A few months ago I picked up the summer issue of Wend Magazine, a rag out of Portland I’d never seen before. I enjoyed it; obviously aimed at a younger, hipper demographic than I represent, but cool nonetheless. In particular there was an article in there by Heidi Swift called “The Cyclocross Diaries: My Love Affairs with Men, Wheels and Mud.” I started watching her other stuff online for Wend and ultimately followed her on twitter. Cyclocross intrigued me as something that seemed like a sport I could get into. Plus it turns out she isn’t boring with the things she posts. In my quest to know as many interesting people as possible, that’s a success!
Fast forward to the last couple days. I had to make a really quick trip to Portland for work which would have me there early on a Sunday, looking for something to do that didn’t involve me spending ridiculous amounts of money (i.e. Powell’s Books). Heidi had posted about a big race being held in Portland through Sunday — the USGP at Portland International Raceway. I decided to check it out, and I ended up having a great time.
I landed at PDX around 9:30 AM, grabbed my rental car and headed straight for the event. The event for men 35 and older was underway (or maybe it was 45+, I don’t know). It was windy and sort of chilly, but not too bad.
From what I gather, the way cyclocross works is you don’t race a set distance, you race a set time. So if it’s a 45 minute race, the first person to cross the finish line after 45 minutes wins. The course was 3 km long, with muddy spots, straightaways on pavement, winding curves, hills, and obstacles that had to be traversed carrying the bike. Spectators are all along the course, ringing cowbells and shouting encouragement to the racers. There are tents for the various racing teams in the infield (the race was held on parts of the motocross track at the race track in Portland), as well as gear vendors and food vendors and things like that.
This guy flying over these barriers won the 55+ division, I believe it was. A guy from Missoula came in third!
As the day went on, the sun came out and the day turned glorious. A drum group fired up and provided loud accompaniment to the proceedings.
I scored a delicious lunch for myself that I washed down with a couple local brews.
Another race started, and these dudes were flying. I took a position at the top of a big hill that the racers would ride up to, then carry their bikes up, then ride the rest of the way back down. It was a large field, and from atop the hill I could see the huge pack of them racing around the flat pavement, then along the backstretch, then start twisting their way around the turns until they finally approached the hill. They charged up —
— then flew down the other side.
I found this to be one of those events where I am a restless spectator. Like a soccer game, I’d rather be doing it then watching it! It looks friggin’ exhausting though. For the time this race was scheduled for, I think the guys did five laps. So that is essentially 40 minutes all out, riding, climbing hills, jumping off and on the bike, etc. I’d be lucky to get around the thing once!
The last race I watched was the Elite Women. This was pretty cool. I watched them queue up at the starting line, then they took off to the thunder of drums and the rattle of countless cowbells.
Then I hustled back to the top of the climbing hill to watch their approach. I apologize for the poor quality of the video; I took it with my phone.
One thing I saw a couple women do that none of the men did was actually ride up this hill instead of carry the bike on foot. I wondered about that. I concluded that for someone with more strength, running up with the bike may actually be faster than riding the bike, because those women who did were moving pretty slow by the time they crested the hill. I don’t know, maybe they just wanted to challenge themselves. It certainly drew cheers from the people assembled there to watch!
Some showed signs of wipeouts as well, though I only saw two.
It was fun moving around and watching from various points along the track to see the strategy involved.
In the end, all three women atop the podium race for the same team!
It was a good time, and a great way to spend a few hours outdoors in the fresh air and sunlight, surrounded by fit, healthy, fun-loving people of all ages. I could get hooked, that’s for sure. I like the solitary nature of it, that the amount of effort and hard work one puts in has a direct correlation to how successful one is. Like my respect for fighters, it isn’t exactly the competition I find compelling so much as it is the commitment to training. I admire that, and find it to be very inspiring.
Anyway, here is a report from Heidi herself about the event. Fun stuff! I need to see what is going on with cyclocross around Missoula, that’s for sure. Then get a bike and get in shape. I just don’t know about me in a spandex onesie, though. . . .