I mentioned to my wife that I was thinking about trying out this thing called cyclocross on one Wednesday evening in November 2009. She responded something like “um…okay?” which I read as tacit approval to immediately buy a cheap used ‘cross bike on ebay, drive up to Greenwich, CT the following evening in a biblical rain event, and enter my first race that weekend. The fact that I had zero fitness and only ever seen one cyclocross race in person hardly seemed relevant. As with most first times, my first cross race was a mix of fear and excitement, pain and exhilaration, and a sideshow of utter incompetence. And of course it was over way too soon. Quickly I signed up for every NJBA race left in the season. Both of them. SCCX and the series finale, the now defunct Philipsburg Riverfront race.
Learning from my past mistakes, I arrived at Philipsburg in time to watch the races before mine go off and to pre-ride a few laps of the course. I paid attention to the start, the tricky run-up, the greasy 180’s on the north end of the course, and especially the tree-root covered off camber just after the start. For the first time, I had the semblance of a plan at the start.
As our steaming pack of Cat 4 racers hit the nasty tree-root section, I dismounted early, ran the inside line around the tree while gridlock ensued after a ride or two crashed on the tree roots. I passed a few guys in the tricky 180’s and hit the run up with momentum and popped out on the upper field near the start/finish to discover, much to my amazement, that I was IN THE LEAD OF A BIKE RACE.
The glory was fleeting because my untrained Cat 6 legs were quickly overtaken by what seemed at the time like a herd of thoroughbreds, who eagerly relegated me to my rightful place somewhere in the middle of the 60 person field.
It was the first time Joe Sailing uttered my name on the PA system. I remember him fumbling to figure out how the hell to pronounce my name since since he was no doubt expecting one of the series leaders to be coming past the tent first. I glowed with pride. Somehow, despite having the power profile of a banana slug, I was able to put myself into the lead of a bike race through a little luck and foresight. It was my dim glimpse of Zen Cyclocross Enlightenment.
As the December snow began to fall on Philipsburg I walked the park around fueled by the warm glow of Wafels & Dinges in my belly. I met people who would later become close friends. I watched in awe of the speed of the Cat B’s. I began to see things that weren’t visible to me before. I began to dream about next fall, which couldn’t come soon enough.