I got lost on my way to the Alpenrose Dairy, missing the exit off of 26 Eastbound and worrying that my perilously underinflated right front tire would blow out, leaving me stranded on the way to my first Cyclocross race of the season. The tire held, however, and I found my way to the Portland cycling hotbed by following the other cars laden with road bikes wearing suspiciously wide tires.
Joe Field, the father of one of my students, actually runs the race, and I volunteered to help out with registration in exchange for some community time and a free race entry. I've never registered a race, and discovered its chaotic nature, especially for a weeknight, mostly informal affair. An quick hour passed of taking $15 payments and highlighting names, and then I left to change and warm-up. Sitting in my front seat, skinsuit hooked over the steering wheel to better pin on my number, I experienced one of those Proustian moments, drifting back through all the 'Cross races from the past year. Racing at night, though, is different, and all your usual associations are crossed with the giddy anticipation of green fields lit by powerful lights—the warmup has a little more zip; the air buzzes, powered by the abundant literal and figurative electricity.
Number pinned on, warmup jersey over my shoulders, water bottle in the back pocket, I jumped astride the bike and started pedaling towards the road. The gearing was too high and I tried to downshift. I heard several clicks and felt...nothing. I looked down. No shifter cables exited the hoods of my newly installed shifters. I had asked my mechanic to install some new brakes and brake cables; I'd assumed he would have shift-cabled the bike, too. It was my fault. Not giving your bike a once-over taking for things like, say, the presence of shift cables, bespeaks a wildly unfocused and incompetent nature. No matter, I thought. I'll just ride as a singlespeed. No matter that I'd signed up for an hour of racing in the Men's A field.
I got through my half-assed warmup (30 minutes of light riding and some sprints), rode half the course, and rolled up to the line. Just in front of me: Molly Cameron, Portland Cyclocross superstar and European racer. I said hey and waited nervously for the start. An official came over and fixed my number, saying she couldn't see it. I said not to worry, since I assumed I'd be so far off the back with only one gear that scoring me wouldn't be important. She patted my shoulder and said, laughing, "Good luck!" Joe, the race organizer, passed out last week's money (winners had to stuff the money, dancer-style, into their skinsuits) and an official gave us the dreaded/adored Thirty seconds...
At the whistle, I instantly gave up a row of spots, trying to push my 36x12 gear. The course began flat and paved and then instantly turned right onto a gravel path. I don't think any one went down, but we all fought for the one packed single-track on which you could really push. The pack strung out fast, as it always does, and I sat probably about 20 riders back. The course was short, grassy, and serpentine, with two single barriers (the second one leading into the requisite Portland run-up, replete with mutton-chopped crazies screaming "RIDE IT, RIDE IT!!!") and one set of triple barriers. It was dark when we began (about the light of the above picture, taken by the brilliant pdxcross) and we raced through pools of light and darkness, a profoundly unsettling feeling (I wonder what's at the bottom of that shadow...).
As usually happens, I found myself part of a chase group of five, including super-frame builder Ira Ryan. It's nice to race around with someone well known, as spectators give you greater attention. Soon the group came apart at the seams, and the five of us became more of an accordion, stringing out and coming back together. It was at that point in the race, about 30-40 minutes in, that every one in the race seemed to be wearing the same kit. Why do all of these guys have on those "Gentle Lovers" kits? Cyclocross races, at about a moment 2/3 through, have an odd effect on the psyche—as bile begins to build in a stomach that is shutting down due to lack of blood flow, the brain also begins to drift, making wild associations: did I just ride through a manure pile? What number is that, exactly, on the lap card? Where did I park my car?
I eventually escaped my group of five and picked people off throughout the race. I would guess that I finished fifteenth or so, but that's not really that important. After the race I had some scraped shins (no idea when that happened), a sore back, and euphoria.
The DZ Nuts held up great throughout the race, and I smelled pleasantly of tea tree oil throughout. No chafing, so I suggest it heartily.
'Cross on :).
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