Monday, November 10, 2014

2 Serious 4 Singlespeed: Part 2


Introduction: It's known as the party class. In CXSS you might race a gorilla, battle with Batman or tangle with a triple tandem. Bacon, bananas and beer are acceptable hand-ups. You choose one chainring, one cog and seal your fate with burning lungs and acid filled thighs. There is no description of this class that doesn't include the word: Crazy. This made me wonder if my sullen disposition and oft poetic ruminations were simply too serious for singlespeed. Then I thought... screw it! I'm gonna write whatever I feel.



First Mud: The Ego desires to be elevated, to be profound, to be Capitalized. Those obsessed with being in the headlines are never satisfied with a byline. They find their worth in a cauldron of sweat and tears, dust and agony. Stories are crafted in the alchemy of tempting human limitations. That is where drama percolates. Where bards become biographers as victors become vindicated.

So where would I end up this time? As the Victor or the Biographer? The journey to Palm Bay was 210 minutes of flat pavement and patience. Crossing the state is like driving backwards through the decades. Arcadia exists in the 90's, Okeechobee in the 80's and Yeehaw Junction the 70's. Even the CX course sits on the comfortable confines of a yesteryear BMX track. With the normal constraints of time and space warping around us, it was the perfect atmosphere for possibilities.


Our timing was hindered by a desire for sightseeing so we arrived only an hour before my class was to set out.  The crowd was a mixture of Facebook faces and hey I know that guy. I made more of an effort to be cordial and was greeted with grins of recognition. It is the blessing of niche sports that you make friends fast. The common affection of suffering for a passion bonds like super glue. It is quick, easy and can sometimes hold for years.

During the practice gap riders tore up the grass, testing sand filled corners and bumping down rut riddled back roads. The cameras flocked to two locations - the BMX track and the fly over. Both would provide climactic substance to an otherwise horizontal plane.



The effectiveness of training is hard to measure under race conditions. Real life is a terribly inaccurate laboratory. While many of the weekend's classes had twenty plus riders, singlespeed had only 4 to start and double that on Sunday. Since sunny Saturday was my best shot, it was time to rip the lid off. Starting in an all out sprint I grabbed the wheel of Michael Toth and held on for dear life. The grippy grass was welcoming but the dirt road was not. My big gear 41/18 wasn't nearly enough to match the friendly beardo and his well trained roadie legs.

Watching him walk away was disheartening. The gap was unbridgeable but I had to try. Every muscle shook and shuttered under the strain. Legs screaming on the straights, arms aching through the doubles, lungs gasping for a rhythm. Still I had enough to jump the barriers, climb the start hill and pump the track. After six laps I held on for second. Our reward was a labeled mason jar packed with sand from the course. In a room full of trophies this is the one people will ask about.


That night was nothing less than a celebration. Dinner, beer, a Big Hero movie and HBO boxing in our hotel room. Oh Hopkins. We awoke to the light tinkle of rain against the window. The forecast had been right. Today's race was going to be very different. After the atypical continental breakfast followed by a drive-thru at Starbucks, we returned to the track.

The sight before us was something out of a New England spring day. Overcast skies of gray over gray, drizzle blanketing every leafy green and a slow chill that made you want to keep moving so it could never catch up. It was a dank, wet, muddy mess. Perfect Cyclocross weather. This is where we would see if harsh conditions bring out the beast in us.


Lacking the appropriate attire led to improvisation. I slung the camera around my neck, a towel around my head and snapped the unabashed speed of the Pro class. Tic Bowen gave a clinic in viscosity as he seemed to gain traction as the conditions worsened. I suppose we should have checked his tires for velcro. Regardless, his gracious camaraderie at the finish line is a demonstration of what this sport is all about.

I stayed on to watch the vast field of Cat 4/5 riders as they snaked an unbroken line following the race tape. Cat 3 showed their wealth of talent with a similar size contingent. Both managed to capture the crowd's imagination especially when they neared one of the forewarned features. The deluge was taking its toll as evidenced by the kits and faces of dedicated puddle splashers.


As Singlespeed riders started to prepare, the rain drops grew larger. Michael took his earned position on the line and hinted that this was a tougher field. I appreciated the warning but it didn't matter, I never recovered from the day before. The pace stuck needles in my thighs and kicked sand in my eyes. By the time we reached the road I was already a dead battery.

Racing in mud is a different kind of torture. Squinting from the flecks of flying granules makes for a half-blind voyage. All the good lines have become mud ruts. The BMX clay turned tricks into traps. With no chance of placing I instead embraced the jeer of hecklers atop the hill. Ignoring the easy side, I attempted the steeper pitch lap after lap, comically failing each climb.


As the Infinity wars came to a close, I got a taste of both worlds - the Victor and the Biographer. I learned that the podium is not as gratifying without a horse race and a loss can be just as much fun if you toy with it. I learned that I like racing in mud, though the clean up afterwards can be detailed and tedious. I connected with a few more like minded people so if success can be measured in smiles and laughs, this weekend was a winner.

My wife and I took a couple hundred pictures, all posted on Facebook so feel free to explore:

Also check out our highlight video. Enjoy!