Gold Speedos and Black Boss Porter
I’m stroking the saddle of an extremely tall, orange Kona when a shadow falls over my hand. I become aware of a tower in front of me, blocking the low-hanging winter sun.
I look up and pull my hand away.
"Were you just petting my saddle?"
It’s Ryan Trebon, standing there looking like the mutant super-tower, rail-thin powerhouse that he is. He looks fast even when he’s standing still.
Now I have to tell Ryan Trebon why I was just petting his saddle. My mouth opens as I realize that my neck is starting to hurt from looking straight up at his boyish face.
He’s smiling. There are still no words on my tongue, though my mouth remains open in the off-chance that they might appear. I’m bombing!
Sherry appears in her Save-Heidi-the-Mute superhero outfit: "Ryan, is it possible for me to get a picture with you?"
And so it goes. Sherry is squeezed by one of the fastest, tallest world-class cyclocross racers in the world. This is recorded by Sierra, who snaps the photo with her digital camera.
I stand off to the side and concentrate on closing my mouth. Then I turn my attention back to Barry Wicks, who is clad only in a shiny, gold speedo – the World Championship stripes stitches strategically right across the lumpy front. All 268 of his ribs are showing through his nearly transparent King-Whitey skin. He is laughing and holding the World Single Speed Championship trophy that he has just been awarded.
If this sounds like a bad acid trip, you’re generally on the right track. Only acid is bad for you so I choose dark beer instead.
It is the end to a day of racing that will be hard to top.
Estacada is a fast course with just enough mud to keep you honest. There is a short-trackey, winding section through the trees in back, a long slog around a grassy, muddy field, a few good high-flying-no-brakes descents, and a couple of leg-burning run-ups.
The team tent is set up on the edge of the race course, just after a wide turn, next to a picnic table. This time, we are armed with coolers full of beer and food. The propane heater is all fired up and we huddle around it, waging battle against the morning chill.
When I go to the line to see the Master B’s start, I noticed that there is something different about Ben Johnson today. He looks possessed standing there in the front row. He looks focused and intense. He is unsmiling. He looks as if he might throw up at any time.
I have a good feeling about his intensity level.
He gets a shitty start and then proceeds to race his little Portland Velo pants off, placing 7th in a super-fast field. Sally rides a solid race and comes in 23rd, significantly better than in prior weeks. Amit is not far back.
Following the relative domination of the Portland Velo men in the C Master category (3 in the top ten, 4 in the top 25) the day is off to a great start.
I have a good feeling in my legs as I report to the Kiddie ‘Cross start line to watch my 5-year-old niece, Emily, destroy the field. (Well, technically she was second to last and got whooped by a larva-sized two year old, but as far as she’s concerned, she got a ribbon which means she’s the winner. Period.)
With Emily’s racing debut thoroughly documented, I run back to the team tent and hop on a trainer.
Now it’s time for business.
Spin, spin, spin, eat, drink, spin, number-pin, spin, freak-out, spin.
Head to the line.
I get a good spot in the front and case the field to figure out who I’m going to chase. I pick a girl who’s been placing in the top three, chit-chat with a lovely Veloce Cycles rider named Bernadette, and then we’re off.
I punch it off the line and head into the muddy path in the top 7. I can see my rabbit just up ahead.
We wind through trails and trees, braking too much for my taste on the corners. I pass Barry Wicks, who is leaning against his bike, talking on a cell phone.
"Barry!!!!!!!" I scream. I am racing and I am still goddam cheering for Barry Wicks. He waves back at me.
As we pop out the back and onto a wide-open stretch of gravel, my friend Emily sidles up along side me. (This is the same Emily who gasped, "Go… go…motherf@#$er!" in encouragmenet as I passed her in the final lap of last week’s race at Barton.)
"How do you like this warmup lap?" she says, laughing.
"Punk!… you know I love it! I’m about to drop some suckers… you coming?"
"Let’s go." she says.
I swing wide, find a big gear, and mash the pedals over, passing a several riders to my left The race is in full-swing now and I am riding with the lead group, in serious contention for a top five finish. As I realize this, a strange feeling of ecstasy washes over me.
Finally, I did not fuck up the first lap! Finally, I am riding fast.
In my head for five days leading up to this race I had been repeating the same phrases, "It is a choice. I choose pain." This is my way of reminding myself that the only way to win at bike racing is to be willing to suffer more than the rest of the field. Sure, you can train and eat and strategize, but at the end of the day you have to be willing to suffer excruciating pain.
They don’t give this shit away.
The first two girls on the front of the group begin to pull away and I can’t get around the others to chase them down right away. They’re too far gone by the time we get to a wider part of the course. Despite the fact that I’m chasing once again, I’m way fucking happier knowing that I am chasing 1-2-3 and not chasing 8-9-10.
As the burn sets into my leg muscles I remember my mantra: "It’s a choice. I choose pain." I remember getting dropped in Forest Park the week before. I recall the sensation of standing up on the pedals even as my internal computer wrote "WTF" across my brain’s screen, over and over again.
I over-ride the searing sensation and give chase, accelerating out of corners, grinding fat gears over flat sections, and bombing down the descents (by far my biggest technical challenge) without brakes. I tell myself to breathe and relax. I narrow my eyes and concentrate on execution.
Now that I’m finally on the front of the race for a change, I have no intention of giving it up with a sloppy crash.
I catch the girl I set out to chase and sit on her wheel for a few minutes. I don’t have enough in me to pass her yet, so I pull a quick recovery and then move into a parallel lane in the trail we’re on as I watch her make some sketchy work of the tree roots we’re bombing over. Just as I move off her wheel, she’s down.
I have no idea what she hit but she goes down hard. I can see that she’s physically alright, so instead of yelling, "Are you ok!?" I shout, "Up up up! You got it! Get up!" Then I locate the next rider up ahead, turn on the missle-lock, and ride away.
Coming past the OBRA tent I’ve finally made it back to the wheel of the number three rider, who is attached to the number 2 and 1 riders. This is the train I want to be on.
As I roll away from the announcer I hear him say, "And… that’s it! Everyone is a finisher now! Everyone is a finisher!" which means that this is my last lap. I was one of the last people to make it through onto this final lap, so I’m pretty sure no one is going to be chasing me. It’s just me and this group.
And I feel good.
I’m having a relatively easy time with their pace and getting excited about the idea of finally being in position to make a play for the podium. I’m thinking about where to make my move when I lose concentration for a moment and lay the bike down just after an off-camber section. The rider in front of my had taken it far slower than I wanted to, and I should have swung wide to make a pass, but instead I followed her (slow) line, lost all my momentum, and ate it.
Frantically, I pushed my bike up the little rise in front of me, hopped back on, and looked up to see what kind of damage had been done.
It was a lot.
I could still see them, however, as they turned into the trees, so I put my head down and rode as hard as my mostly-destroyed body would go. On the tiny uphill pavement climb I heard my teammates and my sister up on the hill above. I found a big gear, stood up, and accelerated.
Around the field, Sherry and Sierra, who had been cut off at 3 laps and were done racing already, came flying across the grass, screaming after me. I wanted so badly to bridge to the group for them. I wanted so badly to take a podium spot on the final run-up. I wanted to go faster. I begged my legs to go faster.
In the end, I couldn’t do it.
Sometimes you have it in the tank, and sometimes you don’t.
Despite this, I was overcome with elation. It was the best race I’ve ever raced and, moreover, it felt like a beginning. I felt different – calm and strong, not panicky. My bike fitness is just beginning to settle into my legs, and I’m excited to see where it can take me.
Next week is Hillsboro. District Championships and double points. The final Cross Crusade race on a fast, flat, roadie course that will challenge every weakness that I have.
Pray for rain.
I gotta be due, right? God? Are you there god? It’s me, MudQueen. Send rain.