“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” (H.G. Wells, cited on The Writer’s Almanac, 9/21/16)
Well, well, it’s been a while: March to October, spring to fall, yet another year flying by. I’ve meandered far and near – feels like a lifetime, so much to tell. I am happy to be back just in time for …mud! No, not the mud unfortunately spreading around the globe by the bewildering human capacity for misdeed (some certainly more capable than others). No, literal mud, cyclocross endless mud. Of course I am not competing – you know I ride on stubbornness and not much else! The good people at my bike shop organize this fun championship and invited me to be part of their team – go figure! Here I am: full fall mud. And loving it!
For the uninitiated, such as myself, a cyclocross competition involves racing around a short but daunting course, carefully loaded with all sorts of obstacles including sanded areas, steep hills, stairs, tree roots, sharp corners and so on extending as wide as the organizers creativity. It requires strength and skills of a level I am barely capable of listing, let alone executing, but which encompass cornering, descending, mounting and dismounting a bike in a particularly clever way, just to name a few. Once course is built, fall Sundays around the greater Seattle area, they come, and therein beauty lies. The “they” is a fantastic blend of athletes and spectators of all ages and genders, ranging from zero (the little kids race) to decades! (We saw a 75 year old female athlete racing away). “They” further includes dogs, many, multiple dogs, team tents with food and shelter, grandparents, curious passersby, and did I mention dogs?
I had never been at a cyclocross race before, vaguely knew what it entailed and had never set foot on a course. But, as George would say, I was curious. And am I glad I got to be a part of it! So many things keep me dazed through the day, it is hard to remember my actual tasks (thank goodness the nearby registration team absolutely knows what they are doing – and what I am supposed to).
It starts with set up. By the time I arrive, the process basically finished, but once I got a glimpse of the buzz of building a fantastically engineered arena for folks to enjoy. Everybody walks around with purpose and energy and soon enough the course is ready. The team works hard, starting in the dark and finishing the day in the dark. But they do it: all these Sundays, they actually build, from the ground up, an entire …playground! (I can only hope the fierce and zestful organizers and athletes take this as the compliment meant to be: playground building, and the hope it rekindles, is not for the faint of heart!)
Slowly, team tents emerge. Team names by themselves make me smile: soft like kitten, misfitz, los toadies, space cadets, mayhem and many others, endless creativity. The coffee and food trucks set up and great smells fill the morning, inviting the thrill to begin. Then, the riders come: whole families, teenage girls and boys, little kids with miniscule bikes. The audience adds color to the party: grandparents, babies, friends and family, dogs, lots of dogs. If feels like one colorful cycling circus, complete with music, fanfare awards, and entertaining announcers. The organizers prance around, walking everywhere, making sure that conditions are right, that all sorts of things get solved and that people have fun – they even manage to race themselves, while supervising it all. Nonchalantly like that, like what else were they suppose to be doing, but making hard work light?!
For three Sundays, sun generously and graciously blessed the races. On the fourth one, however, we braced for a storm that, luckily, never fully materialized. Still, the wind and rain were strong and very present. I was certain the whole thing was going to be cancelled. I know my elements, having partaken in many a randonneuring ride under blankets of rain and brutal winds. I was convinced this one was not going to happen. Who cycles in this misery anyway?
Seattleites do! Haven’t I learned anything after all these years? Magnusson Park looked majestic in the unique Seattle sky: a blend of various blues (it isn’t grey at all!) with the agitated lake; fast moving clouds spreading vast on the horizon; even the ever present scratch of sun peppering it all from time to time. Fall colors in full swing contributed to the raw beauty of the morning. Seattleites did come in full force, having a lot of fun frolicking in the mud and rain as if it were Ipanema beach. Dazed, I looked on, pondering all the while who was most endearing: young riders, boys and girls (many girls) in full cycling gear, speeding along the hard, dirty, wet course or full grown women and men, giggling at the finish, taking pictures with their team mates, eyes – their solely clean body part – glistening with joy and pride. And the dogs! So many dogs walking around, all ages and sizes, playing in the grass, resting under team tents, observing their jolly, mudded owners in that doggy blend of awe, curiosity, disbelief and tenderness – “these humans are cute, but they sure are weird.” Dogs have a blast at cyclocross!
At the end, tired staff cleans up, undoing the course, one more day at the races coming to a close. Happily, we all sign off, glowing still in the beauty of a day spent having fun on a bicycle, something little kids intuitively know and adults, thankfully, still remember. Just when mud, outside the course, out in the world, gets violently thrown in our eyes and hearts, how wonderful to witness the simplicity of cycling it off in nature, community and celebration. One of these days, I will surely swim in this cleansing renewal, reconnecting with that fundamental trust in the ever-evolving human capacity of coming together to create warmth and laughter.