by an anonymous Seattle racer, photos by Janet Hil
Early Saturday morning, I met up with the other members of the McCain Palin Right Speed Cyclocross Team in the pre-dawn rain in Seattle. We loaded our bikes into the back of our monster sized fossil fuel sucking SUV and headed down for the single speed weekend in Portland. We realized that by not driving separately we weren’t maximizing our carbon footprint, but we needed to keep each other awake for the long drive that was ahead. We were still joking about (and digesting) the red meat-loading veal stew dinner we had enjoyed the night before.
We were looking forward to rubbing shoulders and commiserating with the other like-minded, ultra right wing conservative folks that make up the single speed cyclocross contingent in the Northwest. We agreed not to dwell on the negative and so we decided to put on a brave face and not mention the results of the presidential election. This proved to be a wise move.
Some music from Bob Marley helped the miles roll by and soon we were past Olympia. Seeing the clear cuts made us hanker for some Spotted Owl stew, but we had to hurry to the Chris King parking lot to get our instructions for the day. We were hoping to find a Superfund site on the factory’s premises, but strangely, there wasn’t an ounce of waste to be found.
As we rolled in the participants seemed to fit into a finite group of categories. There were the commuters. These folks could be spotted by their Carhartt pants, beer-keg sized messenger bags, tattoo emblazed bodies and optional, but frequent, face jewelry. They were comfortable and didn’t seem fazed by the rain, which changed in intensity about every five minutes. Then there were the Randonneurs. They were religiously clad in wool and heavy jackets. Ready to ride all day, they smiled and enjoyed the camaraderie of the morning. In contract to these folks were the roadies. They were clad head to toe in skin tight lycra, boasting either their road team, or favorite Euro team. Many of them looked cold, and a few had a hint of fear in their eyes as they gazed up at the unrelenting rain. I noticed one skinny fellow who was shivering. His day would be very, very cold and long. Then there were the posers. Clad in Rapha or other fancy fresh pressed urban cycle wear, and riding bikes that sported new tires and had only a few miles on them, they tried to fit in with the other riders. This was an accepting bunch, so just like a nice girl on a first date who smells a fart, and says nothing, these guys were welcomed like the rest of us.
In the parking lot SUVs were next to BMW’s and a VW Mircobus was in the mix as well. The bikes were a constant visual treat. There were carbon wonder rides that might have a hard time in store for them. More than one bike had carbon Campy Record levers that may or may not have had the internals removed. Either way, they were overdressed for the occasion; and I confess I silently wished them ill. There were a bunch of Vanilla bikes that silently spoke both of the classic functional lines of a great cross bike; and as a reminder of the favorite flavor of Portland riders. There were mostly utilitarian rides that had worn tires, worn bar tape and smiling riders.
Finally we were given the secret password and we left en masse. The skies continued to dump rain and although we could see breaks in the clouds off to the east, we had a dark cloud following us like we were headed to Mordor. A wink to the other McCain Palin Right Speed Cyclocross Team Riders, and we stuffed our Rasta hats into our helmets and began our ride. Since there were no points for getting to the start first, we were puzzled that some of the riders got so excited about their position in this weird peloton.
We made it to the starting area and each waited for our respective turns. When mine came, I barreled out and got into a good rhythm on a long seemingly endless uphill. As the grade steepened I wished I was geared lower, but I fought to keep the speed up. At the top of the road was a section of single track that quickly became a run up. At the top of the run up there was a couple handing out Tequila shots. The rider in front of me drained the glass and by the time they picked up the glass I was long gone. A steep downhill became loose at the bottom, and going right at the bottom turned out to be as awkward as it was last Tuesday. I let my back wheel slide around a little and I was headed in the right direction. The descent was full of fun rollers; I topped out and kept spinning. I felt like a hamster bouncing on my saddle trying to go as fast as I could and wishing I was geared higher. Some quick corners and all too soon it was over. I waited to see where my time would put me.
For the men, the best one hundred times qualified for the big event the next day. Some follow on activities that evening allowed more riders to join the fray on Sunday. These seemed to include some kind of frat party scavenger hunt involving donuts and beer, and one guy I talked to on Sunday said he was the last to leave the bar Saturday night so he earned a slot.
Sunday dawned grey, but mostly dry. The occasional sprinkle kept the fear of sunscreen down. When we were called up the costumes were in full force. So much so that when you saw a rider just wearing his team kit, you thought to yourself, “what a jerk.” Except you spelled jerk D-I-C-K. The fist lap was not uneventful as we went through what I thought was a great wall of “beer foam.” It was the worst tasting beer, I’ve ever ridden through, but it did get my bike really clean. The run up was fine and there was better beer being offered as you went up. At the top we got to feel like miniature golf balls as there was a windmill of death that you had to time just right or you could have a really bad afternoon. The rest of the course was the usual mix of pavement, dirt road, grass and mud that Portland is known for. I’m not sure who won the race and I’m not sure many of us cared. Even though it was a race, and I’m kind of proud I was able to race in it; it was much more of an event than a race.
Another point of irony on the day was the race officials herding the riders and fans at the end of the race. If ever there was a race that was beyond the control of the race officials, it was this one. It reminded me of every food fight I’ve ever seen in a movie. I guess being a race official for this race is like being on the ethics committee of the KKK; it just doesn’t seem to matter.
I was stunned at the number of people leaving the venue on bikes. Some were competitors, some fans, but all seemed to love and respect the bike and the sport as much as me. Seeing all of them and having so much fun at this event made me think that despite Tuesday’s presidential election results, life isn’t so bad. While I have to wait another four years for a presidential remedy, it’s just one year til my next SSCXWC fix.