This past weekend was the 3rd running of Cedar Cross and proved to be another fun and successful year for the race. 100+ riders lined up in north Jefferson City, MO to race over 115 miles of gravel, single track, pavement and rail trail. TOG deployed in full force for the event with Justin, Aaron, and me riding while Dave, acting as photographer, recovered from his recent destruction of the OGRE.
We lined up at the back of le peloton per standard operating procedures, and after an inspiring speech from race director Bob Jenkins, we rolled a short distance to the official start point for the national anthem and a kickin’ guitar solo. The race (ride) was on.
The course rolls out with a short section of pavement and quickly deposits you at the base of one of the larger climbs of the day. We grind up, passing a number of riders already fixing flats. The climb levels out, paces are settled into, and small groups are formed. We roll at a deliberate but social pace, meeting new faces and putting names with familiar ones.
Before long, we arrive at the trail head for the first off road portion of the day. The trail takes us through cow pasture on a rough ribbon of exposed dirt. This is where the Cedar Cross earns its name. That trail shakes the crap out of you. Seriously, I’m pretty sure the patties I was passing came from the riders before me, not the cows. Lucky it’s a short battering and then it’s on to some true single track before the forest vomits you back out onto gravel.
Approaching one of the low water crossings, a rider in front of me attempted a less than ideal line and ended up vaulting over his handlebars and landing on a nice soft pad of concrete. To my relief, he arose injury free and a life flight didn’t need to be dispatched, which would have really eaten in to both of our times.
I rolled on to the first opportunity for water at a small church around mile 27 and stopped to top off my bottles. You never know when the next chance for water will be on these rides, so it’s wise to get it while you can. This location had been mentioned on the race blog, but many riders skipped it and paid a price.
A few more miles of rolling gravel and the course heads into the second section of single track goodness. The previous weeks rain made the trail firm and fast compared to the soup sandwich the year before and this section was a good break from the crunching vibrations of gravel. Here I witnessed the most controlled, slow motion wreck in history as a small ditch ate Jim Phillips’ front wheel and he calmly endoed into the dirt. I suppose when you’re as bad as he is, even the trail knows not to mess with you too much. A few creek portages and a hike a bike later, is was back to the gravel and on towards the bag drop at mile 47.
I accurately navigated to the bag drop, avoiding the hilly detour Aaron and I had taken the previous year, to find my wife and kiddos waiting with a truck full of food and drink. I was surprised at the number of riders in full relaxation mode. There were feet kicked up and beers being killed all around. I had planned on making the stop a short one, so after topping off supplies, I rolled off into the last bit of off road riding.
Despite being a high horse traffic portion of the trail, it was also the most fun. The trail had plenty of swoopy re-routes and the few horse backed folks I came across were in good spirits and had control over their steeds. Horses tend to get spooked at pretty much everything but a carrot, so it’s always nice to successfully navigate around them. After a winding climb up the trail, at was back to the chunky limestone gravel of mid-MO.
The sun was well up now and miles and heat were starting to soak in a bit. I’d found myself a solo spot on the course and it began to turn into me vs my brain. I was making sure to stay on top of my fluids, but they were warm now and I was contemplating stopping to ask a local for a cool sip from the hose. Unfortunately, houses in this section were few and far between, being a rural gravel road. That’s when I saw her.
I’ve now ran into 2 angels on the Cedar Cross course. I met the first at the 2012 edition of the race, and she drives a PT cruiser. The second ended up being a girl of about 10 with a Koolaid stand in her front yard. I blinked hard to verify her existence and made a quick course correction to her oasis. Now this road probably had no more than 3 cars on it all day. But today, there were 100+ hot and thirsty fools in tight clothes streaming past her house. She was short on change, and I didn’t ask the price, so I stood happily and sipped the best $10 cup of cherry Koolaid ever to meet my lips. I had a new lease on life…for about 30 minutes.
The 60ish mile mark in any ride is when I start to hate bicycles. Even knowing this going in, I just can’t shake that desire to throw my ride into a ditch and hope to be eaten by wolves. It didn’t help that I was still solo. I rolled into the 74 mile mark at the Ham’s Prairie gas station with a poor attitude and tired legs.
Once again, Janie and the kids were there to greet me with cold drinks and a chair in the shade. I slumped down and licked my mental wounds. I drank 2 bottles of cold water and felt a bit better. As more riders rolled in and back out, I eased back into the idea of riding and began refilling my water bottles. There was no way I was rolling out of that stop alone, so when I saw Aaron riding in followed shortly by Kate and Adam, I knew I’d be back on the bike soon.
After stuffing in more liquids and some Salt and Vinegar Pringles down my neck, Aaron I continued on towards the finish. From here we knew the course only had one more climb and it was all downhill and flat from there. We took it nice and slow, being sure to stop by the nuclear reactor for some mandatory pics. Coming to the last climb of the day we hoped off and walked it with no shame.
Up and over, we flew down the backside of the hill into the flats where we met back up with the Katy trail. A brief banana stop at the bottom of the hill gave time for Kate and Adam to catch us, and we rolled on down the trail in a TOG and Team Virtus pace line reminiscent of the US Postal Team Time Trial, minus the drugs. It was beautiful.
We soon traded the smooth rail trail for the chunky fresh limestone of the north Jefferson City river bottoms. I started feeling really strong. I looked over my shoulder and had opened a gap over the rest of the pain train. I don’t know what the recipe for that feeling was, but I went with. I soon found myself alone again, cranking well over my average speed and feeling great. I stuffed my headphones in, cranked up some ACDC, and laid down my fastest miles of the day. I was able to catch a few other riders over the next 20 miles, and came into the finish still feeling remarkably good. I was met with a wall of ice water compliments of Bob and a cold beer was opened and in in my hands before I had time to register that the ride was over.
It was another good day on the bike and I’m happy to have finally completed this thing incident free. Here are a few lessons from the day…
Things that worked
– Bruce Gordon Rock and Road Tires – the extra width and versatile tread made these a big asset when the ride went off road and for smoothing out those sections of fresh gravel.
– Single serving apple sauce packets – I think I ended up eating 6 of these. They offered a good break from my all liquid nutrition…even though they are liquid.
-A pinch of extra salt into every water bottle – kept the cramps away all day, which has been a problem before.
Things that didn’t work so great
– blowing through the bag drop with no break – I should have chilled a bit more and downed some more fluids and food, then maybe I wouldn’t have had to recover so long at the second stop.
– All liquid nutrition – Technically it worked, but my stomach was often on the verge of not good. Next time I’m going to reduce the amount of liquid calories and supplement with real food.
Did you ride the Cedar Cross or thinking of riding next year? Leave a comment below with your thoughts…