This Kerstperiode, nine U.S. Junior cyclocross racers are in Europe to race with the EuroCrossCamp program run by Geoff Proctor. During the next few weeks, the young athletes will be sharing their stories and experiences in rider diaries written while they are in Belgium.
by Eleanor Dyas
When Max Palmer, another camp participant, and I got our route for our easy ride from Bob, the owner of the camp house, we kept repeating it to ourselves as we left Vorselaar.
“Right out of the house; left before the church; left two streets after the church; right on a small path; you know you are going the right way if you are next to dogs; left on a sandy road; be careful over the narrow bridge and you’re there.”
We were trying to get to Lichtaart, the magical forest, where over the years, local Belgian ’cross racers have burned in countless sandy ruts and downhill drops.
When we rode there the day before, Geoff Proctor, our teacher/coach/pit boss/all-knowing being, showed us the hill known by MontanaCrossCamp alumni as “the Sven Hill.” When Sven Nys was still racing, he found this hill that he could not ride up and started training on it. Now, Thibau Nys, Sven Nys’s son is getting close to Sven’s fastest time on the training lap there. That’s where we were trying to go.
We never made it.
We missed a turn at some point and ended up riding on a narrow singletrack trail, at which point we gave up on getting to Lichtaart. We simply wanted to get our hour of recovery.
Max and I, both from central Indiana, grew up on the same Junior team and have been riding and training together for about six years. It was not the first time we had gone off the beaten path. Some may call it getting lost. For us, it was exploring.
When Max and I passed a young couple running, I muttered out a “Goedemorgen” and we continued. A minute later, the trail ended abruptly and we turned around. We passed the couple again. This time, they said good morning back and we rode in the other direction for a few minutes and took a different turn to try and go on another trail. The other trail ended even quicker than the last, and we turned around and kept riding. Then we passed the couple for the third time and they laughed.
Rightfully so, we must have looked fairly stupid at that point. Two U-turns in a five-minute time span. The next turn-around we faced, Max and I decided to leave the forest. We said that it was because we needed to stay in our recovery zones, but really it was because we did not want to have to pass that couple a fourth time.
That was our Christmas morning training. After exchanging gifts early in the morning so that those racing Zolder could head to the course to pre-ride, Max and I headed out so that we could get back in time to start cooking. Us riders not racing Zolder were responsible for preparing dinner for that one night.
Once we all got back from training, we dug through the kitchen to see what we could make. It ended up being spaghetti and salad, which everyone enjoyed, but the real highlight of our Christmas Day was making the cookies we had for dessert.
In our kitchen, we had flour, sugar, and butter. We were almost ready to start baking but needed baking powder. We asked Bob and he gave us more flour, which is technically baking powder, and bread yeast. We did not want to give up on our dream of Christmas Cookies, so someone found a recipe online that used bread yeast instead of baking powder. Everything was coming together, or so we thought.
After mixing all of the ingredients in the recipe, it still looked like a pile of flour. Ryley, my roommate, and an awesome racer/baker, just started adding things. A little bit of milk, two eggs and a lot of chocolate later, our cookies were ready to bake. Throughout the baking process, the six of us who stayed exchanged stories, cracked jokes and bonded over the fear of poisoning our fellow riders with our Frankenstein cookies.
It was my first Christmas away from home, but it felt perfect.
I could talk about everything that is different here: how the roads are narrower, how the crowds surrounding you during a race push you to work harder and how every spot is fought for.
But what really shaped my European race experience thus far is the other riders I am sharing it with. From exploring singletrack and baking to pre-riding and racing, we support each other. I am thrilled, to not only have this opportunity but to share it with eight other talented and kind young racers. I cannot imagine racing here without them.