…only totally different.
As with many things I love to do, I once approached cyclocross with a semi-irrational hatred based on one bad weekend. I’d gutted myself a few times on my seat, fallen over a couple barriers, and discovered how quickly my adolescent heart rate could skyrocket out of control. My (equally adolescent) conclusion: Cyclocross Is Dumb. And Hard.
Yet as I’ve become older and less wise, riding around on dirt with skinny tires has begun to look less and less insane- and I love nothing more than being an absolute noob, so I figured I’d give it a try.
In my first race I was vanquished handily by an eleven year old. I crossed the finish line coughing that rusty blood-taste and grinning maniacally- this was familiar. This was fun! I picked another race and asked local sensei Lisa Curry if she could make me a ‘cross rider in twenty days. Training had officially begun.
If you know Lisa at all, it’s probably not difficult to imagine her sitting serenely inside a
pagoda while I carry my bike up endless flights of stairs and practice punching my way through barriers. Occasionally I try to beat Lisa, but she is supernaturally quick and always just makes me look silly, as a true sensei should.
In fact, I’m pretty sure that at one point in our training she even said “It is the board that should fear you!” which is totally cool. Add to that some bleeding knuckles, a scene of me struggling to feed myself at night and the basics of the five-point palm exploding heart technique, and you’ve got (more or less) my month leading up to Rolling Thunder. I figured I was about as ready as I was going to get.
Still, I spent the three hours en route to Missoula filled with doubt. After all, ‘cross is unpredictable, and if I was honest with myself, my month of “training” really just boiled down to a day of running around a field with Lisa and then watching Kill Bill. I had to admit that I still only knew how to explode a heart anaerobically- and then the injuries I’ve had this year started to speak to me. In a nutshell I was really nervous. But then my old racer brain kicked in, the part of me that is stubborn to the point of my own ruination, and I knew there was no turning back.
Now picture a (large) group of spandex-clad cyclists dancing gangham-style between port-a-potties and tents. Everywhere you look there are beers, wigs, tutus, beers, money, beers- and the race t-shirt features a honey badger with demonic glowing eyes. I pulled up my knee socks, doubts dissolved; after all, ‘cross is unpredictable. I’d come to the right place.
For those with less imagination:
The race itself is a blur, literally. All I really know is that myself and nearly fifty other women (in widely varying stages of sobriety and costume) raced from twilight well into the night. Lucky for me the course was more like a MTB short track than a road race, leaving little room to think about old injuries or anything not immediately related to keeping the rubber side down. Focusing is a funny thing to suddenly remember you can do.
At one point I was pedaling desperately through a sand pit while a rowdy gang of middleschoolers tried to hand me beer and dollar bills. “Take the money! Take the money!” they screamed, running next to me and drenching me in alcohol. It was good to see the next generation in acton.
Between the community in Boulder who got a bike together for me and the community in Missoula for putting on such a great event, I was feeling the love from cycling this weekend- something I’ve been missing for about two years. The course was thickly padded with heckling spectators. The prizes were awesome and plentiful, and everyone was just, well, stoked. I caught up with old friends, made new ones, and for the first time in my life three laps to go actually seemed like too few.
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