I only heard about the Cedar Cross race about 2 weeks before it was to take place. I won’t go into details about the venue, since there’s much more detailed info about it on the official site: https://cedarcross.wordpress.com/
What I will get into here is my own experience with the race. I’ll keep it short, but try to cover the more memorable parts. Number one: my bike.
Though this was a cyclocross race, mountain bikes were also allowed. I have my Scrambler built up as a sort of pseudo cross bike right now, but the thought of trying to get through miles of muddy singletrack on very narrow 32c tires wasn’t very appealing. I also knew there’d be hills, and since that bike has a standard road crank, that’d mean a 39T chainring would be a bear to push up hills. Sure, my road bike has a 42c small ring (and 11-23 cassette), but I’d be on gravel roads, which means I couldn’t just stand and mash the pedals like I do on my road bike.
So, the mountain bike won out. It has a shock with a remote lock-out, disc brakes, wider tires, better gearing, and more room for mud. And speaking of the gearing, my granny chainring is a 20T. Match that with a 32T cog, and I was able to sit and easily spin up hills that I saw many other people working much harder to get up.
The race started at 9am at the Katy Trail commuter parking lot in what used to be called Cedar City, and is now more or less just part of Jefferson City, next to highways 63 and 54. I don’t know an official number of racers yet, but around 170 signed up, and at least 120 actually showed up. We got a quick speech from Bob Jenkins, the sadistic a-hole who set this torture game up for us, where he basically told us we were on our own, and not to hit on his mom. Finally, a lead vehicle showed us the way down a mile or so of paved road, to where the beginning of seemingly endless gravel roads began.
I was on my own–many stayed in teams with riding buddies, but I don’t have any friends dumb enough to do this with me–so my first plan was to find a group of people I could stick with. Though the group changed many times throughout the race, I didn’t have to put in a whole lot of miles on my own. My biggest worry was that we’d eventually run into a pack of 4 hateful dogs that we’d been warned many times about, so I figured if we had bigger numbers than the dogs, we’d make it through alright. As it would end up, by the time my small group got to them, they already seemed too worn out or bored to really put up much of an aggressive front.
The two sections of singletrack we had were where my bike was supposed to excel over all the cyclocross bikes on the route. Maybe it did, maybe not. Considering how many of us ended up having to walk most of the trails, I don’t think the shocks and fatter tires really mattered much here. The worst part was a section called the stair climb, which was less like stairs, and more like a near-vertical cliff of thick, sticky mud. We all had to dismount and walk our bikes up this. All I really remember is I nearly lost a shoe in the mud, some guy everyone called "Turbo" ran right up it like it was nothing, and it basically destroyed my climbing/sprinting muscles–the ones I fall back on to make up time when my legs begin to tire from normal riding.
Inside the national forest that was home to the singletrack, it was humid, temps were in the high-80s already, and there was zero wind. It was a miserable place to be, and I heard some riders threw up (and perhaps called it quits) because of it. Fortunately, it made up for only a very small fraction of the overall course, so once you were out of the second section, you knew you were good to go.
Gravel and hills:
Bob purposely set this course up to keep us off of paved roads as much as possible. As such, you rarely got to just relax and spin your pedals; instead, you were always on the look-out for potholes and tractor tire ruts. It made drafting behind others difficult and a bit unnerving. Still, I can deal with gravel. What I couldn’t deal with were the gravel climbs. As I mentioned before, I like to stand up and mash a big gear to get up hills. It’s how I rest one group of muscles while using the other group to make quick work of any size hill. But if you do that on gravel, you’ll lose traction and spin out. And we all know how hard it can be to get re-started from a dead stop on an incline.
So, instead, I was forced to stay seated like everyone else, and spin a lower gear. It meant my ass never got a rest from being in the saddle, and I was never able to distribute the burden between different muscle groups. My only saving grace was that I put the 20T small chainring back on my bike a few days prior.
Fortunately, every climb led to another descent, so I had time to rest occasionally. I’d turn off my shock’s remote lock, get up to speed, and just coast over any rut or pothole that got in my way. In fact, twice I hit 40mph–the fastest I’ve ever gone (or want to go) on gravel. I heard a few others make the same comment moments after we all made it down safe.
Whereas many others ran into plenty of equipment failures (ex.1 ex.2), I had only one: during the second singletrack section, something apparently grabbed my rear derailer housing on the seat stay, and popped it out of the cable stop. I didn’t know what happened at the time, but my chain quickly shifted all the way to the other end of my cassette, without the shifter moving in unison. I adjusted it at the shifter until it sort of worked and continued on, but kept having to re-adjust every few miles. I finally mentioned it to a guy I was riding with named Matt Grothoff, and he told me the housing looked like it was sitting funny against the frame. So, on one of the long, never-ending climbs, I got to looking at it between my legs while I pedaled. Turns out, the housing simply popped out, so I stopped, popped it back in, re-adjusted once more, and never had another problem.
I did see a ton of flat tires, though. The group I was with near the end had two in the final 20 miles, and there were many others dealing with punctures throughout the race. I give full credit to my Panaracer Flataway tire liners.
My wife volunteered to be my support and gear team, even though I had originally envisioned just doing this alone. But so long as she wanted to help, I sure wasn’t going to turn it down. She kept extra food, drinks, supplies, and clothes in her car, and met up with me at 6 different locations throughout the ride. While others had to depend on drop bags, I knew my stuff would always be there when I arrived. The best part was being able to change my soaking wet socks after crossing a creek in the first singletrack section. I’m glad I planned ahead for that.
By the 70mi mark, I had been riding on a seriously cramped right leg–my right quads and hamstring simultaneously cramped up on a hill climb at the 50mi mark, so badly I let out a scream and had to rest for 5 minutes–and was beginning to feel sick from over heating. After getting refills on my water and Gatorade, I sat in the car with the A/C cranked for 5 minutes. It gave me just enough of a refresh to feel like I could make it another 43 miles.
It was also at this stop that many racers chose to get a bite to eat inside a convenience store. Riders who got there way before I did were still sitting around, eating sandwiches and chilling out, when I decided it was best to keep my stay short and get back on the road. As it would turn out, no riders successfully passed me for the rest of the ride (and by successfully, I mean pass and then keep in front; I did have a couple pass me on two different occasions when I stopped with my group during flat tire repairs, but we passed them again minutes later both times). Also, for a time being, the temperature seemed to drop by about 10°.
Final 40 miles:
The final 40 miles were the worst, not because they were difficult–because they weren’t really; it was cooler and we were done with hills–but because it just didn’t seem like it’d ever end. Fortunately, after I left the convenience store at mile 70, I met up with a group of 3, and we more or less stayed together until the end. I think we knew we’d all be faster together than alone, and I guess we were right.
The final descent was from the nuclear power plant south of Fulton, MO, back down to the Katy Trail, where we never had to deal with another hill. We had about 10 miles of relatively smooth Katy Trail, then got off onto some of the worst gravel roads of the whole course. They were so bad, we saw another guy get double flat tires, which put him (a faster rider, it seemed) far behind us. Eventually, it led back to the Katy, then back onto more gravel roads, which finally turned to pavement near the end. On the final corner, 3 of the 4 sprinted to the finish line. Bob was there to throw beer in our faces as we crossed.
In all, it was over 113 miles, took close to 10 hours to complete (including refill and rest times), and left me pretty sore for the next 24 hours. I hear there are rumors it’ll be held again next year.
I was really impressed with how well the race was put together. Bob Jenkins not only put in a ton of his own time clearing the singletrack, mapping the route, getting sponsors, etc., he also dumped his own money into this race, then made it free to join. Then, any money dontated by the racers was given to a local no-kill animal shelter.
I saw far more singlespeeds at this race than I ever would have guessed. You can always assume you’ll see a couple guys on them, but there were almost too many to keep track of. Considering the number of hills, the size of the hills, and the overall distance, I was impressed by everyone who committed to riding one. I was very happy with all 27 speeds on my own bike, though.
My whole ride, all I wanted more than anything were drop bars. I feel so much more comfortable riding in drops, and have an easier time climbing and putting down power overall. If I ever do something this crazy again, I think I’ll find a way to put them on my MTB and just ditch the flat bar forever.
I ordered a saddle a few days prior to the race–a used, but excellent condition San Selle Marco Aspide on eBay–that I knew would be comfortable for the length of this race. Unfortunately, it was shipped UPS, and arrived a day after the race. I should have specified USPS, and maybe it would have shown up on Saturday instead. As it turned out, my Selle Italia SLR TT tore me up. Lesson learned: order parts further in advance.
No matter how much liquid you think you’ll need, always take more. I had one particular hour before I met my wife for the first re-fueling, where I really wish I’d taken a Gatorade with me. I still had enough water (barely), but that Gatorade would have been awesome. I also noticed plenty of other riders running out of water, and heard some made it to a drop point late enough that even the truck at the drop point had run out. I even offered to fill one guy’s bottles with water from our car, and he only took enough to fill one, not both. Stupid. On a day like that, it can really mean life or death, or even just finishing or having to drop out.
There was a couple there from Texas on a tandem Calfee bamboo bike. I lost track of them before the first singletrack, and really wanted to know if they finished, and how well they did.
And finally, if you take GoPro cameras with you on a ride with a group that big, there will be plenty of people trying to get camera time.