Yesterday was the inaugural Cedar Cross Race in Jefferson City, MO. Approximately 120 riders lined up to face 112 miles of gravel and single track laid out before them by race director Bob Jenkins. What followed was a 14 hour event that left some broken, some beat, some victorious, and all looking forward to next year. A big thank you goes out to Bob and all of the volunteers that made the event happen. You guys put together a great race and delivered on your promises. Below you’ll see how my little slice of Cedar Cross played out and find out who earned the coveted “Last Survivor Award”. Enjoy.
Not My Day
This race was marked on my calendar even before it had an official date. I was really looking forward to a longer day on the bike to fine tune my nutrition plan for the Dirty Kanza 200, for a chance to ride some challenging gravel with friends and to see the course that Bob had been slaving over. At 9am I rolled out at the back of the pack of 120 or so riders with Luke and Adam of Team Virtus, with plans of riding the first 60 miles of the course unsupported and cutting the course back to the finish to help get things prepped. With less than 1 mile into the ride and not yet off of the pavement, I had a flat. I stopped, swapped out the tube, and found myself alone and playing catch up. A few miles up the road I was able to meet back up with Luke and Adam who had stopped to assist another rider with a mechanical issue. We regrouped and started up the first big climb of the day. About halfway to the top I got my second flat, less than 5 miles from the start line. I swapped it out and was alone again.
Not wanting to burn too many matches early, I settled into a comfortable pace and came to terms with riding the rest of the course solo. I’d heard too many accounts of riders trying to chase down friends early in a race and blowing up, and I would have to be conservative to make it on the food and water I was carrying. After a few more miles of rolling gravel, I came to the trailhead for the first section of single track where the Cedar Cross earns its name. A mile or so in I came across a beautiful site. Adventure racing team Hoosier Daddy’s had parked their truck loaded with cold beer for an unexpected checkpoint and had a congregation of 10-12 riders enjoying beverages. Thankful to be back in a pack, I rolled out with them and further into the national forest. About a mile and half further anyway, when I kicked up a stick into my rear wheel, ripped off my rear derailleur and broke a spoke. I had ridden all of 17 miles and was alone again.
I pushed my bike back along the course with hopes of catching the beer wagon before they moved off to the next checkpoint. My ride would be over, but I could just chuck my bike in the back of the truck, drink a cold beer, and ride with them to support the other riders. They were gone. That beer probably wasn’t good anyway, I doubt they had room for me in the cab, and I knew I was kidding myself with thinking they’d still be there. Now, this was an unsupported race, and we were all expected to be self sufficient, so while there would be no cold beer or air conditioned truck for me, I was happy to still be adhering to the spirit of the race and embraced the idea of a self rescue. I found a nice shade tree and got to work. I pulled out the Fiberfix Emergency Spoke that I had luckily thrown into my jersey pocket at the last minute. Without this, there was no way I could have gotten the rear wheel true enough to use my rear brakes. It worked like a charm and the wheel was straight as an arrow. Even though my rear derailleur had been torn off, I’d like to point out that my derailleur hanger was still straight as an arrow. Gotta love titanium! I set about removing the carnage, shortened my chain, and was ready to roll back over the course as a single speed.
Back on my bike, pedaling strong with the wind behind me and life is good. Up the first climb back and the chain breaks. No big deal, a shorter chain means a harder gear, but I can fix it and muscle through, it’s only 17 miles back. Snap, it breaks again. I fix it again, but now I’m on a 34×11 single speed with a few good hills between me and my destination. I’ll have to push up them, but can fly on the downhills. It will make for a long day, but a good story. Visions of McGruber unsuccessfully defusing a bomb ran through my head as the chain broke for the 3rd time less than a mile later. Now I don’t have enough chain to make it around any gearing. I expose the countryside to some choice words, swallow my pride, and resort to making the dreaded “come pick me up” phone call as I start pushing my finely tuned, but now chainless, bike down the gravel. 2 hours later I’m still pushing, but with blistered feet, no more water, and unable to make contact with anyone on my phone.
I’m basting. What had been a steady breeze has turned the knob to broil. I hear the rumble of displaced gravel and turn to see a white stallion descending on me from the heavens. Ok, so it was a blue PT Cruiser, but I’m pretty sure that its dust trail was made of dreams and unicorn sparkles. I flagged it down, offered the driver everything short of my children for a ride back to the finish, and sat down in the cool air conditioned seat. The AC felt great, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed that my ride was REALLY over. I know the chances of finding a serviceable 10 speed rear derailleur and chain in a ditch along a gravel road is pretty remote, but for some reason I felt I was still in it until my butt hit that seat. The driver was a 70 year old woman on her way to see her grandkids. She crammed a dirty bicycle into the back of her car and drove 20 minutes in the opposite direction to help out a sweaty stranger in spandex. Now I am a happily married man, but I just about kissed another woman on that car ride. I had been on the course for 5 hours and only ridden 17 miles.
Back at the finish I unloaded my bike, thanked the driver another 50 or 60 times, and got myself cleaned up. By this time the Hoosier Daddy’s had returned and were grilling some homemade brats and they were the best I’d ever had. We’re talking cheese shooting out onto you as you ate them and a puddle of beer juice when you were finished. I pulled out my folding chair sat down to relax, and broke it, adding yet another mechanical issue to my list. I started to wonder what would happen to my truck on the way home. Other riders began trickling in with their own stories, many had given into the heat and a few others had succumbed to mechanical issues. The first finishers began rolling in around 5pm, but it would be another 6 hours until the last riders crossed the line.
Too Stubborn To Quit
When I was thinking of ways to sponsor this race, I wanted something that would reward a rider who didn’t crush the course and wow everyone with their time, but a rider that faced the challenge and had to dig deep. The top finishers cleared the course in just over 7 hours which is certainly commendable and many riders turned in admirable performances throughout the day. But we wanted to recognize the last tires to cross the line. At 11pm, Luke Lamb, Justin Nemith, Keith Clark and Aaron Lackman crossed the finish with 14 hours on the course behind them. They were greeted with a shower of warm Keystone Light and cheers from the few remaining fans. These guys had the guts in their blood to stay on it and push through and all are worthy of a round of applause, so go ahead and clap if you weren’t there for it.
Unfortunately there was only one award to give, and the official last tire to clear the line carried Luke Lamb. Now I’ve jokingly accused Luke of sandbagging to win this award. But, even if he did, which he didn’t, anyone willing to loiter around on a bicycle for 14 hours to win last place deserves it. So congratulations, Luke, you are the official 2012 Cedar Cross Last Survivor. Check out Luke’s Ride Report for his side of the story and some great photos of the day.