Weekend mornings in the fall and winter, find me curled up with a steaming mug of tea and a good book. Unless of course, I'm out on a cross course taking a beating, alternating between sweating and freezing, gasping for breath.
I'll admit, it sounds unpleasant. Why do I do it? I ask myself the same thing before each race while riding my warm up lap, fingers freezing, as I try to clip in with the mud already encrusting my cleats. Why? As my heart hammers its way out of my chest cavity; all this before the race has even started. My couch and a fuzzy blanket start to look more and more attractive.
The race begins, I glance around, sizing up the competition. My fellow racers are serious mountain bike and road racers fully decked out in team kits, vibrant, approaching garish. They ride high-end mountain bikes or cross bikes costing more than my first car, way more. Yet, sprinkled among them are commuters with their utilitarian rides, complete with straight handlebars, rear racks and pedal cages. There are even a few teenage guys riding fixies, clothed in urban hipster gear, hoodies, and cropped jeans (with outrageously wide cuffs) seemingly strays from some misplaced critical mass ride.
A circus atmosphere prevails as I circle the course. Trombone players in clown wigs salute finishers, spectators ring cowbells at every turn. Occasionally, there's a "dash for cash," We detour off course to collect soda cans containing one, five, or ten-dollar bills, diversions often resulting in spectacular acrobatics. I use my dollar to buy cheap but warming coffee...
Woodchips, grass, sidewalks, roads, streams and even stairs pass beneath my churning pedals. No terrain is off limits. Staying within the caution tape and little orange flags challenges my oxygen starved brain.
It is the second lap. I've mastered the course through pure repetition... The weather is erratic in fall and early winter. We race in 70 degrees and sunshine this week, in snow and freezing temps the next. The conditions make for variety, spontaneity, stimulation and suffering - they make for cyclocross.