Drunken Cheerleader Zombies: A Race Report
We are supposed to be a squad. Four Portland Velo women dressed as death-squad cheerleaders from hell.
It’s going to be great.
I pick up my makeshift cheer outfit the night before we leave for the race in my standard last-miute pre-Hallween panic. To my shock and horror, the short, pleated skirt and sleeveless polyester top makes me look like a crossdresser.
"No it doesn’t" Sal says.
"Yes, it does."
You’re being silly." Sherry insists.
"No, I’m not."
I’d rather be a cross-dressing girl-boy cheerleader than no cheerleader at all, however, because I’m part of a squad. We’re a posse. And I’m ready to roll with my crew, hot or not.
The costume is packed up and our living room becomes the staging area for what must surely be the most preparation any two people have ever done for a 24 hour camping trip. Bikes are stacked in the entry way, pit wheels leaning against the overstuffed armchair. Race day bags are loaded with multiple sets of cycling gear, large containers are loaded with food, beer and nutritional supplements, the team tent in all its massive, white glory sits patiently by, waiting to be loaded into the Chevy Silverado that we call The Adventuremobile.
Sherry and I make lists and shop, picking up more essentials (beer) and extras (water). Sal rents the biggest tent that my little solo-backpacker eyes have ever seen.
The caravan pushes out on Saturday morning under a fall sky that sings. The leaves everywhere have turned. Highway 103 is long and windy and follows a river. I have not been on it since running my Hood to Coast leg there a year ago and I recall the sensation of hauling ass in the middle of summer.
We arrive at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds just after noon and visit the office to pay for camping. The place is fantastic – the perfect setting for a creepy Halloween race. Plenty of outbuildings for chainsaw murderers to hide in and some wooded areas for big chase scenes. We are the first to pull into the meadow that has been designated for camping, so we park on the far side and set to work getting things set up.
The cross crusade organizers arrive shortly: a pickup truck filled with cones and people on foot trailing behind, setting the cones up as they are tossed out of the bed of the truck:
"We’d like to put the course right through your camping spot here, if you don’t mind."
Do we mind? Do we mind if you send hundreds of crazy, costumed racers speeding within inches of our beer-lubricated party tent so we can scream at the top of our lungs and enjoy the race from the comfort of our reclining lawn chairs?
Of course not.
We roll the cars back 10 feet, post-haste, and relocate the tent, which has already been staked in. The effort is worth it. We are now sitting on the Park Place of Cross Crusade Halloween real estate. Bring it.
With the team tent up and fully operational, bikes are mounted into workstands and the pre-race rituals begin. I pre-ride the course, realize that my 42T chainring is going to be my certain death, and vocalize my concern. Not an hour later and my bike is outfitted with a 40T ring stolen from Gregg’s pit bike. My chain is shortened by two links and another test ride reveals that I will probably live through the race in the morning.
That is what you call true cross love.
Dusk sets in and with it comes the chill. We fire up the portable propane heater and wait for the rumored bonfire. Up on the hill above the meadow, all variety of cross-dressing manly men are dragging logs down to the meadow. Brad Ross, the series organizer, shows up at our dinner table with a chainsaw in hand.
Minutes later, we hear the massacre begin. Only he isn’t chopping up cheerleaders (thank god!), he’s bringing the firewood bounty to the people of the Cross Crusade.
After a few hours of darkness, we notice activity around the bonfire area and then, before you can blink, the first starts with a massive flame that shoots well over 10 feet into the air, sending sparks skyward and announcing its birth.
Costumed people flock to it in droves.
A keg appears.
Cue the madness.
Kristen, our cheerleading squad leader, appears out of nowhere looking killer in a forest green uniform that puts mine to shame. She promptly announces that she has had an entire bottle of Maker’s Mark and feels phenomenal.
She is talking in an English accent.
A blow-up doll crowd surfs above us and ends up in the flames, legs wilting pathetically but other important lower body extremities remaining intact. He is rescued at the last moment and a cheer goes up from the crowd. A muscular man in a very short nurse’s outfit keeps accidentally flashing everyone. A drunken bumble bee refuses to move away from the light of my iphone ("Oooooooooh…. lightttttttttttt.") Brad Ross loses his shirt but keeps his trucker hat.
When I leave to go to bed at 9:30pm (because I am old, and tired) I find Sherry to say goodnight. Her eyes have the look of trouble.
The party rages on outside my tent and I fall asleep to the calming sounds of people riding bikes through fire and dancing wildly to music pumping out of a huge speaker system.
In the morning, I wake up early to survey the damage. The bonfire is still smoldering and I can sense hangovers seeping out of every tent and car. The meadow wakes up slowly and painfully around me. I peek inside Sherry’s car and see that she’s still sleeping.
Races begin and I enter pre-race ritual mode.
My pancake breakfast doesn’t sit well (how could I have forgotten my oatmeal!) and I start to feel achy all over. I pop pain medication and watch the first few races.
Sherry is still in her car at 11:00am when Sal’s race starts, and I start to get the idea that she might not be joining me in the beginner women’s field today. Kristen is completely MIA and Sierra, who was driving out in the morning, has still not arrived.
What is a cross-dressing cheerleader without a squad!?
I begin my warmup preparations alone and wait for signs of life from Sherry’s car. I still am not feeling well when I start setting up my trainer but I force down my planned calories in the form of Gu and Clif Shots.
Finally, Sierra arrives in royal blue cheerleading uniform, and we begin to warmup together.
I watch Steve Brown rip the men’s master B field into pieces for the second consecutive week. He accomplishes this feat while riding a mountain bike and starting from about 40th position in the first lap of the race. His performance is absolutely dominating. His discipline and training are evident. He is upping the ante.
After winning with a margin of greater than 30 seconds, an upgrade is imminent. And so the first Portland Velo A racer is born. Steve Brown, welcome to the big leagues.
Sal eats shit on a corner early in the race, coming down hard on his arm and injuring his wrist. He finishes but gives up a huge number of positions in the crash. Ben Johnson claims to have had a bad day and places in the top 20.
Before the single speed race, there is a silent lap to honor a cyclist and racer who was struck and killed by a garbage truck earlier in the week. His friends are tired from having just returned from his funeral in another state. A few of them speak and then the ride begins. Hundreds and hundreds of riders moving slowly across the course against the noiselessness.
For the first time, you can hear the crickets off in the distance. The wind moves through and rustles fallen leaves and my heart feels heavy inside of me.
And then, as the lap ends, the party gradually resumes. The single speed and Mens B race begins in earnest and Sierra and I spin on trainers. Sherry has appeared by now – broken and worked over. She lays down on the grass with dark glasses on and closes her eyes and we shake our heads because we’ve all been there before… and there is nothing you can do for a hangover like that.
One cheerleader down.
With 45 minutes to race, I finally realize that Kristen is probably similarly pre-occupied so Sierra and I must ride alone. I’m happy to have her there and we chat on the line before the race starts. My stomach and body still feel like complete shit so I’m mostly concentrating on not throwing up on her as we talk.
The whistle blows and my competitive-side kicks the sicky-side in the head and says, "Shutup for 45 minutes, then you can complain as much as you want."
Sierra and I get a good start. We’re in the top ten going into the dirt-filled arena. We make it through unscathed and head out to a long descent into a meadow. The first real hill of the day reveals that I have good legs today. I make a few passes climbing out of the saddle and turn into a zig-zagging section that winds in and out of long, narrow livestock stalls.
Inside the stalls its dark and spooky. Spectators are inside banging on metal objects and wooden walls creating a din that is energizing. The straights are short and fast and the corners are hairpins. Get a bad line on the outside and you’re fighting sand. I handle this section well and come out of the buildings still in good position. Heading up a slight rise I am starting to realize that this might be the day that things come together for me.
Then I play the rise like a rookie, picking a shitty line and muscling my bike instead of finessing it.
I’m out of my pedal and halfway to the ground before I know it, and hemorrhaging positions left and right as riders in my field fly by me, captializing on my mistake. I take too long to get back on and by the time I’m back in the game I have at least 20 positions to get back to find the top ten.
And so begins the chase.
I calm myself down and tell myself that this is my opportunity to practice passing. Luckily, most of the course is wide. I know I’ll be able to get people on both the climbs and through the barriers so that’s where i focus my energy. My 40T ring lets me ride the longest climb on each of the 5 laps. Toward the end of the race people are popping and jumping off their bikes to run it, so I make up positions en masse each time through that section.
By the last lap I feel like I am closing in on a top ten spot. I pass one more rider on the final climb and then another heading into the barriers that are just in front of the finish line.
Sierra is ahead of me somewhere and I cross the line and find her to give her a cheerleader high five before my ceremonial post-race, overly-dramatic collapse (this is becoming a ritual).
I am surrounded by women in fishnet stockings and furry bikinis. Women and bikes. Boobs and bikes. Legs and bikes. Skin and bikes. From my vantage point on the ground everything looks like soft-porn for cyclists.
I am happy to be a cross-dressing cheerleader with only half a squad. I’m happy to be done. I’m happy to feel strong. I’m happy to have been able to shut my "I feel shitty" voice up long enough to ride a respectable race.
The post-race rush sets in. Endorphins and adrenaline – athletic afterglow on crack.
We watch the final race of the day, pack up all the gear, and head off into the sunset for prime rib at the Big Foot Lodge in Seaside, Oregon.
My head is filled with Halloween stories that will be told for years to come. My heart is big and full of autumn. I fall asleep on the way home in my heated leather seat and dream of bicycle-riding gladiators, hot-dogs, gorillas, and drunken zombie cheerleaders.