Alrighty then, Charm City

‘Cross done right.

Richie and I live in the country. Not the suburban-we-have-a-big-yard-with-some-woods-behind country, but real country. Our town encompasses a little over 37 square miles, with a population of 780. Doing the math, that makes 21 people per square mile. By contrast Amherst, a nice medium-sized town, has 1400 people per square mile. All this is to say that we mostly have no idea what day it is or when there is a holiday or anything. We work for ourselves and at home. Calendars are not really part of our lives, except for ‘cross racing season and even then we just block out the days we’re gone and I use that info to set things up with my neighbors, who take care of the birds.

Charm City race is on Columbus Day weekend—a three-day holiday that completely eluded us. Until that is, we started driving. We figured, oh about seven hours of driving, and so we decided to start about 11:00 or so on Friday. (I can see you rolling your eyes…yes, I can.) We’re not prompt, so we actually left at about noon. Perfect timing, as we found out, to hit New York City right at 5:00. I was okay with the New York thing, thinking we were stupid to leave so late, but when the traffic snarl extended past New York and through New Jersey, pokey, pokey, pokey, it finally dawned on me that something else was going on—and that something was a holiday weekend. So, it took us eleven hours instead of the planned seven. And then we had to drive home on Sunday. (But that took only nine.)

Even with the god-awful drive, though, Charm City charmed me. Yes, it’s true the team did really well, and that helps with the bonhomie—BrittLee was on the podium both days and Dan and Sam either in the top ten or close. A racing team thrives on these kinds of results—it is like pouring oil on the machinery. But I saw something else happen, something important, that these excellent results were the place-markers of. I saw a determination in those kids that I’ve never seen before. I saw them grab confidence and never let it go. I saw them believe in what they were capable of—and act on that belief. It made my heart swell with pride.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Joe Pugliese when he was at our house photographing Richie for Bicycling magazine this summer. Joe has photographed bazillions of famous and successful people, people like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey, so during lunch I asked him if he noticed any particular quality these people had in common. He said, “confidence, they have a lot of confidence.” We went on to speculate whether they have confidence because they are successful or their confidence made them successful. Either way, we decided, the confidence was fundamental. And that’s what I saw happen this weekend: the kids seized confidence.

But the charm of Charm City was more than successful results. Charm City has a vibe—perhaps it’s the MAC series—that made it a real pleasure to attend. It lacked the feeling of hype, of frantic-pushy commercialism, of bigger, bigger, bigger, that I have felt at other races. In addition, the course was laid out so that we pit-people could see plenty of it, and let me just say that is a big perk when you spend most of your day in the pit. There were gobs of relaxed families and dogs (Buddy appreciated that) soaking up the perfect weather, and really good ethnic truck food. The little kids’ racecourse was set up in the infield, so it was easy to observe as I trudged to and fro from the pits. Watching tiny tots haul their bikes over the six-inch barrier, determined and inspired (and hilarious) makes you realize what these race days really should be, and are here—a celebration. And parking. Was not a problem. At all.

Charm-ing City.

charm city

photo by Erik Annis

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