While preparing to watch the CX Nationals and for the first time wishing I still lived in Colorado, I thought I would take a mental trip back to my first experience with what is now my new love.
It doesn’t take much to sell me on a sport that involves two wheels, but throw in knee-highs and the deal’s in the bag. After a quick sales pitch by a fellow teammate, I was thrilled to get this nugget of fashion wisdom and broke out a new pair for my cyclocross debut. I quickly cleaned the chain on my bike, ensuring I would be able to shift for at least one lap before the mud ceased up everything that moves. If I were awesome enough to have an extra bike gleaming clean for me in the pit I sure as hell wouldn’t be lugging this 30-pound full-suspension tank to the race. But the beauty of ‘cross (picked up that little nugget of lingo after more than one pair of eye-rolls at my inappropriate use of the never-spoken “cyclocross”) is that most people don’t take themselves too seriously and would probably welcome a 1970s solid steel townie in the rookie category.
After making sure we were properly attired (priority 1), my teammate and I followed our trusty saleswoman around the course – casually route finding and thoroughly irritating the guys behind us who were a bit more interested in memorizing gearing for each section rather than remarking on what a nice day it was for a bike ride. Which ended up being a disappointment. That’s right, I was looking forward to a mud-wrestling match with my bike followed by ice skating lessons on two wheels in a blizzard. Instead I got a face full of sunshine and a balmy 70 degrees. Guess I could have left the battery-powered heated vest and shoe liners at home.
It may have been wise to take a few more laps to keep the heart rate up (as our leader suggested) but I enjoyed quasi-strategizing (Go fast here. And here. And here.) while scoring the fashion choices of our competition. You can tell a lot by a girl’s socks. Unsurprisingly, when we all blasted of the line 5 minutes after trying to clip in to our pedals, my heart rate skyrocketed and I spent the next 3 laps musing over how much longer I could keep pedaling with the buzzing in my head and my circle of vision narrowing to a pinpoint. (For those who’ve yet to experience this particular high while riding, it is closely followed by blacking out).
Needless to say, after one lap I was hooked. The course reminded me of riding bmx bikes out in the fields as a kid – winding around sagebrush, climbing up slides and riding down the other side, hoping it would stay light until midnight. Oddly, those memories didn’t include this constant feeling on the verge of puking. In fact I don’t really even recall pedaling. I think the fields of my youth were some magical infinitely downhill sloping paradise in which gravity was always your friend.
When my wheezing wasn’t drowning out the train bellowing next to the course, I discovered the best part of ‘cross. Hearing whoops, cheers, and heckling around the entire course instead of just at the finish line of a cross-country race. Every time I came within sight of our cheerleading teammate, the cowbell went nuts and she shouted words of encouragement,
“What weighs more, you or your bike?”
“Please get off the course, there’s a race going on.”
“You make breathing look painful.”
“Good thing you locked out your shocks.”
Had she not reminded me to focus and stop looking for bunnies screwing in the bushes, I may have gotten distracted by the odd-looking antelope swinging a golf club next to the course. Or maybe it was a quadricorn…
It didn’t matter that I was terribly underequipped (hoisting a 500-ton mountain bike over a 50-foot tall barrier takes more arm strength than you’ll find in an entire peloton at the Tour De France), or that I had no idea if I was on lap 1 or 10; I was like a kid in the sagebrush again. This time, though, I got to enjoy a beer when the sun went down.