Thursday, December 06, 2007

The coal in my stocking

I was poking around at my bikes the other night, picking pieces of grass out of the deraileuer and hubs. Checking out what needs to be replaced and overhauled, especially after the last races. And that is about when it hit me, the season was over.

I remember after the last race at PIR, I stopped and talked with my friend Jim about not doing anymore races. He asked me if I wasn’t going to miss ‘cross, and with a big smile I said “NO” I am glad it is over. He nodded in agreement, but told me that I'd miss it in a couple weeks, that having a Saturday night or two to stay out late and not worry about racing will be fun at first, but I’d miss it eventually. Was he ever spot on!

The past two weeks I have been feeling aimless. The nerves and anticipation for an upcoming race are gone. I no longer check the weather forecast for Portland, just the mountains. No reason to go out and train hard. I feel lost, empty (except for all the crap I have been eating. And drinking. mmmmm holiday beers).

But does it have to end? There are those who want there to be ‘cross year round, or even a second season in January. There are even races in Eugene and up in Seattle in December. Why not? I’ve traveled to NJ and KY why not there?

Well, even as much as I miss it, I know it won’t be the same. One of the reasons that I think ‘Cross is so much fun is it’s short compact season. It is like a holiday. Hanukah for bike racing if you will. It's like the over-used saying of “if it weren’t for the rain would we appreciate the sun” only here it’s "if it weren’t for the road/Mt/track racing would we appreciate ‘cross?" Only happening for part of the year, it truly is like Christmas. And a muddy, rainy cross race is like a White Christmas...extra special.

It takes more than a freshly cut tree covered in lights and ornaments to make a day special, it’s the chance to spend a day with some wonderful and sometime not so wonderful people, and compete to see who made out with the best presents that's makes Christmas what it is. And so it is with ‘cross in Portland. From what I saw in NJ and KY, it just isn’t the same. It can be a great course with all kinds of weather and good competition, but without the friends and enemies, it just isn’t the same. So for me, going to Eugene, or Seattle just wouldn’t be the same. It can never compare to a Cross Crusade.

At the awards party, I was talking to a guy from Boulder about the cross scene. He said that Boulder has a huge bike racing scene, and draws large crowds and fans, but Portland has something else. “More of a freak factor?” I asked. “Yeah, but I would have put it a little more gently” said he. It’s true, it is one big 3 ring freak show out there. Other places think we’re weird for having a Single Speed class, much less a unicycle and Clydesdale categories. Just check out the cartoon in the Velonews with Katie Compton on the cover. And as much as I think Unicycles are ridiculous, I also recognize it is part of the atmosphere that makes it all so special.

The other aspect that I think makes ‘cross so fun is it’s uniqueness. I sometimes get asked what kind of racing I prefer, Road, Mt or Cross. And I always answer ‘cross. If I could only race one season, ‘cross would be it. I can always go out and ride my bike on the road, and I can Mt bike all summer for hours at a time. But you can’t go out and ‘cross. Sure you can ride a ‘cross bike on the road and on trails but it is not the same as a race. Being forced to run through 6 barriers, or run through 6” of penut butter mud. It just can't be recreated.

While I will miss cross, I can go away being really happy about my season. I had set my personal goals to finish top 10 in the Crusade Master series, and to score some points in the USGP series (a top 20 finish). I accomplished both of those. I squeaked out the top 10, and that was with a bunch of mechanicals and what not. And in the USGP, I finished in the points 3 times, with my best finish at 10th. This put me tied for 19th in the final series standings. Not too shabby for a hack.

It’s hard for me not to start thinking ahead to next year. What goals do I want to set? Should I go to any of the USGPs? What about going to Nationals? Stay local and try to finish top 3 in the Crusades? Or maybe race Sr. Men and try for top 20? But it is way too soon to really think too hard about any of that. For now there’s snow in the mountains and I have some skiing to do. I’ll miss seeing all the same people out there on Sundays. I look forward to seeing a bunch of them at the Mt Bike races in the spring, but you can guarantee, that while I’ll be having fun racing Mt Bikes or maybe even some road races, I’ll be thinking about ‘cross.