Cedar Cross feeling nervous about the downhills but comfortable with my body's ability to do the distance.

Like much of the country, the Midwest has been experiencing goofy weather, and the days leading upto the race were filled with rain and dropping temperatures.  I drove to Jefferson City Friday evening in a downpour, fully expecting to spend my race being rained on, and I wasn't looking forward to that at all, except for the silver lining that good stories would surely come from a bad day.  Luckily, while the sun only made a couple guest appearances, the rain stayed away, though it had left in its wake a mixed bag of well-packed gravel, high creeks, and sloppy singletrack. 

Despite the terrible forecast, people had continued registering right up til the last moment, and there were quite a few race-day entries.  By the time I got to the race start around 6:45, the parking lot was filling up nicely with a lot of super cool people.

ccx parking lot
It makes me happy to see so many cars with bike racks.
I was early enough to get to say hi to other friends who were there racing, including Emma, who was riding the Cedar Sapling route for her longest ride ever, and Todd, who I met for the first time on race day despite the fact that we live within 10 minutes of each other.  I even managed to be organized enough to be ready by race time.  After the National Anthem, which was played on electric guitar by a 13 year old kid with some serious skills, we rolled out behind a pace car.

Photo credit: Christina
I've ridden parts of the course in past rides with the guys but wasn't familiar with the whole thing, and though I did have a cue sheet I had no way to attach it to my bike.  Luckily, the course was well marked and I latched onto Adam and Travis pretty much from the start.  None of us were killing it from the beginning; after all, 114 miles is a long way and our primary goal was just to finish. Having ridden a lot of gravel lately, I was slightly less chicken-ish than normal though still slower than the guys. In fact, at one point Travis even noticed that I managed to ride an entire downhill without braking.  It's sad that occasions like this are still rare enough to be news, but there you go.

About 15 miles in, we turned off the gravel into the Mark Twain National Forest. Much of his stretch, rather than being the "forest" implied in the name, was actually a big field where farmers are allowed to pasture their cows.  Once into the field, we took a quick break to eat something and then took off up the mushy trail through the pasture, doing our best to avoid the cow shit liberally splattered throughout. 

Travis eating. You can see how wet the trail, which narrowed to a single track, was.
The field section was actually a lot of fun.  The muddy sections reminded me of my second cross race, which was pretty much a sloppy mess, and I was happy with how well my bike handled in tricky-for-me conditions.  After a short, rocky stretch we emerged at the top of a gentle hillside.  The downhill was great, but riding back up the other side (and it was barely up...more of a gentle incline rather than a hill) seemed to take a lot of energy.  The field trail took us through a cow gate and onto a short, very muddy stretch of singletrack.

I basically kept one foot clipped in and coasted this section, pushing with my loose foot.  Coming out into a clearing, I waved goodbye to Jody and Kevin, who were splitting off on the Sapling route, and headed across a bridge with Adam and Travis onto the long course.  I think it was around here that my front wheel started making a terrible squealing sound.  It had been great until that muddy singletrack, so I assume it had to do with the mud, but I couldn't figure out what to do to make it stop.  It went from regular to constant squealing, so we stopped several times as I tried readjusting the wheel to make it shut up...to no avail.  I really need to accumulate some bike maintenance skills. 

The sound was awful; I told Adam and Travis that I'd totally understand if they wanted to ride away from me so they didn't have to hear it, but they wouldn't do it.  The whole bike thing really put a damper on the race for me; it was an incredibly annoying noise, I didn't know what to do to stop it, my bike is pretty new, and I was afraid it was messing something up.  The thought of riding another 100 miles with that sound in my ears was enough to make me want to drop out.  Instead we kept riding.

At about 25 miles in, we hit the next stretch of singletrack.  This was probably my favorite part of the race.  Normally, I'd feel terrible about riding in these muddy conditions; it's a huge mountain biking no-no because it destroys sustainably built trails.  These, however, are multi-use trails that have been around forever and are primarily used by horse riders, who can and do ride in any conditions.  Rather than destroy pristine trail, our bike tracks could smooth over horse damage.  I couldn't ride it all, but the parts I could ride were a blast.  Once again I was pretty pleased with how well my touring tires (slick in the middle with knobbies on the sides) handled in the slop, and I rode some things that would make me nervous on my mountain bike (of course, I'm a wimp, so that's not saying much).  It was hard, but it was silly fun, like running in mud. You can't help but laugh as you're sliding all around, and since your feet are already covered from pushing through the unrideable sections it's no big deal if you have to put a foot down.  This section also had two creek crossings and a run-up.

Creek crossing #1
Creek crossing #2
Now THAT's a run-up. #CedarCross
The run-up, which is even steeper than it looks and was more of a "stagger up, hoping you don't drop your bike".

At the top of the run-up was a doubletrack fire road where we stopped and ate again.  Travis loosened my front brake, which finally helped make the noise go away while still leaving me the ability to stop.  Getting ride of that noise did wonders for my ride satisfaction index.  It wasn't far from here to mile 34 and a water stop, where Christina was waiting with bottled water, donuts, bananas, oranges, and apples.  Thanks for volunteering!

We crossed Rutherford Bridge after leaving Christina and endured a long, sloppy uphill hike-a-bike onto another gravel county road.  This is the same road that just a couple weeks ago was covered with brand new gravel, making the downhills pretty much an exercise in terror for me.  Time and rain had helped the gravel to get packed in much better, and this time only the first downhill, which was very soft towards the bottom, was scary.  The others were almost fun, and then we were 13 miles from the bag drop, just shy of the halfway point.

 The day was mostly gray, chilly, and overcast.  I started out with a windproof/waterproof jacket over my jersey, but I was cooking on the climbs.  After a while, I stuffed my jacket into my pack and stuck with the jersey and long sleeves.  That was great on the climbs but got chilly on the descents.  Even so, it wasn't nearly as bad as the weather forecast led me to expect, and when the sun would occasionally peek out it was downright comfortable.

Happy to see some sunshine

For most of the morning, we'd been riding around Mark and Rhonda, two members of Team Fohty. Out of our whole group, I'd say I was the weakest rider. This was most clear on the hills; I'm always dropped on downhills because I get scared and slow way down, and I was repeatedly passed on the uphills. I spent almost the entire first 50 miles feeling sluggish; I remember thinking how discouraging it was to do so much riding and still come out and feel like it was my first time on the bike all year. I was definitely glad to hit the bag drop and take a little break.

Pretty much the coolest team vehicle ever.
With the keg of beer Team Fohty had brought for the midpoint, there was definitely a bit of a party atmosphere as we pulled in.  We sat around and ate and talked.  I ate so much I was sure I was going to be stuffed as I rode away.  While we took care of food, drink, and bathroom needs, Don lubed all of our chains, which was much needed after the repeated mud baths they'd been through.  It was so nice to have a break from the bike seat, but I also wanted to get going and not be out all night.  Travis and Adam joked that they were just going to quit at the bag drop and sit around and drink beer, but thankfully they both headed back out.

Team Virtus minus Robby, who was way ahead of us.
If I'd spent the first 50 miles feeling lousy, the second half of my race was a much different story.  I felt great as we left the midpoint.  Going up a hill I passed Adam, which is super rare because he rides a singlespeed and is a much stronger climber than I am.  "Look at you!" he laughed, and I responded that I knew he'd be passing me again soon.  He didn't, though, and I just kept on riding with Mark and Rhonda, who'd left the bag drop when we did.  After a while I looked back for the guys and saw Adam a little bit behind me and no Travis.  He caught up, telling me Travis was just around the corner.  We pedaled on, but after a while of not seeing Travis we decided to stop and wait so we could all ride together.  When he didn't show up after a while, Adam called Luke and Bob to see if they'd heard from him, and it turned out he'd decided to drop because his knee was hurting him.

Checking the cue sheet

We went on, bummed that Travis wasn't going to be able to finish with us.  We had to make a few quick stops to check the directions; even though the course was well-marked, we wanted to make sure we weren't missing anything.  I must've been drinking a ton of water, because I had to pee every time we stopped.  It was a little ridiculous, but I guess it helped me get over the need to wait for trees to hide behind.  This 20-mile stretch went pretty quickly, and I pulled into the Hams Prairie gas station/convenience mart feeling good.  Kyle was just leaving as we arrived, and he filled us in on who he'd seen when he got there.

You can see how filthy my bike was from all the mud. 
An order of mozzarella sticks, a Starbucks mocha, and half a Mounds bar later and Adam and I were ready to take off.  Rhonda and Mark decided to hang out for a while longer, so we went our separate ways.  Our next landmark was the nuclear power plant about 18 miles away, and it was a pretty quick ride there.  The first, paved stretch of road was pretty sweet.  Adam's singlespeed gearing meant that he'd spin out if we got going too fast, so I tried to strike a balance between keeping up a good pace and not losing him, something that was complicated by my crappy bike handling and difficulty turning around to look behind me.  Really I'm bad enough at this bike thing that I probably ought to just take up crocheting or something.

I've actually ridden this section of the race route a couple times before, so it was surprising to me how little I recognized as we rode.  There was no forgetting the big hill leading up to the power plant, though. I've actually never walked that hill before, but of course there's a first time for everything and this was it.  I knew I could ride up it, but by the time I was maybe a third of the way up the first part I really didn't want to.  Having already ridden 80-some miles and being darn close to last place anyway, I still had another 30ish miles to go and nothing to prove.  It wasn't even a bad little walk...and it gave me the opportunity to go to the bathroom yet again.  The hill briefly flattened out before climbing again, and we both rode this second section.

After the nuclear plant, it was pretty much all downhill from there...nice flat gravel leading into a big downhill.  Adam, who's ridden with me enough to know how much longer it would take me to descend, called back, "See you at the bottom," and took off in a quest to hit 40 mph.  I, on the other hand, exercised my brakes in an effort not to hit 30. Maybe I could crochet myself some big girl panties and then pull them up and actually ride.

Though the last 30 or so miles were all flat, I really wasn't looking forward to them at all.  Hills are hard, but at least they're interesting and break up the monotony.  Still, for the first 15-20 miles I was feeling pretty good, enjoying the easy ride and not having to look out for potholes or cars, and cheerily considering our chances of finishing before dark (we figured it would be dusk but not full-on night).  I'm sure that Adam was really enjoying the steady stream of chatter that's a hallmark of happy Kate.  By the time the course detoured us off the Katy for a gravel road loop, I was glad for the change of scene, but things kind of fell apart when we hit the trail again.

We'd only ridden maybe a quarter of a mile when Adam, who was handling the directions, stopped and said he thought we'd missed a turn.  We rode back, looking for markings or the right road sign...nothing.  We rode up the trail a little bit...nothing.  We tried calling Luke and Bob...and they wouldn't answer their phones!!

Here's the section of the directions that tripped us up:  
93.42mi Stay on Co Rd 4000 til Cty Rd 4010
Cty Rd 4010 loops back to the Katy Trail. Take a left onto Katy Trail, Then take your first left onto 4038,leaving the Katy.
103.19mi Follow Co Rd 4038…follow the tape.

We had gotten to the "take a left onto Katy Trail" section, but the "first left" was almost immediate and did not lead to 4038.  Now, a couple things might have helped us out:

1) The mileage...if we weren't around 103 miles in, we probably weren't far enough...except that Adam's bike computer was a little off and my Garmin had died (I either need to get faster or get a longer lasting battery).

2) Pulling up a map on my phone...except it was dead.

3) Bob's course markings, which hadn't failed us yet...except for the possibility that maybe someone had torn them down.

4) Riding on ahead to look for the markings...except that we'd already ridden 100 miles and really didn't want to tack on extra miles.

Mind you, at this point we were only like 10-12 miles from the finish, and our goal (if not our route) was straight down the Katy.  It was so frustrating to be so close to the end and only now have a problem.  The sun set and John caught up with us while we were considering our options.  Thankfully we were able to get ahold of Bob, who directed us further down the trail.  The darkness fell quickly, and I was both glad to have my headlamp in my pack and jealous of John's far superior light.

Within a mile or two we found our turn, which was well-flagged, and we turned onto one last loop of gravel.  This last stretch is where I really started to struggle.  The road had more potholes than our last stretch of gravel, and while my light is decent it wasn't lighting up the road like daytime. :) The guys were way ahead as I crept cautiously along.  Eventually John took off ahead of us and Adam babysat me the rest of the way in.  I was just not in a happy place at all, and he managed to say all the right things to keep me from sitting in the middle of the road and crying.  He probably felt a lot like I do talking to my 9 year old ("just a few more miles"..."we're almost to the pavement..."), but it worked.  I was basically following him like somebody's whipped puppy and only a vague idea of where we were when I finally broke down and asked, "How much longer?"

His answer, "About a quarter mile," was almost too good to be true but, indeed, correct as I looked up to see the pavilion and our remaining friends ringing cowbells and cheering.  The worst thing about finishing last (or second-last as it happened, but only because John had missed a turn and came in after we did) is that you miss the party and hearing firsthand about everybody else's races.  It wasn't really the kind of weather that's conducive to hanging around outside, everybody else had had long days as well, and many had little kids to get home, long drives ahead of them, or big plans the next day so I totally understand them having to leave, but I also sure appreciated everybody who was able to be there. 

Hopefully next year I won't be so slow and people won't have to wait so long for me, but I said all along that my only goal this year was to finish, and I'm proud that I did.  114 (or whatever it was) miles of Cedar Cross was no joke.  Honestly, being so slow makes me a little nervous about making the cutoffs at Dirty Kanza, but I made the first two last year with far less training.  So we'll see.  Big thanks to all of the volunteers, to the sponsors, and to Don for taking care of my chain.  And huge thanks to Bob for putting on a great, tough event and sending me home with an extra dose of bike humility and lots of souvenir mud.