It seems like just yesterday that I was sitting in the van at the Oostmalle season finale in Belgium with the sleet/snow hitting the windscreen. My motivation was kept high as were saying goodbye to legend of 'cross Daphny van den Brand; with all riders sporting Daphny style plaits as a parting gesture. Now six months on and the smooth tyres and effective braking have been ditched for that sweet feeling of riding off road on the world's fastest bike. (There is no scientific research behind this statement so I cannot be held liable for its validity at any point).
As ever I have started the season back in the mighty US of A, which from now on I will call ‘home'. This year we have created a somewhat stable base in the Chabot Compound in a little town near Burlington, Vermont. When I say compound, it's not like the kind you see on that TV program where the people are preparing for the apocalypse. There are no underground shelters with canned food to feed 700 people for 10 years and there are no anti-radiation suits; it's simply a very lovely house in the woods on the side of a hill. It's also the home of 'Meatball'.
Meatball is the name our pet Volvo has acquired since we arrived. If you are a woman and have ever tried to get your partner to go Ikea to spend hours wandering around just to buy a few trinkets for your wall you will understand the value of the restaurant that is always at the very end of the little yellow trail. What is the only bargaining tool we have? A promise of the heavenly taste of the meatballs and chips of course. Volvo and Ikea are Swedish, therefore she is now called Meatball.
So after a few days recovering from jet lag and riding the beautiful, quiet roads in Vermont we drove meatball down to Rochester for the first UCI races of the season. One thing I have found in America is the massive amount of free things at the edge of people's property. One day we saw a full size house/trailer on wheels for free, then a washer, dryer, three lounge chairs, a picnic bench and a chest of draws. I admit it probably needs a little TLC but we could actually have a second home, just need some free land!
Anyway, back to Rochester. We were running an evening cyclo-cross skills clinic from the local bike shop, Full Moon Vista, that also promotes the race. Parked in the car park out the back an elderly lady drives up in her Volvo and asked us directly how many miles Meatball had done compared to her car before telling us how wonderful her car was having done far less and being far older. Having passed on such information she wished us a nice day and drove off. Right...great...thanks, I think.
The clinic went well, I hope; people seemed happy which is usually a good sign. I was really impressed at how quickly people learnt and how just by breaking a skill down into a few steps you can undo bad habits and replace them with something that ultimately is faster and simpler for that person. It may even help me understand my skills a bit better as I am having to think about the steps involved. Although when Stef said, "right, Helen will demonstrate running the barriers" I may have had a minor mishap as I didn't anticipate how high they were and totally demolished the pair of them. Oops, that's how not to do it then! I'd like to say I did it to make people more relaxed but in reality I was just being cocky, epic fail! We have another one at the midnight ride in a couple of weeks which is going to be great fun and I have learnt my lesson.
Whilst in Rochester we found this amazing little corner shop that had loads of fancy foods so we bought some wraps and stuff to put in them for dinner. Turns out they were a never ending packet and as quick as you ate them they multiplied so the theme of the weekend became, if in doubt wrap it. It will surprise you how many things taste even better when wrapped up.
I also had one of the nicest coffees I've ever had in America from this very arty looking little cafe called Joe's Beans (I think) near our host house. It took a good 15 minutes to make but it was truly worth it. The guy who worked there was gently filtering coffee by hand through a vegan coffee filter after having gently caressed the beans for exactly 6 minutes and 12 seconds while stroking the water till it hit boiling point. Least that's what it felt like while we were waiting. Also, strangely, a lady came in wearing no shoes, must be an American thing?
The racing went well and the course was a hard as ever but the few changes they had made this year turned it into a really interesting race. But as always you can read a race report for that. It was great to catch up with friends and I met a lady who I had once met before in the town where I grew up and who had lived near there and is good friends with my very first sponsors. It's a very small world.
So America is still very cool, it's still hugely different from Europe and I do love it here. Every day I find something new that surprises me. For example why use a temperature grade that does not start at zero degrees? Why are all the houses built out of wood? Why are so many trailers parked practically on the highways, surely there is cheap land elsewhere too? Finally why, based on the vastness of people's gardens here, are there not more cyclo-cross riders? I would have been in heaven as a kid. If it interests you follow my rantings of ‘differences in America' based questions on Twitter. I assure you there is no irony in the questions as you may find in other tweets, they are genuine questions.
Next race is this Nittany Lion Cross race weekend, hopefully I can have another couple of good rides there. I will update after.