In the past seven days I've driven up and back to Seattle, flown back and forth to Las Vegas and raced three times. The cyclocross season on the West Coast starts with Star Crossed and the Rad Racing GP; both races are part of the NACT (North American Cyclocross Trophy).
Seattle is a long drive from Berkeley but after balancing the cost of flying, bike fees and rental car, driving was the less expensive option. Plus when you drive to a race you can bring all sorts of nice extras like spare wheels, spare tyres, a floor pump, a trainer, extra tools, a large assortment of clothing and lots of food.
I'm jealous of the East Coasters who drive to most races - in addition to all the good stuff they fit into their cars they also avoid the hassle of flying with bikes.
This was my first Star Crossed and it will not be my last. Most of the women I talked with before the race were either on brand new, never-ridden, built-up-last-night bicycles or still waiting for their new bikes. I felt lucky that one of my Hakkalugi's had already been in two races.
The first big race of the year always produces extra nerves and jitters. Everyone is extra tense after "30 seconds to go" is called by the UCI official; we wait on edge for the gunshot. The gun cracks and off we go in a mad dash for the first few corners.
The course weaves in, out and around the velodrome, it's very flat and very fast. My heart was not ready for this kind of effort and as the race goes on I drift back. On the last lap I see large slide marks on the wet and muddy surface of the velodrome. Someone went down and I adjust my trajectory to avoid a similar fate.
By the time our race is over the rain has increased to a steady pour and I head back to the car to get out of my wet clothes. The men got to race in a magnificent downpour and a decreased co-efficient of friction. I watched from the velodrome infield, partially sheltered by the beer tent.
The men raced in torrents of rain, buoyed by the rowdy fans crowded in the infield and along the upper fence of the velodrome. I headed out before the race ended to beat the traffic and because I was afraid the car might get stuck in the muddy field.
Sunday was the complete opposite of Saturday; bright and warm with a well-drained course that was dusty in some areas and the infamous 80 metre "Knapp Time" run up. The general pre-race consensus was last night's race had everyone feeling creaky today.
Many racers were suffering from the first race of the season hangover. When the gun goes off the creakiness is replaced with cotton mouth which then turns to panting when we hit the giant sunbaked run up. The fifth time I tackle the run up I want to quit, my run loses it's bounce and turns into a walk. Sweat drips onto my glasses obscuring the puffs of dust turned up by my feet.
In just a few minutes the race will be over so I push onwards and upwards knowing that the long downhill will provide a small rest. I finish the day in fifth place, spend a brief moment on the podium then Tim and I pack the car and head south back to California.
We were home for less than 24 hours before leaving for Las Vegas and the grand spectacle known as Interbike. Three years ago Cross Vegas was born - it's maturing nicely and has one of the deepest fields of any race in the US.
Between the elite men and the elite women there were close to 20 national and former national champions and two former world champions competing. As always the race was hard from the gun, the super dry desert air is very hard on the lungs and more than one racer suffered from breathing problems.
I'd like to thank the Luna Chix for providing sparkly gold Speedoed podium boys. Flesh is abundant in Las Vegas and is usually of the female variety bulging out of tiny shirts and tight skirts. The podium boys were a welcome change and a big hit with the ladies.
Like many elite racers at Interbike I put in my time thanking sponsors and chatting with industry folk... you never now what will come of connections made at a trade show.
The final leg of the journey almost never happened. Tim, myself and a buyer from a local shop almost missed our flight home because we couldn't get out of the casino. The three of us have spent numerous hours navigating mountainous regions on several continents without getting lost.
We were disoriented by the flowered carpets, blinking lights, vague signage, and maps that didn't make sense. It wasn't until after seeking the counsel of several casino workers that we finally found the elevators to the parking garage. We made the flight with a few minutes to spare after a long frantic airport "run-walk". This trip made home feel sweeter than ever.
Next up: The Cincinnati International Cyclocross Festival - three days of UCI racing and equal payouts.