Submitted by Christine Fort
When I told some of my friends and teammates that I was doing a cyclocross race in July, they thought I was crazy (“Doesn’t that not start for, like, another two months?” Ben and Jeremy asked). But I couldn’t wait to go. ‘Cross is my focus this year, so I decided to throw in the towel on my lackluster road season and get right to the good stuff. Yes, for me, “the good stuff” involves bombing over rutted grass, taking 180-degree turns through mud, jumping off my bike and over planks, jumping back on again, then trying to finish respectably in the face of coughing up snot and wanting to puke. Fortunately, about a hundred or so other bike racers also shared the insanity that is ‘crosslust, and joined me in Augusta, NJ for a weekend of bikes, mud, muscle shirts, strollers in beer tents, and, of course, 4H quilting exhibits.
I had Friday off of work, so I loaded up the car, got some coffee, and then rolled over to JP to pick up my friend David, who was going to race the men’s elites and got assigned the job of navigating about ten pages’ worth of Mapquest directions. Thankfully, he was up to it: it was sunny when we departed Boston, but once we reached the middle of Connecticut the weather became a full-on Herman Melville-style squall. At some points I was white-knuckling it at 40 miles an hour, barely able to see the car in front of me.
This totally rad weather front meant that by the time we arrived in Augusta, parts of the Sussex County Fairgrounds were covered in a glorious layer of slop. We de-racked our bikes, talked to some fellow racers, then walked around and scoped out the course. About half of it looked like a normal ‘cross course, marked off with the requisite stakes and tape. My “tape reflex” (which involves smiling dreamily and drooling a little every time I see stakes and tape, and had been inadvertently set off at crits earlier in the year featuring children’s grass races) engaged… and then I saw the rest of the course. It was a dirt arena-turned-mud-pit in front of the bleachers, and a bunch of fluorescent mesh worms from IKEA marked off what the race organizer referred to as the “spiral of death”: a series of twisting turns with a junk car in the middle of it all. Originally we were supposed to compete on a run-up over the junk car, but the organizers had lost power and were unable to finish building the run-up.
I took a lap or two on the course, trying to figure out which lines to take through the mud. A fall during the warmup revealed that under the mud was a layer of asphalt (this was why the worms were used instead of stakes and tape). This was great in one sense because it meant the mud was rideable, but it also meant that any crashes in it were not just going to cause me to lose time: they were going to hurt like hell.
From the “spiral of death,” the course went over a short grassy hill, around a tight chicane of a turn (mmm… grass chicanes… how I missed you) that required picking a good line in advance from the top of the hill, and through more turns in the grass, winding around some animal stalls and back to a set of wooden plank barriers. The barriers came shortly after a turn but still allowed for a little momentum coming through, so I figured this race would be terrific practice. After the barriers, there was another small, muddy hill, then a turn back up and over the same hill, then a straightway past the pit, and back into the spiral. The course was shorter than the average ‘cross course, but given the resources available, it was pretty authentic.
My race, a combined M/F novice field, was at 6 p.m. All competitors were staged by their rankings on crossresults.com, which was pretty sweet because I got called up to the front row right before my friend Lang (I wore number 71; he was 72). We mock-glared at each other briefly and decided that the battle was ON. The whistle went off and we converged across the field, headed for the spiral. I was fighting for a decent position and ended up about ten back from the hole shot, gasping for air as we started turning through the mud. The first two laps were agony; then somehow I rocketed past Lang in the barriers between laps 3 and 5 and never saw him again. I still felt awful but at least my race was going okay–I was pretty sure I was first woman by a long shot. The laps were short–that, and the fact that I kept finding chewy (and nutritious!) chunks of mud in my mouth, made the race seem longer than it actually was. Fortunately, the men’s leader lapped me somewhere near the finish and relieved me of doing one more lap. I ended up finishing 13th overall (thereby preserving my crossresults lead over Lang, who finished 16th), and getting 1/7 for the novice women, with a gap of 3+ minutes (thanks, mud!). Midfield in a mixed-gender race and first among the women were both better results than I’d expected, so I was ecstatic.