Cyclocross. I had only heard of this form of bicycle racing less than a year ago. In fact, I only started cycling in January. I was clueless about how to balance on a road bike, how to change gears, and removing a rear wheel never happened without frustration and YouTube videos. I didn’t own any cycling gear. I didn’t even know what to buy, or if it was going to be worth the investment. By summer, I wanted to start riding with other people, and I nervously joined the Philadelphia Women’s 100 Ride Series. Other cyclists gave me their old gear. I felt supported, and empowered. At the end of the summer, I attended a cyclocross workshop, mostly because it was being offered and my curiosity often takes the driver’s seat in my life. Fast forward to August. I impulsively signed up for the Arsenal Crit at the Navy Yard and the Nittany cross, but my excitement offered me fleeting solace. I quickly got confronted with burgeoning fears and anxiety, and a barrage of self-condemning thoughts. “I’m not a real cyclist! I can’t RACE! I’m not an athlete. Spandex makes me feel dumb. What do I even think I’m doing?” Needless to say, I chickened out and watched the race that day. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so disappointed in myself. I needed a new strategy for Nittany. I spent time talking to other more experienced cyclists about what to expect, and I brought a friend for support. Michelle Lee was gracious enough to let me borrow her bike, and gave me lots of tips. So did Lauren Chestnutt and Blake Rubin from the Kelpius Cycling Team. I was nervous and obsessed with worry, but determined to pedal across the starting line with the other ¾ cat women. I had no idea how many times I was going to lap the course, but I didn’t even care. I just didn’t want to quit this 40-minute race. I finished last. Dead tired: deliriously happy. I left Nittany promising myself I would never put myself in that position again. Cyclocross is nuts! The people that race are fitness machines! Screw this.
Fast forward to October. Sophia Lee tagged me in a Facebook post asking if I was interested in racing at Crossasauras. She had a loner bike available for me to use. She also offered to pick me up from my house, take me to the race, give me tips, and bring me back home. Who would say no to this?!? I gave it zero thought and immediately said YES. I spent the next 4 days frantic about what to expect, how I would do, WHY I was even going to do another race. And a Cyclocross race? The race is called Crossasauras, isn’t that enough of a clue for self to NOT register? Nope. My accusatory inner voice was being challenged by a voice with a new vision for myself, and my abilities. I can do this. I’ve gained competence and skill since I started cycling, and seeing my own improvement is really, really rewarding. Plus, Sophia thought about me without me even asking, so I was humbled by that alone.
We got an email the evening before the race, saying that the corners were going to be tighter this year, and that the “bridge and jump” are back. Bridge? JUMP?
Race day. Crossasauras. Oh God.
Sophia picked me up 3 hours before the race, and she gave me an opportunity to talk through whatever I was confronting. She encouraged me to practice on the course before the race. She literally rode the course with me, calling out techniques for the hills, barriers, logs and the sand pit. I fell twice during practice, but got right up and kept going. Now I felt unstoppable. The dirt on my knees and the soreness of my hands was indicative of how hard I was trying. A rush of nervousness did present itself during the final 30 seconds to race time. I dually criticized and encouraged myself during the race. More competent cyclists lapped me, but they praised me and encouraged me as well. I did finish the 40-minute race, and got in 4/5 laps. I finished last in my category again, 15th place, and I felt great. What I got out of this experience is that where I am is nothing to be ashamed of. I can’t even imagine a more fun way to learn that life lesson, than to be in a tight-cornered log-hopping cyclocross race. And you know what, at the end of the day, our feet should be dirty, our hair messy, and our eyes sparkling.
Epilogue (Sophia): Many many thanks to the numerous people involved in building the Loaner Bike. Arley Kemmerer for donating the frame and fork that made this possible, Jules Benson and Darco Lalevic of QCW Cycling p.b. Breakaway Bikes for donating parts, Stefano Tomasello for the gruppo, Nicholas Kohout of Tativille for the front wheel, Tati Cycles for collecting parts from Messieurs Tomasello and Kohout and shipping a box o’ parts all the way from Chicago, Montana of Breakaway Bikes for a splendid build job, and most especially, QCW Women’s team for donating money to build this bicycle. Also thank you Anjali for your enthusiasm, racing our bike, and wonderful guest post!