With A Mouthful Of Dust
It's late summer in the Southeast, and cyclocross is here.
We are in a liminal time.
It’s the late summer/early fall, a time that begins on the first night in August that you notice the sun’s already setting at 8 p.m. and lasts until the first day in October that a hoodie and shorts is no longer warm enough.
The instinct this time of year for photosynthesizers like myself is to begin panicking.
Glowing summer days are in the rearview, and I know that if I squint and look to the horizon line, I could see winter in the distance, getting ready to launch salvoes labeled “4 P.M. SUNSETS” and “ELECTION SEASON ADS” at me. There will be direct hits on the S.S. Mike’s Optimism, and it will get ugly.
But for right now, things are quite nice. Oktoberfest beers are being poured, fantasy football drafts are done and dusted, and it certain parts, hundreds of stakes are being hammered into the ground to carve out a cyclocross race course.
I discovered cross when I was unsure about what I wanted to get out of cycling. My relationship with it began in 2014 when I was afraid of what life after college might be like, so in a vaguely Forrest Gump-ian move I bought the simplest machine I could find and rode it as far away from home as possible.
That led me to racing, because hey, going fast is fun, but a few injuries in 2018 left me doubting just how often I wanted to put only a 25mm tire between myself and the pavement. Enter cyclocross, where you have to pedal twice as hard to go half as fast.
To be in a cyclocross race is to constantly be reminding yourself to stay on the pedals and accelerating. It’s balancing an adrenaline rush with concentrating on a barrage of course obstacles designed specifically to tie your quads into knots. Not to mention the hooligans who show up to races with a case of Naturdays and hand them up to racers going by. It’s the silliest form of bike racing imaginable.
There are no team tactics (at least none that I’m smart enough to understand) and the assignment for each race is simple: pedal hard, the whole damn time. If you are stronger and more dexterous than the rest, you might win. Most of the time, you won’t. It’ll still be fun!
It’s fitting that the start of the cyclocross and college football seasons coincide. They’re deeply silly games with regional delicious regional quirks. And what’s Virginia's tell? DUST.
Our mostly dry autumns make for grassy courses that get ground into dust bowls. My first dust cloud experience was at Warped Tour 2007, when I was preparing to have my 16-year-old mind melted by seeing Circa, Chiodos and Coheed in the space of a few hours. But before I got to hear Claudio strum that incredible opening riff to “Welcome Home,” I stumbled upon Tiger Army’s set.
I was way too intimidated to get anywhere near the pit, but the air was so thick with dusty haze that I could feel it caking on to me. After the set some guy next to me in line for the port-o-johns looked at me wiping the flecks of dirt off my face and said, “Yeah dude. You’re gonna have black boogers for a week.” Nowadays I have black boogers all fall.
The cross season kicked off this week. It is late summer in the Southeast, and cyclocross is here.
There are the obvious metaphors for bike racing. Just keep pedaling. If you can dig deep now, there’s nothing in life you can’t face. Those are the ones that I call to mind when I’m huffing in dirt, desperately looking summon strength to my legs.
This is how we choose to spend our fall weekends. LET’S GO.