Each year around this time as the snow is piling up, the windows white with frost and a hot shower required just to be able to move around, I find myself thinking about racing. Not simply riding, mind you, but racing. I’m not even positive why this is; perhaps because riding is my default escape thought all year long. Maybe because when it’s hot and humid in the summer and I’m halfway through a 10-mile techy loop, the last thing I’d find relaxing is imagining the dusty racetrack and extra layers of safety gear?
Whatever the reason, something about being cooped up indoors for so long makes me drift off into flashbacks of seasons past, lining up at the starting line at dusk, the air heavy with the scent of burgers being fried up on the grill of the snack shack behind the pits. Too many butterflies in the stomach to give much thought to eating though, ears tuned in for the tone of the starter.
In a flash the world’s a blur, the sound of heavy breathing inside your helmet providing the metronome for frantic pedaling into the first corner. G-forces driving you high up the berm, bikes slipping by below you through the inside line you left wide open. Heart racing, thighs burning, you put together a charge through the second and third corners.
You case a few jumps but the adrenaline and exhaustion transmit very little pain to the wrists and ankles. You try to make a pass after the fourth corner and through the fifth you’re bar to bar. By the time you make it to the finish line straight, your legs are jell-o, your mouth is cotton and it takes all of the strength you have left to pedal across the checkered line.
For all of your hard work you managed to come in second at a local armature event. There’s no post-race interviews here. No TV cameras. In fact you look out into the bleachers expecting to find a sea of adoring fans. Instead there are a few kids chasing one another around the grass. A woman is absently painting her nails. The dad of the teenager who beat you looks proud but with concerns.
Ah racing. I’m of the opinion there’s few experiences on the planet quite as humbling or masochistically rewarding as paying your entry fees, zip-tying a number plate to your bar and dropping into a dog fight to the bottom of the mountain. There’s no discounting the camaraderie found in being surrounded by individuals dressed in similarly silly (yet pricey) colorful clothing. It’s therapeutically reassuring in alleviating bike-upgrade guilt to find your steed amidst an entire staging area of bikes far more blinged out than yours. These are your brothers-in-arms; individuals as obsessed as you are. You’re in good company here.
The only trouble I have with the whole institution is that I’m aging at a pace that tends not to coincide with any of the established sanctioned class systems. A few years ago my cousin and I found ourselves on a crowded track surrounded by teens who were half our age. If you want to make yourself feel old and out of shape, this may be the world’s most effective way to accomplish this goal.
Two seasons back, there wasn’t a single other competitor in my class per point standings so I was left having to race in a few classes beyond my meager skill level. While I didn’t come home with many trophies that year, I did gain a seemingly endless succession of opportunities to learn humility.
Last season I pulled up hard on the bars to bunny hop onto a tabletop and felt a strange crunchy sensation in my left shoulder. Now here it is January and that torn rotator cuff is still in the process of mending. Slowly. Side note: You have no idea how often you sleep on your left side each night until you can’t.
Yet despite all of this, I still feel a tingle of giddy excitement every time I imagine lining up on the starting gate. It’s true that in time you forget all of the individual results you took throughout a season, all of the pain and sloppy moves out on the track fade away. You may even have a hard time recalling what number you wore (sadly that last one applied to me but a quick check of the records reveals I earned #96 my last full season of racing).
Slowly the adrenaline fades out and it’s back to numb toes and a driveway in need of shoveling. I suppose if there’s any consolation to winter’s presence, it would have to be that it allows ample time each year to organize thoughts of seasons past into some sort of semblance. I’ve decided that within the chaos of practicing on Wednesdays, racing on Fridays, trail riding on Sunday evenings and all the requisite travel in between; there’s very little opportunity to reflect upon the moment. You just sort of get in the zone and set your sights on the next event, the next heat race, the next corner. It isn’t until all of the proverbial dust settles and you’re holding a steaming up of coffee with the furnace turned up that you can allow yourself the pleasure or sorting through all of those memories and deciding whether or not the season was a success.
And I’ll let you in on a little secret: win or lose, the memories alone are worth the price of admission.
Ride & Seek says there’s no better way to experience Barcelona to Rome than from the saddle. We agree with this logic regardless of the starting and end point.
Spencer nearly lost his sanity in the off season but it seems to have resulted in his having written you a little poem.
Gabe straps his iPhone to the the bars thanks to an inexpensive little gem from Scosche and says his ability to capture in-saddle selfies has improved exponentially as a result.