Cherish the Ladies

Our cyclocross season began last weekend with Rochester. A Category 1 race on Saturday and a Category 2 on Sunday. From my non-racer perspective, a C1 race means that the officials are Very Attentive about UCI rules. Must be wearing pit pass. Must have right size tires. Must not feed. The first two rules are yadda-yadda. The last is more of a problem. The “No Feeding” rule states that the racers can carry water with them, but cannot be handed water. However, many ‘cross bikes don’t have water bottle cages on them and skinsuits don’t have pockets. Cyclocross is a cold weather sport (theoretically) and the race lasts an hour, so the whole hydration thing isn’t supposed to be an issue. But it is becoming one, due to climate change.

On Saturday, when the Elite Women raced, the heat index was 97 degrees Fahrenheit. After their hour of racing, the women crossed the line for the final time and fell over. Literally. One racer was taken to the hospital for heat stroke. The race organization, seeing the sprawl of bodies, brought over bottles of water and ice. Now it was the Elite Men’s turn to race (they race after the women) and Rochester, a race organization that Gets Things Done, set up a hose to spray the men as they raced by and had people waiting at the finish line, handing out bottles of cold water to the men as they finished. Great! You say.

Not so great, I say. The race organization should have known that the very high heat combined with no water combined with strenuous activity would lead to problems. Why did they wait to see the triage that was the women’s race before instituting adjustments? Why, in a nutshell, were the women the guinea pigs?

The Rochester race organization is superlative and they put on a great race. They would deny this implication of neglect. And I would believe them. Because this casual judgment that women are less valuable than men is insidious. It is certainly not limited to cyclocross racing.

But you have to start somewhere and call it out when you see it. So let’s start here. Women work just as hard as men during the race. Elite athletes are elite athletes. Enough with the casual neglect that speaks of a blind spot.

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Whist With the Ladies

Every week I play whist with the Ladies. It started in February of the winter before last. The one where even hardy New Englanders nearly lost it. So much snow, such bitter cold. But an afternoon of whist, we discovered, soothes even the most weary of souls and so every week we met to play, forgetting, for a little time, that there was five feet of snow piled up and that the temperature would go down (again) to minus twenty that night.

Now it’s spring and the leaves are that fresh green that is not yet tired of being green, the birds are calling out their territory, and we play our weekly whist with the doors and windows open.

The Ladies are not young; they have middle-aged children and grown grandchildren and often the conversation as we eat our treat before the game begins is about doctor’s visits or who died. This is not as grim as it sounds, because the Ladies have a solid and sensible cognition of living: things happen, you deal with it, and look for the good.

Recently, I was talking on the phone to one of the Ladies and complaining about something that threw off my carefully prepared schedule. On I went about the list I had made—a list I was proud of—for each day’s activities that now had to be all changed because of this one thing. She listened, making the occasional sympathetic noise. Then she told me about her day. “I went to the funeral today of a friend of mine.”

A pause.

“So things are not as bad as they could be.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed. She laughed too. It was the perfect antidote to my vexation.

Vexing things are a part of life; death is a part of life. And really, the most important thing is to enjoy what you’ve got when you’ve got it, which in my case, most certainly includes whist with the Ladies.

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The Weekend That Wasn’t

This past summer, I invited some good friends up. They have been regular visitors for the last six years and I looked forward to seeing them. Since we live far from the coast, fresh seafood is a luxury and they usually bring a big hunk of salmon that we cook on the grill. They also bring four or so bottles of good red wine. It is an agreeable confluence of good food, good friends, good conversation and fierce croquet—a not untypical summer get-together. But there was one thing about this weekend that was as rare as a sighting of a snow leopard.

The weekend went completely undocumented.

There were no photos taken and posted on Facebook to underscore to “friends” that we are having such a good, good time; no tweets to same. Nothing survived of this weekend but our personal memories, and alas, I realize now, this blog post. Which is a darn shame, but I am trying to make a point.

After my friends left, when I realized that there was no residue of the weekend except what I remembered, I felt a rush of joy. An undocumented weekend! No one else knew about it! It felt like discovering Machu Picchu and then just letting it be.

It is okay, nay, it is most excellent to keep things to yourself. To hold a memory close, like the jewel that it is. To take it out and look at it every now and then and remember those golden days that belong to only you and the people you experienced them with.

Yes, sharing experiences on the World Wide Web is fine—just understand that you don’t have to. A memory solely in your heart is just as valid as the affirmation of it on social media.

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Natz Wednesday

For the drive down, I’ll just give you a few visual impressions: Manhattan backlit against a sparkling Hudson river; crossing over the Appalachian mountains in a snow squall; a prominent confederate flag flying on Tennessee hillside; also in Tennessee, a sign on a building: JESUS IS LORD. WE BUY GUNS. (I hope they don’t vote.) And the respite of Asheville.

The race venue at the Biltmore estate seems to be, so far, impeccable. No traffic jams, we all have parking, signage everywhere so you know where you’re going and how to get there. Our hotel, the Marriot Residence Inn is beyond friendly. They have put out extra hand towels in the lobby for the racers to use on their bikes, along with a nice sign wishing us good luck in the races.

The pits are huge, well laid out, and, the piece de resistance: we have two port-a-potties! We pit people dream of having our own port-a-potties. Oh, the bar is set high, folks.

The watchword for today is friendly. And to underscore that: I was waiting in the line at the catering tent—yes a catering tent—to get a cup of coffee and the person behind me, one Jonathan Ruiz (don’t know if I’ve spelled that right; sorry if I didn’t) recognized Buddy from the Internet, and bought me my coffee. How sweet is that.

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Alrighty then. NBX

The big news is that I didn’t freeze my butt off. It was nearly balmy, and for those of you who remember NBX in past years as the coldest, most miserable race of the entire season, this sunny, dry, warm weather was just, well, odd. Didn’t seem like cyclocross, somehow.

So the weather was nice and the hotel was its usual, with the exception of a little Peyton Place sort of thing that will not get discussed any further here. Richie and I shopped at Dave’s for our dinner to bring back to our room—a little ritual of ours; the calm before the storm and we relish this little time. Richie decided to race (darn) so that meant up and out to the course really early, 7:30 am.

Etcetera.

I sit in the car, I read a book for review, I walk the dog, I find the coffee truck. I pit for him. I’m the only one. I cheer. Pit 1. Pit 2. Cheer, cheer.

Yay! It’s lunch time! Eat the world’s spiciest taco (but good.) Then to the pit for Elite Women’s race. Libby got a mechanical early on and decided to call it a day. Britt soldiered on. Everyone did well Saturday. On Sunday, Dan came into the pit on the first or second lap. After the world’s longest pit change (because his pit bike wasn’t operational and we had to put a wheel on his racing bike—will not be discussed here) Dan got back on and in Full Russian Frownie Face, joined the race again. I wasn’t optimistic about Dan’s mental competitiveness at that point, but hallelujah, he tried really hard. Of course any moaning he was planning on doing after the race was truncated by Sam’s mishap. With one lap to go and Sam in fourth place!!—he and the metal barrier had words, with the result that Sam, with a puncture wound a half-inch deep, went to the hospital. Thankfully, his best friend’s mother lived a scant five minutes away, and even, better, worked at the hospital. This allowed Richie and I to drive Sam’s car to her house and his father to get on the plane, as intended, to Serbia.

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* * *

Anthony Clark won on Sunday and I couldn’t be happier. He deserved that win, and the Verge series title. I don’t know anyone who works as hard and as humbly as he does. And it doesn’t hurt that the photo of him crossing the finish line is just about the best winning-a-race photo I have ever seen.

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(couldn’t find who to credit this photo to, sorry.)

Alrighty then. Supercross Cup

The Good, The Bad, and the Pitiful

The Bad.

Apparently Richie and I are slow learners. I don’t know how many times it’s going to take us finally realize that there are other people in the world trying to get somewhere on a Friday afternoon, especially in the major metropolitan areas we seem to travel on a regular basis. In any event, we didn’t learn it this time, either. Stuck in traffic. But only for an hour or so and at this point in ‘cross season, a four hour trip that was supposed to be a three hour trip isn’t much at all; it’s when the trips ease their way into eight-nine hours that we start to whine. All three of us.

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The Good.

Excellent food trucks! Wafles. Waffles. Latte. Wafles. Coffee! Waffles, wafles, waffles. And the sunset.

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The Pit-iful.

What on earth was going on with the pits?

Let me enumerate:

  1. The pit entrance is. . .where? Hint. As race goes right, you go straight, then take a sharp right (avoid the spectators in the pit lane, they are just as lost as you are) swerve around the tree, then straight ahead. I think.
  2. Trees without hay bales standing like bouncers on all four corners of the pit. Ouch.
  3. Tree roots. If by some slim chance of fate, your rider had found the entrance to the pit and has entered, s/he then makes the bike switch and, adrenaline pumping, takes off like a shot, only to encounter serious root-age while still in the pit. Unless said rider has a firm grip on handlebars, it is likely the bike with go careening away, nullifying the whole point of pitting.
  4. Really, really fast entrances. Imagine, for a moment, that you are racing downhill on pavement. Whoosh. You are going really fast. Then imagine that you must navigate your way to the pit while going really fast. Then picture hopping an asphalt curb at a challenging angle all the while going—yes—really, really fast. That was the entrance to Pit Two on Saturday.
  5. Curbs on both entrance and exits. See 4 above.
  6. So you’ve found the entrance to the pit (probably you had to go around a lap longer than you wanted to accomplish this) you’ve gotten in! Congratulations! You switch bikes! Yay! Whoops, you slide out on the pile of oak leaves that are strewn picturesquely in the lane. Oh well, two out of three.
  7. On Saturday, Pit One and Pit Two were in the first third of the race. Woe betide you if you need a pit after you’ve passed Pit Two, because there’s two-thirds more race to get through.

And on Sunday, the pits were, just to put a little more spice into things, backwards. But by now, we, the pit people, had no expectations of pit-sanity and so we just shrugged our shoulders and good-naturedly helped each other out, as we do.

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Alrighty then, Highland Park

Week 6 of being on the road and all that denotes

There comes a time in the ‘cross calendar when the weather stops being perfect and turns cold. Or, god forbid, rainy and cold. This past weekend at Highland Park was cold. Not the numbing cold of NBX (that wind off the water in the shady pit…) but in the low 30’s at 9:00 am when Richie likes to arrive at the venue for his 12:00 start. Brrrr.

I set up the tent-thingie near the lake, but quickly realized that we really wanted sun, not shade, and so I angled the new camp chairs outside of the tent, in the sun. I bought the chairs last week, thinking that as long as we have a tent-thingie now, we may as well have a few chairs to sit on too. Where this dissipation will end, I cannot say. Will a Hibachi be next?

Highland Park is a racer’s race. The spread-out course seems designed, not for spectators, but for the racers. The loudspeaker pretty much only reached the finish line area and nowhere else. These are not complaints. It was nice to just work in the pits, sit in the sun in between, and tend to the needs of our racers. I needed a low- key weekend. Because at this point, I have to admit I am weary. All the driving and packing and unpacking and trying to get work done in between grinds down the sparkle, so low-key was a respite. And another respite was that my order from The Feed arrived just before we left for Highland Park.

The Feed is a company that sells energy food for athletes. You go to their website, select what you want from a billion choices and then they box it up and send it to you. They are, hallelujah, a sponsor and so every month during the season everyone on the RS team gets a coupon.

I avoid wheat, so when I get my coupon, I activate the gluten-free filter on the website and go to town. Epic bars are my all-time favorite so far. For me it’s not about energy before the race, it’s about lunch. When I’m working in the pits, I often don’t have time to go find food, but with Epic bars, that’s not a problem. I pull one out of my back pocket (where I have tucked it for just such an occasion, and it also warms up nicely—oh don’t give me that look) and tear in. Epic bars are essentially pemmican—dried meat and nuts and berries—which may sound like Little House On The Prairie-subsistence-food-awful, but I’m here to tell you that pemmican is really good and I don’t feel a bit sorry for the early explorers anymore.

Having The Feed food makes things so much simpler on the road. So much so that when my first order (for September) was miscued and didn’t arrive until the middle of October, I felt very put out and had to remind myself that this is a gift and be grateful, you ninny. But that’s how much I depend on it.

Yes, week 6 is a grind, but with the right food and the right company (oh, and a little whiskey, thanks to the lovely foresight of Dan Chabanov) it ends up just fine.

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