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.


  1. Madness, woman, that was utter madness. Awesome madness, though!

  2. Oh, do I feel your pain on finishing when there's not much left at the finish. I don't mind being slow, but sometimes that's disheartening...

    You did an amazing job!!

  3. Bob put on an awesome race. I agree the last flat miles on the KATY were a real fun-sucker.

  4. If my students want to annoy me the thing they would do is to make an annoying noise. I would have been out of my mind - both with the noise and worry about why it was happening.
    And the usual ......creek crossing.....stagger up.......the usual. But a keg of beer for mid point? I would be useless after that! Sounds like your second half was excellent! And a Starbucks part way though. Maybe I want to do this sport.
    I would not want to hit 40 mph. I did hit a little more than 30 today which is amazing. I am a brake user on hills too.
    More than 100 tough tough miles. Wow! Amazing!
    And you did so well not to ask the distance until almost done.

  5. Your adventure racing tales never cease to amaze me! So awesome Bob's "fun way to spend the day" had such a great turn out for the second year!

  6. That is sheer fun craziness. Your race reports make me want to take up biking!

  7. So I'm reading and reading (and reading) and all I can think of is, "Man, it's so freaking green there." Is that bad?

    114 miles is WAY impressive, SK! I love how you always have a little bit of a cliff hanger at the end of all these mega races you do. I'm going to learn to ride my bike after I'm done with Leadville and I'm hanging with you guys at this race...nothing can entire me more than a keg mid-race. Way to go, girl!!

  8. I'm still so sorry I wasn't there when you came in. I'm glad I got to share a little of your day. You know I think you are a total rock star as are all the bad asses that took on Cedar Cross. Great report. I was anxious to find out what happened.

  9. After Cedar Cross last year, I had SERIOUS doubts about Dirty Kanza as well. But you're finishing time was faster than mine from last year, so just know that you're ready. Keep doing what you're doing, and you'll be fine.

    Great job at a tough race, and great race report!

  10. Awesomeness as usual.

  11. Great omen for success at DK this year!

  12. Okay...I left a lengthy comment on this post yesterday and for some reason, none of my comments are showing up (on anyone's blog) - whaaa. I'm going to see if this works before I type another novel comment...

  13. Muddy bike = good day! I know you say that it makes you nervous for DK, but you're banking some serious miles these days - I can't wait to hear how the big one goes!

  14. I hear you about the flat sections...I did 100 mile mtn bike ride on the Colorado Trail a few years back and I *still* remember the 15 mile flat dirt road section being so incredibly boring and crotch numbing. give me hills any day!

    Great job on getting Cedar Cross done!

  15. If you can get through this, you should be able to get through Kanza, especially if you have done more training. Plenty of hills so you can stand. The big thing will be keeping hydrated and fed properly on the longer sections. Not sure if you're a bottle person or a camelback person, but each solution is workable over 40 - 65 miles of road. Enjoy DK this year. :)

  16. I am totally impressed Kate!! You are such a freaking rockstar! :)

  17. I am wordless, you are a superstar.
    Not only 114 miles, but obstacles, rivers, hills, mud..... unbelievable!

  18. If you are crocheting the big girl panties, can you send me the pattern? I could do with a pair. I still haven't got to the 100 yet, perhaps this year....


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