Mo Bruno Roy cuts through the mud.© Natalia McKittrick

Mo Bruno Roy cuts through the mud.© Natalia McKittrick

by Natalia McKittrick

It’s in the low 40’s and the sun seems half awake behind clouds discharging water that invades houses by leaking through ceilings and flooding basements. The puddles are determined to accumulate into small lakes. BikeSnobNYC tweets about dinners instead of regreasing the urban cycling culture…

It may seem like another B-rate rainpocalypse movie screenplay, but it’s just a typical spring day in New England. The spring has sprung, move on.

Let me make just one slight lyrical digression. We all want to feel oh-so-special in any, if not all, parts of our lives.  Putting a kit on and shining your legs up with embrocation for a 20-minute commute in the city, because you and your rain gear separated the night before, in springtime makes you feel very, very special. It makes your commute much faster too, the magic that is the embro.

By now a creeping, tingling suspicion might have started its inevitable invasion of your brain, just like the water that breaks into your house, little drop by little drop tinkling from the ceiling. Rain. Mud. Embrocation. Cycling.  Everything points to cyclocross, but you are confused.  It’s spring, not fall.

Ahem. Who cares? Who?

For 67 cyclocross addicts, it made perfect sense to do a 67-mile loop around Boston that mixed pavement with dirt roads, trails, river paths and some singletrack.

The ‘cross troops were summoned to a bicycle-friendly restaurant in Brookline at 9:30 on a sunny Sunday morning. Washington Square Tavern’s owner, Gerry, who is known as a fearless ninja of mountain biking and a long-time supporter of big group rides that involve a bicycle, a journey and a beer reward at the end of your ride, was at the tavern to meet, greet and store all the bags with the street clothing away.

The schedule of staggered starts for teams taped to the tavern’s window, and the liability release forms riders signed in true racing fashion, served well as a race feel catalyst. Shivering from the young spring chill, and the oh-so-sweetly-familiar pre-race jitters, riders were peeking over each others’ shoulders to find out exactly how many minutes until they got to inject the adrenaline they dreamt about on the trainers just a week before.

Off they went, heading towards the first woods section just past the weekly training crit spot on Wells Ave. The heart-rate was steadily picking up speed when it suddenly received a happy bump up from the ongoing traffic in the form of the Wells participants screaming “Rhonde de Roseeeyyyy!!!” at the sight of cyclocrossers.

Well now, aren’t you famous.

Hup United rides on water.© Natalia McKittrick

Hup United rides on water.© Natalia McKittrick

Still on that “hole-shot” rage, riders flew into Cutler Park, gaining confidence in their off-road bike handling skills on a wide fire-road, slightly disfigured with a modest-sized puddle. As the vegetation grew more dense, the boulders more frequent and the mud trails more treacherous, the  B-rate rainpocalypse movie soundtrack comes on, tires popping like popcorn, wooden claws hiding in the occult depths of mud-lakes chewing up and spitting out rear derailleurs, riders falling off their trusty steeds, drawing bloodstreams down the embrocated legs.

The park offered not only mechanical and technical challenges; a psychological trial lay ahead in the form of long, winding, narrow, floating wooden planks that they called a bridge. While I was living the nightmare, dreading the likelihood of falling into the very cold and the very wet lake (the real one, not the metaphor for an obese puddle), frying my photo equipment and ending the RdR mission prematurely, I still couldn’t bring myself to walk that bridge. The shame I would have to endure had someone seen me off the bike would have only been washable with the very cold and the very wet waters of the lake.

Strangely, only two groups crossed paths going in opposite directions on that bridge, both sides acting graciously and gallantly as they made way for each other. It had this feel of a cycling encounter nod on the road, only at a totally different level, somewhat like they’d become presidents and were shaking hands with other presidents.

Level one of the Rhonde spit the riders out back onto the road, all cutely kitted out in the same cyclocross outfits: all mud, blood, groans and smiles. You know it’s ‘cross when they come back from the three-day-rain-soaked woods wearing idiotic smiles stretched from ear to ear, as if they just had themselves a little cupcake session.

Catching the curious glances from by-passers and leaving mud tracks behind for  further contemplation, riders set out to the paved road pace for a while, until the next spectacular trail section. And then, Hello road! Bye road! Hello trail! Hello mud! Hi road – oh cars! Oh highway! Bye road! Hi dirt road! Bye dirt road! Hello bike path! Hi city! Sorry driver! Yeah, you have a good day too! And finally, Hi tavern-piles of bikes-beer-cupcakes-mustaches!!

At one point, a trail cut in half by a paved road confused the riders and sent them wandering, but this is a happy-end cyclocross rainpocalypse story, so they all wondrously made it back on the route.

Which does not necessarily mean no misfortunes occurred later.

The ride was announced to take between four and six hours, depending on how competitive people would feel and on how that competitiveness factor jives with the fitness factor. Along the way, even the less competitive demographic would skip out on stopping by a coffee shop to get some food. Bonk. Another proof cyclocross is a non-classified drug.

Remember that vandalized rear derailleur that was referenced earlier?  What do you do when you absolutely need to continue riding? Right, you rip it heroically off, snip-snap some links off your chain and make it into a single-speed (and since you are surrounded by your teammates watching closely, you can’t admit to being an iota less than a true hard-man/woman; so you choose the hard-ass gearing for your single-speed, thinking that, after all it’s Boston, not San Fran). There is a very limited number of consequences to make-shifting single-speeds. One of them is breaking your chain.

Now, I know for a fact (which could make a great subject for another article) that the majority of NE cyclocross racers are either lab researchers or IT specialists (or both). Here’s a little computational riddle for you: You are given 10 gears. You break your RD. You make it into a single-speed. You break your chain. Question 1: how many functional gears do you have? Question 2: how do you get from wherever you are to the nearest place you can fix your bike?

Other than improbable or unimaginative answers – like “let’s walk!” (oh, next time you venture into walking another 5 miles after the 60 you just slayed, I’d love to witness!) or “let’s call a cab!’ – it seems like purgatory: you’re not quite here, but not there either, with no viable options of how to get out.

Now, let’s add just one more condition: you are on the same team with Matt Roy (bicycle magician, long distance rider/racer, lab researcher (now, does that really come as a surprise?), and amazing human being without a website, otherwise I would have referenced it here).

Matt Roy works his magic to get a rider back on the trail.© Natalia McKittrick

Matt Roy works his magic to get a rider back on the trail.© Natalia McKittrick

Here’s what you do if you are Matt Roy. You take out a spare tube, pull it over your shoulder and tow your less fortunate, 0-speed teammate to your house where you fix it.

All in all everybody returned back to the Tavern safe and, for the most part, sane and sound. True to cyclocross nature, the thirsts were quenched with beer, that the owner provided for free, and cupcakes were served as appetizers, provided generously by Hannah Kirschner, Elite ‘cross racer from Providence, RI, and Mo Bruno Roy, star of the NE Elite ‘cross scene and a magical vegan cook. Mo did the whole ride alongside Sarah Bresnik-Zocchi and Linnea Koons, more marvelous Elite ‘cross racers. I am beyond certain that their brilliant riding (one flat, all smiles and catching up five of the 10 minutes of staggered start on their competing team, The Hupcake Express, led by none other than Richard Fries) was due in part to their team name: Vagiants.

Bowing out, it is essential to mention that, besides providing the immense fun to the cyclocross-starved winter survivors, the RdR’s organizer Scott Rosenthal (a.k.a. Rosey) and Hup United also arranged for a raffle at the Tavern for the benefit of Bikes Not Bombs (thanks goes to Pedro’s, Mountain Khakhis, and Broadway Bicycle School for donations), having raised, together with the ride fees,  $705.  Could it be any better?

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