“The course was in good shape for about one lap, and then it got really muddy” was the report given to me by a racer shortly after pulling into the soggy parking lot at Bellingham BMX. After thirty riders had gone to work on the course during the first race of the day, much of the once firm dirt had been reduced to a thick slop. Even the most seasoned terrain could not withstand the torrential downpour that had been unleashed in the previous days. Riders lining up for the bike wash caked in mud from head to toe gave me an inkling of what awaited. I lowered my psi, slacked off my brake cables, and started to get ready.
Crossing the border in the pouring rain with my bikes on the back of the vehicle is nostalgic for me. It was at the Cascade Cross races that I first developed my obsession with cyclocross and I enjoy making the trip south. My kids love participating in their races as much as I do mine and cyclocross has become our fall family weekend activity. The recent work done on the Bellingham BMX permacourse boasts fun new features and a slightly different layout. A set of “Belgian” stairs has been cut into the course and this year saw the addition of a seventy foot sand pit. Chip timing has been introduced and we even had Ryan commentating through a speaker syystem. It’s a wonderful thing to have a permanant cyclocross course in our region and definitely an initiative worth supporting. Its great to see it continue to develop and grow.
Down on the start line I shivered in the cool fall air awaiting the horn that would raise my body temp and heart rate instantly. Upon Ryan’s request, I hoisted my bike over my head to show off my custom Donkelope frame that I won through the Cascade Cross series. I still can’t believe it. The start was slippery but I managed to hang on and stay near the front. For the first four laps I kept the leaders in sight and felt I was starting to close the gap. As long as I kept rubber side down I would have a decent shot.
The race required focus and paying attention to line choices was crucial. Miss the sweet spot in a muddy corner or come in slightly off balance and the bike was on the ground. Pick the wrong path through a straight and the quicksand-like mud would drag me down while those making the correct choice would cruise past. It wasn’t all doom and gloom – under the cover of trees, select sections had survived the weather and provided much needed traction. There were many “ride it or run it” decisions to be made which changed on a lap-by-lap basis. Riding the seventy foot sand pit was possible, but a botched attempt was slower than running the entire thing. Other particularly muddy sections were ridable, but after slogging through and barely moving, it became clear it was much faster to get off the bike and run. This course proves how dynamic cross racing can be.
Over the past few weeks a nagging question remained in the back of my mind: Had I glued my tubular properly? It was my first time attempting the task and although I didn’t feel 100% confident about it, I had successfully completed two races with the tire intact. For four laps it held up, giving me bite in the slop, but after a hasty remount following a particularly slippery run through the mud, I got my answer. My wheel slipped out and half the tire rolled off the rim leaving me cursing in disbelief. A resounding no. Recently, my daughter had attempted glueing an art project by mistakenly using a sun screen stick instead of glue stick. My tire appeared to have been glued in the same manner.
I paused for a moment to consider my options. The pit was far enough away that any hopes of catching the lead group had vanished, but I wasn’t ready to pack it in. Since a nice clean spare bike was waiting for me in the pit, I threw the bike on my shoulder and trudged through the mud in that direction. A group of spectators took pity, and handed out a tall can of PBR to help ease my pain on the run of shame. Eight minutes and several beer swigs later, I was on my spare bike and back in the race.
Once back I found it hard to push as hard as I did in the beginning. My adrenaline had worn off and had been replaced with pain, cold, a belly full of Pabst, and the awareness of just how saturated with mud my shoes were. I went through the motions for the first half a lap and then finally snapped out of it and realized that I still had the opportunity to move up a couple spots. I picked up the pace to make up for lost time until being caught by the leaders and ending my ride one lap shy of the full race.
I have been eagerly waiting for the first mudfest of the season and Bellingham BMX once again delivered. It’s rare to have a chance to experience the thrill of slipping and splashing in the rain and muck the way kids do, but a muddy cycloross race allows us that opportunity. For one hour I slide around on my bike and get ridiculously dirty, not worrying about anything more than trying to catch up to that wheel in front of me. If only I could stop sabotaging myself with mechanicals.