Ride Together, Die Alone Redux: The Cedar Cross Race Report
***NOTE: The title of the blog post was completely ripped off from my race report of last year’s Dirty Kanza, but since I wrote it, I give myself permission to steal it.***
On Friday evening as Bob, Cary, and I were weed-eating the single track portion of the Cedar Cross course, Bob said to me, “Hey, you may want to seriously consider bringing a headlamp on race day.” Since Bob is the mastermind behind Cedar Cross and knows the course like the back of his hand, I threw a headlamp into my bag as I headed to race HQ on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, I am quite stupid. I thought there was no way I’d need a light, so right before the start of the race, I decided to throw my headlamp back in my van. Twelve brutally difficult hours later as the sun had set, I realized my stupidity knows no bounds.
I registered at the check-in table, said hello to a lot of my cycling friends, and then promptly fired Adam for showing up at the last minute with his son’s helmet that was way too small for his big melon. Once I made final preparations (and threw my stupid headlamp back in the van), we walked over to hear Bob’s words of wisdom before the race started. I can honestly say it was the funniest pre-race speech I’ve heard.
Here is a Garmin link to the Cedar Cross course if you want to see it or follow along. I’d like to point out that this is NOT my Garmin link. I was MUCH slower, and I wasn’t wearing my Garmin. Anyway…
The race would start out on pavement with a lead car showing us the way. I made my way to the back of the pack along with Adam. It was already in the 80’s and humid, but that’s perfect training for the DK200 in a few weeks. Bob said go, and all 120-ish racers rolled out with hopes of crushing the 112 mile course.
It was less than a mile before the race doled out its first set-back of the day. Just 0.8 miles into the race, our friend Jim Smith from Monster Bicycle Co. got a flat tire. Adam and I made sure he had everything he needed, and we kept going. We knew that Jim would catch up to us soon enough. Unfortunately for Jim, this would not be his last go-round with bad luck.
Adam and I made it to the gravel with only a few people behind us, one of them being Jim. It wasn’t very long before we saw our friend, Dave Baettie, pulled off to the side of the road. Somehow he lost a screw to one of his bottle cages. I handed him my bike tool since Adam couldn’t find his (Fired again!), and I took a pit stop in the brush. As Dave took his bottle cage off, Jim came up behind us. It was good to have him back in our group.
At mile 3, we began our first climb, and it was brutal. At the start of the climb, I heard someone’s tire spin out. When we got to the top, there was no Jim Smith. We assumed he had spun out and walked the hill or had just fallen behind. Later I found out that Jim had his secondflat tire within the first 3 miles of the race. That’s some pretty terrible luck. I feel bad for leaving him, but I really didn’t know he had had another flat. I just thought he would quickly catch up to us again.
Dave rode on ahead of us as Adam and I found ourselves on familiar ground: The Dirty Jenkins ride. We’ve ridden this stretch of gravel many, many times, yet we still love it.
As the sun beat down on us with no shade in sight, we rolled on.
We passed a handful of riders and caught up to a few more as the miles were easily ticking by. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at the entrance of Mark Twain National Forest. It doesn’t look like it is public land, and without Bob Jenkins, a lot of people would have never known you could ride there. With double track though open fields, a pond or two, and a bit of single track thrown in, this stretch of the Cedar Cross course is just really cool.
At one of the cattle gates around mile 15, the Hoosier Daddies were volunteering, and by volunteering, I mean they were handing out ice-cold beer and water. We caught up with a few more riders and our friends Travis Hammons and the Boos Bros here as they enjoyed the frosty beverages in the shade. It was also here where Jim Smith caught up with us and informed us of his second flat. Unfortunately for Jim, this still wouldn’t be his last go-round with bad luck.
It was hard to say good-bye to these guys, but after one cold beer (or four if you’re Kyle Boos), we rode away in a “pace-line” through the fields.
Not long after the above shot was taken, we descended a rocky, rooty hill with lots of sticks and branches scattered about. As I came down the hill, I saw a rider off his bike. I realized it was Jim Smith pulling a stick out of his spokes. Unbelievable. Two flat tires, and now this? The cycling Gods were not smiling down upon Jim, but I guess it’s better to get all of your bad luck out of the way at a free race instead of the Dirty Kanza. He said he was just going to walk back up to the Hoosier Daddies and get a ride. Bummer. I would later find out that this STILL wouldn’t be his last go-round with bad luck.
I caught up to the group, and I stopped to get a shot of them as they rode through my favorite piece of this part of the ride: a long, flowing downhill through the tall grass.
We left the National Forest, and we jumped back on some gravel roads. This stretch of gravel had a few wet-weather creek-crossings and one low-water crossing. This particular low-water crossing can be very slick, but before I could yell out a warning, Travis and Kyle splashed right through it. Well, Kyle splashed right through it, but Travis wasn’t so lucky. He fish-tailed like a mo-fo, and just when I thought he was going to pull out of it, he crashed and slid on his side through the water. It was awesome to watch!
Adam and Derrick missed the show because they stopped to pick up one of my water bottles that had bounced out of its cage on the rough descent. The top of the bottle was destroyed, though, and I had lost my eFuel in that bottle. I used a simple strap to secure the other bottle after that, and I had no more problems.
Here’s a shot of Adam showing Travis how to do it:
I was feeling really strong as we rode the gravel on Clinkenbeard, Ginn Ln, and Barnes Chapel Rd. It kept getting hotter, though, and we were sweating buckets. Soon we found ourselves turning onto the single track at the trail head.
We hopped onto the first section of single track. Although it was muddy, the first quarter-mile or so was rideable. After we crossed the creek, though, things turned to crap in a hurry. You see, horseback riders completely destroy these trails no matter how much time and effort we put into maintaining them. It’s a shame, too, because these trails could be incredible. But it is what it is, and there’s not much we can do about it. Trust me. Trying to maintain these trails is a losing battle.
I didn’t get any photos of this section because I was too busy trying to survive. I tried riding what I could, but that wasn’t much. Riding was only marginally faster than walking, and the energy exerted just wasn’t worth it. So I pushed my bike the last mile and a half or so. Even pushing my bike was completely exhausting, though.
And then we got to the “Staircase of Pain” where we saw Jim Davis sitting and talking with Mr. Race Director himself, Bob Jenkins. He was there to get some photos of all the suffering. Just take a look at this:
PHOTO OF THE STAIRWAY COMING SOON!!
After the “stairway” completely drained what was left of my energy, we pushed our bikes up a hill to find our friends from the Hoosier Daddies again. It was great to see them. I stopped for a quick pee-break before I grabbed another beer. Uh-oh. My pee was a dark yellow. Not good at all.
So, I did something I never thought I’d do: I didn’t follow the Virtus Code that mandates no “free beer shall be refused.” I would hereby like to propose an addendum to this part of the Virtus Code: No free beer shall be refused UNLESS you are at risk of sever dehydration leading to cramps during a race. All those in favor say, “Aye.” All those opposed say, “Nay.” Okay, the “Ayes” have it.
I had been drinking a lot of fluids, but with this kind of heat, humidity, and energy expenditure, I guess it was enough. I was worried. We were only 30 miles into this race, and I was in trouble. Then I remembered that Bob said there was a Peach Snapple in his truck for me. I’m a Diet Peach Snapple addict. This, however, was the full-sugar variety, and it was just what I needed. I slammed the delicious Snapple and a couple of water bottles from the Hoosier Daddies. Hoping to recover, I rested a few more minutes than I normally would have at this point.
We said good-bye once again, and we rode off onto S. Millsite Rd. I’ve been on this road before and there are 4 nasty dogs here. In fact, the Cue Sheet for this race warned racers: “Watch for Four Pissed Off Dogs.” People thought Bob was kidding when he recommended dog spray, but these dogs are the reason for the recommendation. I love dogs as much as anyone and don’t like to spray dogs, but these dogs are vicious and not to be messed with.
By the time we got there, though, the dogs were no threat at all. They were either worn out from terrorizing all the racers in front of us (which was a lot), full from eating some of the racers in front of us, or they had been sprayed so many times by the racers in front of us that they didn’t dare mess with us. Regardless, we only heard one of them bark a wimpy, little bark as we simply strolled right by them along the gravel road.
A few miles later, we began riding past the “Cranky Old Bastard’s” place. He literally has this weird sign in his yard stating that he will shoot you if you mess with him. I’ve never stopped long enough to read the entire sign or get a photo of it, because I don’t really want to find out if he’s bluffing. As we rode past, he yelled out to us. I thought to myself, “Please don’t stop! Nobody stop! Nobody stop!” But then Jim Davis stopped, so we all stopped. He asked us how many more riders were coming through so he could let his dog back out. And then he apologized for making us stop our ride. Um… What?!? I couldn’t believe it. Maybe the faster riders had sprayed him with dog spray, too.
Anyway, we rode gravel for 4 or 5 miles. I’m sure it was a little unsettling for some riders to ride past a Dead End sign with 90 miles remaining, but that’s exactly what we did.
For those of us that ride gravel around Jeff City, we knew where this “Dead End” would take us. For a car, it is indeed a dead-end. On a bike, however, you get to cross the very cool Rutherford Bridge over Cedar Creek.
From the bridge, we hiked our bikes up a big, muddy hill and started riding more gravel, a bit of pavement, and then more gravel. Somewhere along the way, Travis and I lost Adam, but we didn’t realize it until we turned onto CR 326 and ran into our friends Aaron Lackman and Justin Nemeth along with a couple of guys I didn’t know.
It was brutally hot by now, and the two guys we didn’t know didn’t seem to be doing too well. I thought about waiting for Adam, but we had discussed this very scenario earlier in the day. We both agreed to go on without the other if one of us dropped off the back. Since it was only a few more miles until the manned checkpoint and bag drop, we rode on, hoping Adam would catch us there.
When we got there, we saw probably 8 riders sitting in the shade, resting and refueling before heading out on the last of the two stretches of single track.
The gear drop couldn’t have come at a better time for me. Knowing there was less than 20 miles to go before I could resupply my water and food, I had been pounding my water and food since my last stop at the end of the first section of singletrack, and I was running precariously low. Drinking ice-cold water was heavenly after chugging hot water and e-Fuel for so long. Big thanks to Mo and Chadwick for volunteering there! There was another guy helping out there, too, but I don’t remember his name. Regardless, thanks to him too!
Some of the riders looked like they were feeling pretty fresh, others looked a little rough, and some looked like they wanted to die. Kind of like this poor guy:
I was just beginning to worry about Adam as he rolled up. He seemed to be doing well enough. He didn’t look fresh, but he didn’t look like he was dying either. He said he was going to chill there and fill up with water. I gave him what was left out of my drop bag since he forgot to pack one, and I headed back out with a handful of riders including Travis, Aaron, and Justin.
I was dreading this next section of singletrack. I had helped Bob and Cary Maloney weed-eat and clear the trails on Friday, but Bob had gone back out there to find that horseback riders had already trashed part of them. Bummer because they were in great shape less than 48 hours earlier. If this section of trail took as much out of me as the first section, then my ride might be over.
Fortunately, the trails were in much better shape than I expected. They weren’t great, but there were some fun, rideable sections to go along with the muddy, destroyed-by-horses sections. I exited the single track feeling good. Travis seemed like he was starting to struggle a bit, though.
We ended up playing leapfrog with Randy and Dana from Team Red Wheel on the next several miles of gravel, and for whatever reason, I was starting to feel really good at this point. I must have finally caught up with my hydration and nutrition. It’s a good thing, too. Standing between us and the Hams Prairie Store 20 miles away were lots of big hills.
Being on a singlespeed, you either ride hard up the hills, or you get off and push your bike. There really isn’t much in-between. So at the start of every hill, I had to go up ahead of our little 6-person group and then wait at the top so they would catch up. I’m definitely not a good climber by any stretch of the imagination, but I had no granny-gear with which to spin up the hills. Believe me, if I had it, I would have gladly used it.
At the top of one hill, I waited for the group. Then I waited some more. After a few minutes, I thought something must have gone wrong, so I turned around and went back. Thankfully, they were just around the corner and not all the way back down the brutal hill. Everyone but Travis was pulled over talking to Randy’s girlfriend (or was it wife?). Travis had fallen off the group, but it would have been suicide to ride back down the hill for him. Fortunately, Randy’s girlfriend/wife said she’d drive back to check on him for us. Big thanks to her.
So we continued on our way. I kept riding ahead on the climbs and waiting at the top. Again, I want to make it clear that I’m not saying I’m a good climber. In fact, I kind of suck at hills. If I could have gone any slower up the hills without walking, I would have. The only problem with riding ahead and waiting was the heat. It was really starting to get to me. Sitting at the top of each climb in the blazing sun with no breeze was terrible. After one long, slow climb, I just couldn’t bring myself to stop. The thought of stopping as the sun torched my skin was too much. Since the others were still together, I decided to just cruise on, knowing that I would soon see them at the Hams Prairie Store at mile 69-70.
I was feeling the best I had all day long, and I was having a great time. Shortly after crossing Hwy 54 at mile 63-64, however, I started to fall apart. My legs began to feel heavy. My head started hurting. I even felt a little queasy. I drank as much as I could, but I was afraid of vomiting which would have only made things worse. It was mind-blowing how fast I went from feeling great to wanting to die.
I thought about waiting in the shade somewhere for the group behind me, but I knew I only had about 7 more miles to the Hams Prairie Store. Those seven miles really hurt, though. I hated every damn pedal stroke. I eventually made it to the store at 5:35 PM. Many of the top riders were already done with the entire course at this point, and I still had 40+ miles to go. What a bunch of show-offs.
I walked into the store with my head pounding, and my guts churning. The air conditioning was the bomb diggity, though! There were other riders coming and going, but all I wanted to do was order some food, get a drink, and sit down. I ordered a hard salami sandwich, but they were all out since Bob recommended to everyone that they order one at this store. Damn. I was looking forward to that. It didn’t really matter since I wasn’t sure I could even eat anything without vomiting. So, I ordered a roast beef and Colby cheese sandwich, grabbed two Powerades, and sat down. There was only one problem. I just couldn’t eat or drink any of it.
Fifteen minutes after I arrived, Aaron and Justin showed up. They didn’t look good, but they looked better than I felt. I think I had only eaten two bites and drank two swallows as they sat down at my table. Things weren’t looking good at all. I felt like absolute dog crap.
If I would’ve had a support vehicle there, I would have thrown in the towel. I was really bummed. I kept picturing Bob at the finish line, an ice-cold beer in one hand, a delicious homemade brat courtesy of the Hoosier Daddies in the other hand, laughing his ass off at how much pain I was in. So, I texted him. I remember texting him, but I didn’t really remember what I had written until I looked at my phone at the end of the race. We normally try to keep this blog PG-13, so if you’re offended by foul language, you may want to skip ahead. Here is the text conversation we had. And please remember that Bob and I are very close friends, and I was a bit delirious at this point in the race.
And now the world knows that Bob has agreed to ride the Cedar Cross course on his GT Peace 29er singlespeed. I’m going to hold him to it. Anyway, back to our story…
Aaron and Justin ordered some food, and I was still trying to force myself to eat and drink. Another rider came over and sat down on the bags of dog food by our table and starts talking to us. This guy looks like he had just been on a 5 mile leisure ride. His name is Keith Clark, and he was determined to finish the ride since his wife had told him he was too old for this kind of thing.
Then in walked Kyle Boos. He, too, looked a lot fresher than I felt, and he had consumed a 6-pack of the Hoosier Daddies’ free beer. Very impressive, and kind of disturbing too. Kyle ordered his food, took a leak, ate his food, and left before I finished half of my sandwich. I was struggling. I got some encouragement from my facebook friends, but I was really having doubts. Every gulp and bite I took just didn’t want to stay down. It reminded me of how I felt at the Tour de Donut, only 10 times worse.
I received a text from Adam saying that he was cramping up pretty badly back at Hwy 54. He and Travis were pulling out of the race. I wanted to join them, but I was starting to feel slightly better. Eventually, I was able to finish my sandwich and drink both Powerades. I grabbed two more Powerades to pour into my water bottles, I paid my bill, and I headed back out into the heat… an hour and 15 minutes after arriving at the store.
Fortunately, it was probably 5 to 10 degrees cooler than when I had arrived. That was fantastic! I knew there was one more climb left, but it was an SOB of a climb. After that climb, though, it was all flat. Having ridden those flat gravel roads that lay ahead of me, I knew the wind could be terrible. But I had checked the forecast earlier, and the wind was supposed to be at our backs. So I was confident that if I could make it to the top of the next climb at mile 76, then I could probably finish this race.
There was a group of 8 of us leaving the store. One guy only rode far enough to hit 75 miles on his bike computer, so that left us with 7. I didn’t get everyone’s name, but there was Aaron, Justin, Keith, Tony (who joined us on the Cock-Gobbler 50+ mile gravel grinder back in March), and two other guys. We headed out towards the killer climb that no one wanted to face. Of course the toughest climb of the day the last climb of the day. Thanks, Bob!
I was starting to feel quite a bit better by the time we got to the climb at mile 76, and for a split-second I thought about trying to ride all the way up. With more than 30 miles left, though, I figured I’d better play it smart and push my bike up it. It was the only hill I walked (other than the singletrack and the “staircase”). Two in our group rode the whole thing, one of them being Keith, and I was quite impressed.
It wasn’t long before we rode up on one of the coolest parts of the race: The Nuclear Reactor and Cooling Tower in Fulton. Keith, who was wearing a Wind Power jersey, asked me to snap a photo of him with the tower in the background. That’s pretty funny. A few others stopped for a photo-op, myself included.
Shortly after leaving the nuclear power plant, we had the pleasure of riding down what Bob referred to on the Cue Sheet as a “Totally badass downhill” and it was indeed BAD-ASS! Thankfully, we made it down the hill before it got completely dark. As we hopped on the Katy Trail at around mile 84, it was getting very dark, and everyone that had lights started using them. I, being the complete fool that I am, did not have one, though, and I was very glad to be in this group.
We rode the Katy Trail and then hopped onto CR 4000. A few guys in our group were talking about taking the Katy Trail the whole way back, and it was very tempting. I just couldn’t let myself do it after coming this far, though. I had ridden this gravel before, and although it can be tough, I knew I could make it – especially since the wind was supposed to be at our backs.
After a short stretch of gravel, we wound up back on the Katy Trail, but something didn’t feel right. Then we started having trouble following the cue sheet from this point on. I broke out my phone to pinpoint our exact location, and this confirmed my fear. We had unfortunately gone right when we should have gone left onto CR 4010. A LOT of riders must have done the same thing since there were a ton of tire tracks going the way we had gone.
So after riding 100 miles (only the second time I’ve ever done so), we had a decision to make. The two riders whose names I never got rode on ahead, so I assume they took the Katy Trail all the way back. Tony’s rear-end was killing him, and he had to work the next morning. So he understandably opted for the Katy Trail as well.
For me, there was only one choice. I had to go back. I said I was going to go back and ride the full course, but I told the other guys that I didn’t expect them to go with me. I was ready to ride the last 16 miles PLUS the 2 or 3 miles we had gone off-course by myself… in the dark… with no light. But I couldn’t have been happier when Keith said, “I’m going with you.” Aaron and Justin both said they were in as well. Holy shit. These guys were awesome riding partners.
We turned around and got back on course. The gravel on 4010, however, was fresh and loose. It was NOT easy riding. But we put our heads down and kept the cranks turning. Together.
Several miles of gravel led us to a short jaunt on the Katy Trail led us to CR 4015. Once we turned west onto CR 4038, the headwind slapped us in the face hard. A storm was blowing in fast and furious, and just like Bob planned, after 106 miles of riding, we’d be riding into a vicious headwind and trying to beat the storm the last 10 miles
It was not fun. At all. But again, we just put our heads down and kept the cranks turning. Together.
The lightning show was pretty impressive, but I really hoped we didn’t get caught in the storm. We kept getting closer and closer, but it seemed to take forever. But then finally, we rode under Hwy 54 and soon found ourselves riding toward the finish line to cheers of the few remaining riders, friends, and family still there at around 11:10 PM. Fourteen hours and roughly 116 miles after we had started.
The cheers grew louder, and then we were completely soaked with sprays of warm beer as we crossed the finish line. Together.
It was incredible. I couldn’t believe it. We had done it. Together. We were officially Cedar Crossers.
I hugged Bob (after flipping him off), high-fived everyone I could see – Travis, Kyle, Derrick, Emma, Adam, Cara, Jim, Bob’s Mom, my fellow riders… It was a great moment. One I’ll never forget.
Although the lights to the pavilion had been turned off, there were still deliciously hot baked potatoes (courtesy of Bob’s amazing Mother!), sour cream, and loads of butter. I had a couple of notes from my wife and kids that almost brought a tear to my eye. Unfortunately, they had to go home earlier since it was a school night. I never dreamed I would be finishing that later. In fact, I think I told my wife that I should be done around 8:00 PM and if I wasn’t, then it meant I probably wasn’t finishing.
And then the storm hit. We had made it in just in the nick of time. It was a perfect ending to an unbelievably great day.
But wait… It gets even better. Jim Smith from Monster Bicycle Co. handed me this:
I didn’t even realize that technically my tires were the last to cross the finish line, but I’m glad they did. I almost feel bad for winning this prize since the four of us really finished together, but I don’t feel bad enough to give it to someone else. 🙂 I freakin’ love this flask. I immediately filled it with Blackberry Whiskey (also courtesy of the Hoosier Daddies) and tried it out. Nothing ever tasted so good. Huge thanks to Jim, who ended up having an even worse day than I thought. Seriously, go read his report. It’s ridiculous.
We sat around reminiscing awhile as Bob called a bunch of people who had never checked in. He wasn’t sure if these people were still out on the course, on their way home, asleep in their beds, or dead. After a little while, though, the rain had let up a little, and it was time to go home.
This was definitely the hardest race I’ve ever finished, and it was one of my favorite races of all time. It was brutally hard. I wanted to quit several times. I hated Bob for a little while. But it was all worth it.
I’d like to thank the awesome sponsors of this race, the even awesome-er volunteers, and especially Bob Jenkins. I know everyone that took part in the Cedar Cross appreciates all that Bob did, but I don’t think anyone realizes what Bob actually put into this race.
He has worked tirelessly for months on this race: planning, scouting, weed-eating, lining up sponsors, getting permits, more scouting, hating horses, more weed-eating, blogging, riding the course, re-riding the course, more scouting, more schmoozing with sponsors, more weed-eating, more hating the effing horses, driving the course, more re-routing the course, answering countless questions via email that could have easily been answered by simply reading the damn blog, meeting with the Jeff City Tourism Bureau, checking the weather forecast every half hour during the week leading up to the race, worrying that even one of us coming to the race might not have an awesome time, marking the course, re-marking the course, hating the damn horses even more, and then worrying his ass off on race day until every last one of us made it back safely, and the list goes on and on and on…
And do you know how much money he made from this race? Not a damn cent. In fact, Bob sunk a lot of his own cash into this race to bring us the best damn gravel race Missouri has to offer. That’s just incredible.
Bob has said to me several times that “we” are doing this or “we” did that, and he has referred to this race as “our” race. I just want to make one thing clear. The Cedar Cross was, is, and always will be Bob Jenkins’ race. And don’t let him tell you otherwise.
So, Bob. Thank you. I’m proud to call you my friend.
And to those that raced, thank you.
And to those that finished with me, a giant thank you!
And to those that missed it, make sure you’re there next year. This thing is going to be HUGE next year.
Posted on May 7, 2012, in Adam gets fired from the team, Bob didn't get to go, Cedar Cross, Dirty Kanza 200 Training, Endurance Cross racing, Epicnicity---yeah it's a word, Free bicycle racing, gravel grinder, Group Rides, Kage Didn't Get to Go, Race Reports and tagged Cedar Cross, Cedar Cross Race Report, Century Ride, cycling, Endurance Cross Racing, gravel grinder, Race Report. Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.