Finally got a cross race in this past weekend. I hadn’t realized quite how long it had actually been, but sifting through my notes and old photos, eventually figured out that my last cross race had been in 2002. Yikes.
But, there were a couple winters of redundant colds and illness, combined with/caused by work demands at the wrong times. Then last year, when I had gotten all psyched about things and kept my health pretty good, I pretty seriously bounced off my left hip while landing very wrong. The resultant hematoma was bad enough to get me to a doctor, and looked like someone had grafted a grapefruit onto my hip. It still has a slight numb spot and a twinge now and again. But, “poor me”, I digress.
When they throw a CX race in the same county that you live in, there’s really no excuse for ignoring it. Plus, my wife likes the cross races better than mtb races, because we are pretty viewable the whole time, as opposed to disappearing over the horizon to return muddy and stinky a couple hours later.
So, the White Hill School in Fairfax, CA threw a fundraising cyclocross race. (I would’ve liked to have been in that pitch meeting…) Despite an utter lack of running this fall, I decided to go ahead and commit to it, practiced a few dismounts and figured it would be good to get out and charge around for 40 minutes on a Saturday. As I cussed elsewhere, cleaning off the Poprad seemed to show up some cracks in the headtube weld area. I whined and whimpered and showed it to a few mechanics during an longish lunch break on Friday after the iBob poll ran 10 to point five against . The guy who I trust at the “Good Shop Which Doesn’t Sell Lemonds” said he might ride it to the store, but wouldn’t want to take it out on trails. The “Pro Shop With Some Attitude” said it was in the paint and would be fine, though this was more the opinion of the wrench who looked at it while enjoying the end of his snack. The “Big Shop I Didn’t Really Think Would Give a Rat’s Ass” took a long time to look at it, offered to email photos to their rep, told me softly that I needed to get my mind around needing a new frame (under warranty, of course) and had the extremely bright insight of pointing out I should drop the fork and look inside the headtube. The sound of hand smacking forehead.
Which left me with the realization that I was going to do my first cross race - actually my first race ever - on a singlespeed bicycle.
Hustled home from work on Friday and pulled the extra bits off of the Quickbeam. No need for bottle cages or baggage. Slapped on the Michelin Mud 2 tires that had just been installed on the Poprad and stood back to look at my handiwork. A very different looking bicycle, to be sure. In the back of my mind, this had been one of the reasons that the Quickbeam first caught my attention - and the ease with which it was made a trail-ready bicycle reinforced that. It looked (pardon the anthropomorphication) like it wanted to hit the trails.
I did a quick round the block and faked a couple of dismount acrobatics. Didn’t feel right at all, as the bar/saddle setup was a bit different than the Poprad, and the whole thing was a bit more off the ground. Actually, to be honest, nothing felt right. It was mildly unnerving to consider dismounts and potentially tricky topography when I really hadn’t encountered that on this bicycle. I decided to swap the pedals for the old scarred ATAC’s which had been on the Lemond. I figured that it might help to have some minor variable reduced. I just had to trust in the amount of fixed-gear miles covered, and the fact that the Quickbeam was a well-designed and stable beast, though not the one I was used to jumping on and off.
The alarm fired up early, as my race was at 9 am. Fed the dog and let her head back to bed, while my wife and I headed to Fairfax. Before I woke up enough to come to my senses, I slapped down the money for a spot in the B-Masters. It was chilly enough to demand a couple layers of wool and a wind vest for the warmup recon laps. It was a pretty big course.
The course began right in the school parking lot, then followed a gravel service road out to the ball fields. Once out there, it covered the perimeter of what must’ve been 4 baseball diamonds and a large soccer field, with a dogleg into the center of it for a level barrier dismount (the only one on the course).
We then scooted back onto the blacktop of the outdoor basketball courts, and zig-zagged through that before shooting around a corner to the outside hallway (ok, that’s a curiously California description, but it’s a wall-less, covered walkway to allow access to the classrooms) behind the school.
Here there was an off-camber jump-up to a trail. It looked like you would have to hoof it, but it actually had plenty of room to carry momentum - as long as you decided to ride it before you could see it.
The trail above the school went pretty level for maybe a few hundred yards, with a little bit of loose and rocky bits before you hit the real run-up.
The real run-up was soft and sandy on a reasonably steep bit that was a good flight and a half of stairs tall. I don’t think anyone rode up it. I had trouble running up it. Upon reaching the course marker, the route spat you right back down again towards an open field. It was one of those steep mental descents that you had to just decide you were gonna make it before you tried it, otherwise you’d lose your nerve and grab a handfull of brake or just say, “fugeddaboutit” and hoof downwards as well. But, where’s the fun in that?
Reaching level terrain once more, we followed roughly a medical diagram of an intenstine, which meant a few off-camber sandy turns and such. Then we followed a drainage gully downward through a couple of sandy bits before another jump-up near a paved roadway. Turning sharply left, we got to slalom trees to the cul-de-sac end of the road, then bump over the curb, reverse direction and head down on pavement towards the school once more.
A quick loop behind, then a chicane through the main quad kicked us out to the finish line.
I was actually liking the course a whole bunch - though I wouldn’t have minded seeing another level dismount or three out on the ball fields, there was not a lot of extra running, nor was there a lot of pointless climbing. And, since I’d already paid my money, it was time to takes my chances…
They started our group in three waves, so I got to start next to nine year old and some kid riding what looked like a singlespeed jumping bike. Most everyone rocketed away and I stayed calm and out of trouble. A number of the kids realized pretty quickly that it was not a BMX race and I settled into a cadence which seemed hard but kept the pretty-jersey boys within eyesight. I met most of them again when traffic bottlenecked on the jump-up behind the school, as no one really wanted to ride it. I got most of the way up it before I stopped short of giving the rider ahead of me a Michelin tread tattoo, then hoofed and hopped a bit to stay with them, as they found that their little bitty gears let them remount and pedal a bit more easily than me.
The steep runup weeded some more folks out, as they hesitated at the top of the descent. I slipped past a couple of folks and dove in, the Quickbeam feeling like a stable sled on the steep drop.
Things strung out a bit after the first lap, and I concentrated on picking off guys who were dropping back from the other waves. This was not necessarily successful, but it helped distract me for a while.
About the third lap, I started feeling really bad and a couple riders jumped ahead of me. From deep within the phrase, “Keep Pedaling, It Will Get Better” burbled to the surface. Somehow, strangely, it did. I kept in loose contact with the two guys.
Within about a half lap, that phrase got replaced by a new one, “Whump-Whump.” This was a damned curious event, and I don’t really know where that phrase had came from. But there it was - “Whump-Whump.” And in some weird moment of endorphin-fueled clarity, I realized what it meant - it was my cadence.
Ahead of me, the two guys were searching for smaller gears, much as I would’ve been doing if I had them. Their cadence kept increasing, but they weren’t gaining any distance. In fact, they seemed to be coming closer. My pedal strokes were much slower, but somehow the hours of riding fixed seemed to be paying off. As my lips stuck to my dried out gums, my brain was having this extremely clear set of thoughts about how late in races, everyone dove for the easier gears, and I no longer had the choice, and it wasn’t so much that you needed those easier gears as you wanted them. This mental dialogue was scaring me a little, but I kept pedaling.
The last couple laps felt pretty danged good, other than the real run-up, which had become sort of a walk/waddle up. I did make up a little time by howling down the descent without using my brakes, though I’ve so far omitted mentioning that fact to my wife.
Hit the finish line feeling strongish, if not really wanting to head out for another lap. The running was a killer, but the bike felt great - particularly the lack of gears. You’re running or you’re riding. Pretty straightforward. Simple and dependable.
Coughed for a while afterwards, and by late in the day, the disused running muscles mentioned that in the future, they’d really appreciate a little more notice before being called into service. Don’t really know where I ended up, but that doesn’t seem particularly important right now. Just really enjoyed getting out and doing it again.
The fine folks over at AbbiOrca had some good photos, as usual.