Finally the race weather was cool enough to embrocate. After donning my long sleeve jersey for the first time this racing season and warming up I returned to the wagon and opened my precious jar of gooey heat. Slipping on a latex glove I took a finger full of the orange fire and smeared it on my exposed quads, knees and calves. The warming smell of Cyclocross wafted to my nose. The start at Sprinker seemed all too fast and sketchy for my conservative judgment. I hit the first corner about twenty-fifth and spent the rest of the race moving up. I was running just over thirty psi up front and about thirty-four in back. The tubies bit like vampires and I kept the rubber side down.
After a consistent, though unspectacular 15th place finish, I made my way to the war wagon. The intermittent rain had come and gone during my race. My bike had a thin, but thorough coating of mud and grass. I managed to get it secured for the remainder of the day’s travels, and changed into some dry duds. I found the superstar photographer and provided her minimal support as she shot it up for the next two races.
Although John “The Destroyer” McHale had offered to keep his bike a mono cog for an additional week and let me race that, I had opted to return Sam’s Kona to the mud from which it had originated. The decision turned out to be a lucky one as once again John proved himself the bicycle torture test. His herculean strength resulted in multiple mechanical failures on the varied course. How do you break a brake?
After the 11:15 race we sped to Taco del Mar and refueled our bodies for the remaining items on the agenda. Once we were heading south on I-5 the rain did exactly the opposite of what we had expected and got heavier and harder. Occasional glimpses of blue sky gave us fleeting moments of false hope. Speaking of hope, as the radio signal for the Sounders game faded, so did their playoff hopes. Three miles from the Columbia another deluge told us that while we would surely get wet, the racing in Portland would be epic. On the way down I had placed my gloves, which were wet from my race, over the defroster vents and flipped them every few minutes like pancakes to try and get them dry. On a whim, I had hung my long sleeved jersey on the back of my seat hoping it too might get dry.
We found a parking spot and walked toward the scene of the crime. The riders leaving from their Cross Crusade races looked like battle weary soldiers, covered with mud as if they had been swimming in it. More than one thousand mile stare from these broken souls told me all I needed to know about the course conditions. These spent men and women walked bikes with broken derailleurs, glopped so completely with mud that if someone walked past you with your bike, you wouldn’t recognize it.
We were greeted by the smell of barbeques and wood fires mixed with the scent of frites, waffles and hop beverages. I would say the scene was a circus needing only a juggler, but there was in fact, a woman dressed in black leather juggling torches. Bagpipes competed with several small stereo systems, but the drum corps provided the definitive backbeat for the afternoon festivities.
Battling sensory overload we made our way to secure my race number and get some finer points on the schedule for the race activities. Back at the war wagon I ducked under the tailgate as the rain kept coming and dug out clothes for my second race of the day. I was delighted to find my jersey had dried so the short sleeve jersey and arm warmers stayed clean in the bag. I put on clean bibs, knee warmers and undershirt. Sealskin waterproof socks were the ticket, although I put my 20/20 colors on over them. While image isn’t everything, it is something. Lastly I put Kevin’s super fro hair over my helmet as some level of costume was de’ rigueur for the day.
We lined up semi- Le Mans style. Those wearing thongs, skirts, tighty-whities, or shirtless were fighting off hypothermia waiting for the starting Whistle. I spotted Jenny in her 20/20 kit with an added fairy skirt for effect. She had a foot or so of course tape attached to her helmet to indicate she was one of the fairer gender riders. This seemed odd to me as NO amount of mud could result in the males who were cross dressing being mistaken for women.
The start had the expected chaos of two hundred and fifty riders squeezing onto a course that was ten feet wide. The run up was steep, crowded and slippery. Then we hit an off camber of oozing mud that I never figured out the best way to navigate. I ran it twice and rode it twice, each time convinced that what I had just done was wrong.
Quickly we were headed up a slippery hill that you just had to muscle/run/swim/slip/claw your way up and then your silent prayers were answered. After thinking, “enough slippery uphill,” you hit a downhill that you had to pedal to get moving. Though once moving, pedaling, braking or coasting had no effect on your speed as you slid down and onto pavement. Going fast felt strange and soon you were sliding down another steep off-camber and then pavement again. Then we did an infield loop where you could receive offers of bacon or beer while enjoying barriers. Finally we heading out to remote mud bogs alternated with sections of gravel road forcing an ever changing cadence. A hub deep one hundred meter pond provided the full spectrum experience.
Then returning to where you started you rode through the Thunderdome A monkey bar dome thirty feet high that would have made Buckminster Fuller proud. Swinging inside were cunning assassins trying to knock unlucky riders to the ground. Having climbed up the outside of the structure were screaming fans that kept up a raucous roar in the dome. After escaping the din you repeated the carnage of the lap described above until the day was done.
The costumes were plentiful, to the point where riders just wearing team uniforms looked out of place. Popes, Friars, Missionaries, Nuns, and Men dressed in Parochial school girl uniforms only added to the blasphemous atmosphere. Odd bikes, including a big wheel (I mean a really big wheel, 48” in diameter) and built for purpose tandems made it at least one lap. Those of us less encumbered, were able to enjoy multiple laps.
When the race officials finally shouted, “you’re done,” it was received with mixed emotions. The conditions of the course meant everyone had to work hard just to make it around. Costumes only added to the challenge. However, being part of the spectacle and having fans screaming for you, felt so good I was sad to see it end.
Sam’s bike was by now, unrecognizable. If not for Kevin’s “trolling” wig, my own sweet wife would have been unable to spot me. Back at the wagon, I hosed the bike and brushed off the globs. Laying down protection from the mud, I carefully put the bike INSIDE the car for what was to be a rainy drive home.
Then I peeled off sopping wet muddy layers and put on clean, dry clothes. My dirty clothes sack was bulging from two wet races. I splashed water on my face and wiped it (almost) clean. While the photographer edited photos on the Mac most of the way home I enjoyed the remnants of tingling warmth from the morning’s embrocation. I also smiled a weary smile, warmed by the memory of pulling off the long distance double cross.