Part of that this campaign has been to take on a new hobby: cyclocross.
I suck at cyclocross.
I really really suck at cyclocross.
I thought I might be really bad at it. I'm not great technically on the bike. I have never done any mountain biking. I have spent the majority of my biking life (all five years of it) on a road and/or tribike trying to simply stay upright (and go fast), praying I don't have a mechanical and praying the road ahead of me remains smooth.
When road cycling I fear (quite profoundly) sand, dirt, gravel, grass, sticks, rocks, wet leaves, dry leaves, squirrels, chipmunks (okay all rodent-type creatures I could hit), sharp corners, left-handed turns, cars, other cyclists, children, runners, walkers, dogs or any type of even slightly unstable surface area.
I like nicely paved, completely empty, straight roads. Anything else make my heart race more than just a bit. That's the kind of cyclist I am. Give me that, and I'm good to go.
In other words, I'm not someone endowed with the skill set required to compete in cyclocross. Like-- at all. Not even a little.
So how in the world is it that I think cyclocross could bring back some joy to my training life?
Well, because I SUCK SO BADLY at cyclocross, that is just doesn't matter! I LOVE IT! I love it when it just doesn't matter!! (I think of this clip all the time in relation to certain aspects of my life. Really.)
Her name is Winnie.
Anyway. I acquired Winnie. Then I got myself some new pedals and some new mountain biking shoes. And then I went out to the woods to play.
I have a short loop--about 1.5 miles long--on which I walk my dogs pretty much daily. The trail is pretty tame so I thought it would be a good place to start my new cyclocross career. The first time I tried circumnavigating the loop I didn't make it all the way around. At one point the trail curves a bit and climbs a short, root-laden hill. When I got to that part I freaked out and called it quits.
I then went back the next day, determined to ride the WHOLE loop so help me God!
I had to get off in several places and walk, but I did it. The next day I timed myself going around the loop. It took my just over 11 minutes for me to complete it. Keep in mind, when I'm jogging--really slowly--I do the loop in about 15 minutes. That should give you an idea as to JUST HOW BADLY I SUCK at riding my shiny new cyclocross bike in the woods.
I also went to the high school fields near my house and attempted to practice my nonexistent cyclocross skills. I practiced in grass and on the baseball diamond. I practiced in sand and gravel. I practiced dismounting and jumping over little rocks while holding my bike and stuff like that. And each day I would try to get the courage to HOP on my bike. But I couldn't muster it.
Not until the day before my very first real cyclocross race. On that day I said forget this! I grabbed those handlebars and launched myself over the seat and onto the bike. I landed with a thud. It wasn't pretty, but I had done it! I continued to practice hopping on until my hands became blistered from grabbing the bars so tightly and my inner thigh became bruised from landing with such graceless force on the seat.
And then I was ready.
Or sort of ready. I had looked and looked for beginner training clinics that I could start my new hobby with--at which I could be with other cyclocross newbies who suck as badly as I do. But I could find nothing. I did find a series of training "races" however, which took place on Wednesday nights about an hour from where I live. I emailed the race director and asked if any TRULY new people to cyclocross would attend the races. He assured me that yes! There would be plenty of newbies! I would fit right in and I should come on down! (I should've known he was full of shit.)
The entire day leading to my first "race" I was so nervous I felt nauseated. I thought about backing out a million times. Why was I doing this to myself? Why had I ever thought this might be fun? But I had already signed up, already gotten a sitter, already committed in my mind. I had even told my (super cyclocross racer) coach that I was going. To not go would be to admit total defeat. Just do it. I had to just do it. I knew absolutely no one going to this thing. I could suck--and no one I know would need to know.
When I arrived at the Marshfield Fairgrounds parking lot there were many racers already there. They were all men. They were all skinny men. They were all skinny men in those little long-sleeved cycling kits that are all matchy-matchy. I swore under my breath. fuck. fuckity fuck fuck. Get me OUTTA HERE! But I stayed. Of course I stayed.
I got out of the car, pulled my bike out and got on my shoes. I scanned the parking lot. There had to be a woman here. There had to be! And then I saw a ponytail, and it did, in fact, belong to a woman. Of course, she looked as scary as the men: decked in a matching, long-sleeved kit and riding with all the guys. But she was my only hope.
I sidled up next to her. I did not say, Will you be my friend? Please? But I think she read it on my face. She was warm and friendly, and she introduced herself as Laurie. After we signed in she took me around the course. "We'll just ride it super slowly so you can see what you're in for..."
Famous. Last. Words.
I will give her credit. She did go slowly for me. But her so slowly was actually my top speed, and that was slightly embarrassing. I realized then that I would finish absolutely dead last in this race. In fact, I might not even finish this race. In fact, I would have to pull up my big girl pants really fast, because I found myself contemplating not even STARTING this race.
Why you ask? What was so terribly terrifying about this little jaunt around the cyclocross loop that might leave me thinking it might be best to pack up Winnie and head on home to relieve that babysitter?
It started with the sand. So much sand. And I'm NOT talking just a little sand on the road, or even just a sandy path. I'm talking BEACH SAND. There was one area of sand in which you were supposed to spiral around and then spiral back out again. I came upon this area and stopped dead in my tracks. Huh? Really? I ended up picking up the bike, and carrying to the other side of the spiral.
We then came to a set of curves that were--that's right--set in beach sand. How the HELL do I get through this? I decided to just do it... to just go for it. I got two pedal strokes in and literally tipped over onto my side. I remained there for a moment, riders circling past me saying things like, you just have to pedal through it! Or, are you all right? It was just a little humiliating. Just a little.
Then we arrived at the obstacles. I could do this! I hopped off my bike. But when I lifted my bike I realized that I am so short that I had to lift from the bottom tube, or the bike wouldn't clear the barriers. Awesome! I stepped (that's right stepped) over them carefully and took a deep breath. Time to hop on the bike! So I ran and jumped! Try not to land quite so hard!... suggested Laurie.
Yeah, ummm, I'm working on that.
Then there was the run up. Before the run up was a pit of sand. I didn't even deal with this. I just got off the bike and ran through the sand. Then I shouldered the bike and attempted to run up the root, rocky, steep bank.
I got to the top, sort of gasping.
This was NOT EASY. At the top, riders hopped on their bikes and pedaled on--even though at the top there was a path only as wide as my fucking pinkie. Okay, I can hop on ... but here? I didn't hop. I just got on the bike and pedaled forward. We went down. Then down some more. Then those tricksters had us take a turn and go down a sandy bank! When I arrived at it I again stopped dead in my tracks. NO WAY. I am not going down a sandy hill! But then some riders showed up behind me and I literally had to go. I got on and then.. that's right, I screamed Oh MY GOD! as I rode down. Don't brake or you'll fall! One of the riders shouted.
Right! No problem! No braking! Just catapult down to my death!
The loop ended with a berm and a jump. (I did not know it was a berm. I described it to Andy and that is what he said it was.) The berm was dirt, but not that steep, and the jump was small, and got smaller as riders went over it. (It was a built up block of dirt, basically.) My heart was still thundering in my chest when got to this berm, as I had not yet gotten over the descent on sand situation. So I didn't actually stop for the berm, I just pedaled hard, and to my great surprise, I made it to the other side and over the little jump!
Miracles do happen!
When the race started I got at the very back of the pack. We all went at once--the fastest riders separated by only like a minute from the slower riders. Of course, to me, they were all fast riders. We started and by the first sandy area I was already in last place. By lap three I was lapped, and by lap four every single person had lapped me. Then I sat out a lap. Then I finished up with a few more laps, stopping occasionally to watch the riders blast through the obstacles like they weren't even there.
So, I think you could say I finished last in this race... except I maybe didn't even really finish. But hey! I started! It was NOT a beginner type of event at all. I realized while there that it is actually just a way for competitive cyclocross racers to get in a mid week, race-type effort. There were no beginners there. Sure, some of them might have described themselves as beginners, but they were not--not really. Not like me!
But that is OKAY. Because I find it sort of thrilling to start something new that I am so ill-equipped to do well. I can only get better, and this shit is cool, and it will be even cooler if I can get to the point where I can actually do any of it!
I wanted to leave you with a super awesome cyclocross video that showcased all the elements I just described. But I couldn't find exactly what I was looking for, so instead I leave you with this one. My friend Marisa first shared this beauty with me: