StarCrossed 2008: Cold, Wet, Crazy… Perfect

What’s the shiniest, twinkliest, most soggy way to start the ‘cross season?  StarCrossed 2008, baby.

It starts raining while we are driving up and as soon as the first drop hits the windshield, I know we are in for it.  Glory hallelujah.  Rain!  Now this is cyclocross, damnit.

Seattle is everything I remember.  A cold city, wrapped and shivering in it’s perpetual cloud.  The rain is steady and calm and Marymoor Park is a grassy wonderland just waiting for fast laps.

The course is fast and flat with about 3, 456 turns.  I race early in the day so, despite the rain, the riding surface is fairly clean.  Our double-wide tent shelters Portland refugees from all over.  The air smells like cross-country running and embrocation.  I put DeFeets’ The Blaze socks on and try to control my smile while I warm up on the LeMond.

The Veloforma is winking at me from where it leans on the side of the truck.

Start line mob 70 riders deep.  We’re called by number in order of registration so I line up in row four toward the right. The opening straight is a suicide bomb on fast, wet pavement straight into a right hand turn.  We all manage to stay upright and head across a bumpy grass straight away into a tight left-hand turn where the racing starts in earnest.

The pace is slow through the first lap trying to pick my way through the throng.  We jam up over the first set of logs as people try to remount and I scream, “Run! Run! Run!”  Which is what we do.

Lap 2.  The field spreads out.  I’ve ended up mid-pack.  I’m not happy about this but not upset either.  It’s early in the season.  My goals in this race are pretty straightforward – get a feel for the new bike, stay upright, find my race within the race and then get after it.

The Veloforma is a dream and the DA tubeless wheel set up is straight up sticky.  Everything that anyone has ever tried to explain to me about cornering suddenly makes sense.  I put a little bit of weight into the left side of the bike and rip around a turn, taking a rider on the inside line.

Holy shit.  I just took an inside line!  I look up and check the sky for pigs.

There’s a big steam-engine, hammer-down fast section on the back of the course – the type of section that usually finds me suffering.  Today I find the drops and a bigger gear and make five passes.  When I hit the pavement I stand up and sprint out of the saddle into the left hand turn.  Brake.  Turn.  Sprint.  Brake.  Turn. Sprint.

Coming back onto the infield I’ve made up five positions.  I take a screaming left with a gaining confidence and then the bike just stops.

I hit the ground at mach three and take the fall on my chest, having gone over the handlebars clean.  My left leg hits the bars on the way down.  As soon as I realize my body is intact, I think about the bike.  My bike!  My precious!

I bounce up, grab the sled, and scan it as get back on. Everything seems ok, the chain is still on, the brakes work.  I have not destroyed the nicest bike I’ve ever owned.  Thank god.

Go time.

Three of the five that I’d worked so hard to pass come by me as I recover so I set to work to bring them back again.  Goddamit that is a lot of effort down the drain.

On an off-camber section I miss my pedal and it smashes into the nerve just below my ankle, rendering my whole left foot completely numb. The foot screams as the leg forces it to keep making circles.

I overtake my rabbits again and drill the fast sections to open up a gap which sticks through the finish.   Racing so hard for 29th place is hardly glorious, but the point is to start somewhere and then work your ass off to get faster.

The good news is my race is over, it’s still raining, and now it’s time to relax.

Later in the beer garden I find an Inversion IPA or two and lean against the fence while Sal battles it out in a fast Cat Three field.  I unleash the man-yell and acquire buddies who refer to me as “The Pittsburgh Steeler Fan”, which I choose to take as a compliment.

The course has become slippery, slick, and sloppy.  Mud-spattered faces abound.  The sky is getting dark and the lights come on.  The crowd is getting rabid as the kegs keep flowing. Sal joins me in the beer garden post-race and we wreak havoc with the lovely and hilarious Linsday Kandra.

The pro race is high-contrast, high-speed, and high-drama.  Fast and impossibly skinny men racing in and out of pitch black sections and the bright, blinding lights of the infield.  Spectators with red body paint and plastic horns run rabid alongside the barriers.  Beer.  And more beer.  More gore-tex raincoats than you can shake a stick at.

Everywhere is rain and wet. I watch it come down in the glow of the lights and marvel at its perfect, calm persistence.

At the end of the night Ryan Trebon has been taken out by a lapped rider, Jeremy Powers wins but doesn’t even know it, and Sue Butler, with her SUPER HUMAN strength, has taken the women’s race.

We are soggy and getting soggier.  There is an 80 pound garbage sack in the backseat filled with wet clothes.  By the time we have packed up and driven to Lakewood, we’re half-blind with fatigue and shivering from a day’s worth of standing in Seattle’s penetrating chill.  We end up without a dryer, hang our gear in the bathroom, set an alarm and pass out.

The morning isn’t kind to Sal so we pack up his oversized glands and burning sore throat and head home, skipping the Rad Racing GP.  Portland is clear and bright when we pull in to town, but by the time I leave Forest Park at the end of my training ride, the skies unleash a torrential downpour worthy of the weekend.

Flying home up Lincoln Avenue.  Rain pounding the rose garden in Ladd’s.  Two teenagers in raincoats are running through the deep reds and screaming coral blossoms.  A King Lear worthy gust of wind kicks up and tears leaves off the trees while I fly through puddles, unable to control the shit-eating grin plastered across my head.

“Hey! It’s raining!  We want you to know it’s raining!” the teenagers scream at me.

I laugh through the stream of water that is coming down off the bill of my cap and hit the pedals hard up the final climb.  The weather reaches a fever pitch as I execute a high-speed dismount and run up the front porch steps.

‘Cross is here.  ‘Cross is finally here!!

Me and the Honey Buckets at StarCrossed.

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