Monday, October 25, 2010

evidence and thank-yous

First of all, thanks to Rich Rosko for taking 146 photos of just the womens' race (he shot something like 900 pictures all day) and making them available for free. Like this shot of me on the final lap of the course. The sun had come out and the mud positively sparkled, along with my mood when I realized that I had enough gas to finish the race and redeem myself from last year's DNF on the very same course.

UPDATE: results were just posted and, as expected, I finished last in my category, 31 out of 31 in Master Women 45+. I managed three laps and I'm happy with how it all went down.

The women struggling in the mud behind me (including the one who fell) would all pass me before the final straightaway. That's racing. That's also, I freely acknowledge, being older, heavier and slower and having the physique of a hard-boiled egg on twigs. Incidentally, I have inherited my mother's physique to a T. The difference is that she would never, ever have done anything like this. I sometimes wonder what she would make of it if she were here today and could come watch a race.

Other thank-yous:

--OBRA officials, without whom there would be no placings and bike races in Oregon would be little more than an anarchy festival at the finish line. Recently heard that our lead official was consulted on tracking racers by another organization somewhere back east that was using the same computer program. They were having trouble keeping track of 40 racers in a category. I laughed out loud. OBRA regularly tracks hundreds of racers in a single category at Cross Crusade, over a thousand at a race; and results are posted within a day or two of the race. Next time you're at an Oregon bike race, bring something nice for the OBRA officials and say thank you. (Preferably when they're not trying to track laps.)

--Kristin, Crystal, Shawn, Tori, Mielle, Jenn, JJ. Tina, Sue, Susan, Sharon, Flo and all the other amazing, strong Oregon women who come out and race with me at these things. You inspire me, encourage and push me to do better, and make me feel SO welcome in this place called bicycle racing. Someday we WILL have a womens' singlespeed category at Cross Crusade, even if my lobbying for it makes me very unpopular and annoying.

--Ed, Rob, Justin, Joel H., Edwin, Joel M., Ira, Tony, John, Jose, Ron, Will and all the other unfailingly, insanely cheerful guys who dared me to try racing, and who now scream my name, hurl tons of love at my humble little singlespeed bike ("go singlespeeeeed!"), and ring cowbells for me until I'm nearly deaf during all the womens' races. I never had a brother growing up and now I feel like I've got a dozen of them. How cool.

--Cross Crusade organizers and volunteers. Your name is legion. Your efforts are Herculean, and more appreciated than you'll ever know. You are why we have one of the best bicycle racing series in the world.

--My Sweetie, for accepting the fact that I was born with way too much shpilkes and simply must go and get it out of my system on a regular basis. As she wisely surmised one day early in our relationship, "Bicycling for you is like breathing." Even though she does not come to my cyclocross races (too cold and wet for her) she is with me at every single one.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

race report: Cross Crusade # 4, PIR

This year at PIR, my final placement did not matter. Period.

All that mattered was that I finished, that I did not DNF and let the course defeat me.
I decided to just ride inside myself and not worry one bit about anyone else around me. My goals were to finish, and to have as much fun as I could while doing so.
The weather was similar to last year's, except that this year it rained for everyone instead of just the women and A's.
The course was ridiculously muddy, so much so that organizers shortened it from the advertised 2.1 miles to not quite a mile and a half, taking out the big run-up where I got hurt last year and shortening the out-and back on the far end of the other run-up; I learned that they had done this mostly to avoid having to pay higher rental costs to PIR for damage to the terrain. The course was pretty degraded anyway -- and VERY muddy -- by the time the women started at 2:30.

I set a good pace for myself, nothing spectacular but again I wanted to finish strong and enjoy myself. I knew I'd be slow -- I walked over the barriers each lap, my feet sinking inches into thick wet mud -- but I greatly enjoyed the technical demands of the course. On several parts of the course I rode as far to one side as I could legally do (without going off the course), to take advantage of what little grass or drier mud remained. Other parts of the course forced everyone to push through four to six inches of standing, muddy water. Biggest shock of all was that, on some of the technical upslopes, I actually -- gasp! -- passed other racers who were getting hung up in their clipless pedals or having trouble with shifts. (God, I love my singlespeed bike.)

My final lap was the hardest for sure -- I almost fell twice in the deepest stretches of mud -- and my lower back, tight before the race, ached with every pedal stroke on the final lap. But oh! the joy and relief when I crossed the finish line and saw the checkered flag and the smiles of the officals waving everyone off the course. And just like that, it was over. I'd taken on PIR and won. I rode home still caked in mud, and very happy.

Results should be posted at OBRA's web site by some time tomorrow.
I don't care.
Honestly, I am just so damned glad I raced today.

on risk

In several hours I will be, for better or worse, clad in lycra and racing my bike in greasy, slippery mud. In order to participate, I paid an entry fee. I also signed a waiver absolving OBRA and the race organizers of any and all responsibility in the event of my injury or death as a result of racing.
That waiver is my acknowledgment of the risk inherent in bicycle racing, and indeed in sport.

This morning, I heard the chilling tale of a college football player who took a bad hit, a horrible hit, in last week's game. It left him paralyzed from the neck down, with his team distraught and an entire university praying for his recovery. It gave me pause and made me wonder.

I pay to participate in my sport, and I sign the waiver as if it were no big thing. Of course, in the back of my mind, I am fully aware that at any minute, something could go wrong and I could crash and get hurt (this is why I devoted more time this season to practicing between races, to improve my bike handling and reduce the likelihood of a mishap).

For two months of my freshman year of high school, until my band director and my coach fought over me and my schedule and my band director won ("You're not going to major in track and field in college," Mr. B succinctly reminded me), I was a fair-to-middling middle-distance runner and an abysmal but enthusiastic hurdler. I clearly remember my parents and I signing a waiver that cleared me to run and absolved the school district from responsibility in the event I was injured. I also remember my folks being asked to provide proof of health coverage for me, another requirement for athletes that, in those days, was simply taken for granted. (Low-income students were minimally covered under the school's bare-bones athletic insurance policy, which basically covered the ambulance ride and ER treatment, and not much more.)

Do college athletes, on scholarship and therefore essentially "paid amateurs", sign a similar waiver? Must they state that they know and accept the risks inherent in their sports? Bicycle racing is only a contact sport if I crash; football is a contact sport on every down. How are injured athletes treated, how are they cared for, after a catastrophic injury?

I sincerely hope that the young man at Rutgers won't be forgotten by his team or his school as he faces a different and scary new reality. As for me, I have come to be part of a lovely community of good people who look out for each other at every race, and in this time of limited health care for all, that sense of community may be some of the best insurance we can create for each other as we strive for excellence in our sport. If you are racing today -- or playing football, or volleyball, or soccer, or whatever -- have fun, play hard and play fair, and above all let's remember to look out for each other on the fields of play.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

hype of the week: 2009 top secret corps, basel

A pre-race hype for the extreme drum corps geek.

In honor of this week's Cross Crusade race at PIR, I decided to toss up the geekiest drum corps video I could find. Top Secret Corps is an all-male drum line from Basel, Switzerland which incorporates elements of both traditional Swiss style and modern rudimental drum corps technique in their playing. This particular video isn't their best work; there are dropped sticks and frankly I could do without the laser light thing at the end. But about 2 minutes in you'll see why they're so damned cool. Hang in there, and be thrilled.

Usually found at the PIR race every year is a local, grass-roots drum corps whose claim to fame is that they're sort of punk (a popular aesthetic in Portland), they play at all sorts of local events, and they are loud as crap. If you go to PIR on Sunday you will probably hear them long before you see them; they're that loud. They're ear-plug loud, part-your-hair and crack-the-cement loud, vaporize-small-animals-at-twenty-paces loud. (Did I mention that they're loud? Riding past them at PIR last year was a little like breaking through concrete at 15 mph.)
But trust me, they can't do anything like this, and probably only a rudimentally-trained drummer would recognize the difference:

Monday, October 18, 2010

cross crusade weather forecast: mud

Here is it, racing fans:

Friday Oct 22Few Showers
Few Showers 58°/51°

Saturday Oct 23Showers
Showers 55°/50°

Sunday Oct 24Showers
Showers 55°/47°

It looks very promising for mud to be everywhere on race day (10/24).

Wear your slicker and wellies and bring a thermos of something warm.

It's going to be a real cyclocross race.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

embrocation time

This morning the thermometer outside read 38F at 8 am. By the time I joined Crystal over at the park for our "We're-too-cool/broke/tired/pick-one-for-Sherwood" cross practice it had risen to a balmy 43F. Perfect weather for embrocation. I had applied a dose of Northwest Kneewarmers Medium Formula about half an hour before I was due at the park, which was perfect timing for it to take effect.

We had a FUN session, riding for pretty much a solid hour after warming up. We set up a little practice course that basically ran around the entire park, taking advantage of mud puddles (turned to semi-hard peanut butter in the sun, but still almost slick enough), off-camber berms and drops, and tight turns through the trees that border the large, open green space. We timed each other and tried to make a go of four non-stop laps around the "course"; then rearranged our homemade barriers to make it a little different (and harder) and tried that too. Dismounting on an off-camber slope to run off-camber barriers on wet grass is pretty evil, but since we'll see stuff like that next weekend -- and worse if it rains! -- it's good to prepare. Best part of all was practicing with someone else, because we both agreed that it amps up the intention -- if not the outright intensity -- and makes us try harder stuff than we would if practicing all alone.

Crystal had to go home and study, so I stopped only briefly at our new local coffee shop before heading home, to the next-best part of cyclocross: The hot shower where I wash off the embrocation. The tingle remains for half an hour afterwards, soothing my tired legs; and after a solid ride or race it is a near-heavenly feeling unlike any other.

I am really looking forward to PIR next weekend.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

why drumming is different: geeking out

(This music-related post in memory of my mom, who laughed when I told her I wanted to learn to play drums -- and then I presented her with a bag of cotton balls for her ears. She laughed again every time she looked at the bag of cotton balls, every day for over a week; and the fact that she got it is one of my favorite memories of her. She would've turned 75 today.)

Since I resumed drumming a couple of years ago, I've been able to find some of the things I had as a kid -- don't we all do this from time to time? -- and in my decision to own them again I've stumbled across a very interesting point.

This (above) is the practice pad I had as a kid (the actual one from 1973, I'd saved it all these years and got a replacement head for it when I began playing again). As a ten-year-old beginning rudimental drummer, it never occurred to me to think about the fact that, while my classmates in fifth-grade band were practicing on their actual flutes. clarinets and trumpets, I was practicing on a six-inch practice pad that was supposed to have the same feel as a drum, but without the volume. In short, I was practicing on a device specifically designed for practice, rather than for performance -- and this small reality sets me apart from every other musician in the band or orchestra.

Sure, bagpipers have practice chanters -- could you imagine your kid practicing at home on the entire set? -- but as far as I know no one else in the traditional band or orchestra gets to learn on a practice device besides the drummer-percussionist. And that, I realized, is significant. That realization, along with the requirement that most of my drumming at home happens on a practice pad, has led me to begin collecting vintage practice pads in earnest. Since last spring I've assembled a nice little collection of pads from the 1940's through the present day.

Collecting vintage drums and all their accompanying ephemera is a hobby that has been around for a long time. One of the most famous drum collectors these days is Bun E. Carlos, the drummer for the band Cheap Trick, who has dozens of rooms in his rock-star-sized house given over to storage and display of vintage drums and has done tons of research on the history of modern drums and drum manufacture. I simply don't have the space -- or the money, frankly -- to collect vintage drums; but practice pads are smaller and take up far less room. The other benefit is that, being less popular among collectors, they're easier and cheaper to find. (Though, if someone ever uncovers existence of a Ludwig Black Beauty Model Practice Pad, I'm probably screwed. If that happens I will never be able to afford collecting pads anymore.) And there' the uber-geeky element of collecting a musical item that's never seen on a performance stage. (Years ago I had a surly high school student who was going through an angry phase in life, and performed his rudimental drum solo at district solo contest on a practice pad, seated at a table. He was unrepentant even after being dressed down by his drum instructor, his band director and the adjudicator; but I digress.)

Beginning my research on the history of the practice pad, I've come across a few patents (courtesy of Google Patents). None so far have shown anything that looks like a practice pad I grew up with. A fellow over at Vintage Drum Forums helped me obtain a bunch of CD-roms with photocopies of dozens of old drum catalogs, which have proved more helpful in dating the collections of practice pads I've assembled.

And now the fun begins. In my spare time (which I will have a little more of as my busy season winds down) I will begin researching the history of, specifically, the drum parctice pad. The most interesting documentation I've found so far is a patent from around 1953, showing a practice pad set that is clearly the inspiration for the modern practice drum kit and referencing an earlier patent from 1915 (which I have yet to find):

This promises to get geekier.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

i'm sure they won't miss me: interbike returns to vegas after all

I just got this enlightening email from The Powers That Be, aka Interbike-Bikes Belong-Nielsen Expositions-Bicycle Industry Conglomerate Of The Universe:


Dear Retailer:

I would like to thank you for attending the 2010 Interbike show in Las Vegas. With your support, this year’s event was able to attract more than 1,200 brands and 550-plus members of the media. As a result of this intense coverage the cycling industry was exposed to a global audience via endemic cycling media, along with prominent mainstream outlets such as USA Today, NBC, the Wall Street Journal and many more.

Due to the overwhelmingly positive response to this year’s show and the countless conversations we have personally had with retailers and exhibitors regarding the future dates and location of Interbike, we are reversing our earlier decision to move the 2011 show to Anaheim in August.

While we will never be able to achieve a complete consensus among the global audience of 24,000 people and more than 5,000 businesses that attend and exhibit at Interbike, at this point in time it’s clear that the industry prefers September dates in Las Vegas. Given that, we are announcing that the 2011 Interbike show will return to the Sands Expo and Convention Center in Las Vegas September 14-16, with the OutDoor Demo taking place at Bootleg Canyon on September 12-13. The 2012 show also will be held at the Sands in Las Vegas September 19-21, with the Demo to be held September 17-18.

Interbike has always been--and will continue to be--the industry’s show and will always keep the needs of our retailers firmly in mind. At the end of the day, your commitment to cycling retail drives this industry, and without your participation Interbike doesn’t exist. We have heard your passion and commitment to this event and we want you to know that we are listening. We believe the new direction will best serve the current needs of the marketplace.

As we craft future strategies for Interbike, we will make every effort to ensure we are working with a broad base of retailers, exhibitors, media and advocates to continue to deliver a dynamic, efficient and unifying event for the US marketplace. We also will continue our commitment to providing more value at Interbike by showcasing emerging trends, increasing industry networking opportunities, and continuing to provide relevant and timely business education.

Thanks again for your support in 2010 and we’ll see you at Interbike in 2011,

Andy Tompkins
Interbike Show Director


Personally, I find this fascinating. Was this planned all along? Rumors have flown back and forth all summer about the fact that Interbike was having to compete with The Big Three -- Trek, Specialized and Giant -- who were holding their own separate, miniature trade shows earlier in the year and pulling dealers away from Interbike as a result. The announcement to move Interbike to Anaheim and to move the show to the first week in August was met with reactions ranging from enthusiasm to skepticism; a couple of large wholesale houses asked their retailers what they thought of the change. Clearly, a lot of shops would've had a hard time freeing up anyone to go to an Interbike held in early August. Another consideration was the possibility of adding a "consumer day" -- something that might have made sense in Anaheim, with its proximity to the largest retail bicycle market in the country -- there are hundreds of bike shops in Southern California and all would've been within a few hours' drive of an Anaheim Interbike. But with the show staying in Vegas, there will likely be no "consumer day" anytime soon.

I have no real insight into the dog-and-pony show that goes on behind the scenes in the bike industry -- and frankly, our shop is too little for Interbike to really care about anyway -- but after all the press involved in trumpeting a move of the show to Anaheim and to an earlier summer date, this turnaround seems almost too good to be real. Was it planned all along, some elaborate choreography to get the largest bike makers and Interbike to play nicer together? Who owns what in the bike industry, anyway, and who has their fingers in which pies?

These are questions that I, in my position as the buyer for a fairly small and rather funky bike shop, will probably never know the answers to. My only regret is that, by retracting its earlier intention and keeping the show in Las Vegas, Interbike -- and the powers that really run the bike industry -- have shown once again that, in the parlance of an old saying, "money talks, bullshit walks and small change rides the bus." I, and thousands of other bike shop owners/workers just like me, are definitely small change in this big picture.

That said, I still don't ever want to go back to Las Vegas, even if someone else pays my way. I'd rather stay home and teach a roomful of middle-schoolers with ADD how to fix their flat tires than go through what I went through in Vegas ever again. Interbike and Vegas can have each other.

Monday, October 11, 2010

congrats judi!

I want to give a happy shout out to Judi LoPresti (a bicycle buddy I finally got to meet in person at Interbike), who finished 15th in the formidable 3/4 35+ Womens' category at the UCI3 Cyclocross Festival in Cincinnati. Whoo-hoooo! You MONSTAH! (We expect a full report at her blog soon.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

not racing doesn't mean not riding

On non-racing weekends, I've made a promise to myself that I will take Stompy out and play in the mud for an hour or two. Fortunately, there was almost enough mud and wet grass today to make me mostly happy.

The goal is not to ride myself into the ground; the goal is just to ride around and try out various techniques, including wobbling my back end through deep mud puddles and then riding it out without falling down; dismounts (easy); mounts (hard and yes, I still suck at them -- not sure how to remedy that except maybe with more heavily-padded shorts and maybe a shot of Novocaine in my, um nether-regions -- NOT); and lots of off-camber stuff that I achieved by picking crazy lines through the deserted playground, which is set in the bottom of a grassy "bowl" with tons of off-camber possibilities. After an hour, I felt like I'd done enough, and headed home muddy and happy.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

evidence photos

Evidence of my participation:

1. On the course. A certain part of these courses are supposed to be paved. As a mountain bike rider, I have no idea why.

2. The wackiest run-up in cyclocross:

(I am at lower left.)

3. Why walk down when you can ride down? More fun that way:

Seriously, I was surprised at how many racers elected to walk their bikes down this short, moderately steep drop. Maybe riding drop handlebars makes descents scarier, in which case I'd understand.

Anyway -- I had a VERY fun day and am wishing I didn't have to wait so long until my next race. But since I'm only doing the races I can get to by sustainable transport (bike, transit, carpool or a combination of the above), I'm staying home from Rainier and Sherwood, and saving my energy for PIR. I'll try to carve time for some cross practices in the interim.

Monday, October 4, 2010

alpenrose results

Some stats:
Alpenrose Cross Crusade broke all previous one-day participation records, with -- sit down -- 1,762 racers in all categories.

There were 31 racers in Masters Women 45+.
The youngest was 45. The oldest was 57.
Out of 31 racers, I finished (drum roll) 27th.
I did not finish last, which is really something for me and my little singlespeed bike.

As suspected, I got credit for three laps (even though it really did feel like 4).
When I grow up, I want to be at least as strong as the 57-year-old.
Who knows? Maybe it's possible. The growing number of middle-aged women taking up cycling indicate that perhaps we don't really hit our stride until after age 40.

In any case, I am happy with how it all went.
I only wish they could leave the course up another few days for us to all go out and just play on.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

race report: Cross Crusade # 1, Alpenrose Dairy

After last Wednesday's awful cross practice, I was not looking forward to my race today. The truth was that I felt slow, fat and old on Wednesday evening, and having to reach for my inhaler in public has still been a new and vaguely embarrassing thing for me (I was only Dx'd with asthma in July). So when I took my multi-modal trip to Alpenrose (ride bike to Lloyd Center at easy pace; hop MAX into town; grab the #54 bus to the Beaverton-Hillsdale Albertson's; ride 1/2 mile up the hill and turn right to enter the dairy), I felt timid and unenthusiastic. When I got to the dairy proper and saw the zillions of people, I started to feel better; I was going to spend the day hanging out with good people, who all love to ride bikes just like me. How bad could that be?

I was good. I was careful. I got a decent night's sleep; woke up early to give myself plenty of time, and packed a thermos of hot soup that I would eat precisely 3 1/2 hours before race time (soup is easy to digest and full of good things). At the venue I took my time about changing into my kit, socializing like mad, and walking the course beforehand. I didn't get to do a full pre-ride because prganizers hadn't counted on over 200 children showing up for Kiddie Kross. So many kids really cut into pre-ride time and things had to be kept on schedule. Still, I watched a lot of the previous races from various vantage points on the course and that helped immensely. One hour before my race, I had a gel packet and washed it down with the rest of my bottle of water. I went behind a building and did some jumping jacks and jogged in place to finish warming up before heading over to the staging area.

Along the way, I ran into Kelly, an old friend from college, who's brought one of his kids to watch some of my race. It was the first time we'd seen each other in many years and it was really sweet. I hope he had a good time watching the racing.

By the time I'd finished with a few final hot laps in the parking lot and took my place with the other Master 45's my hesitation had faded into memory and I was only thinking of the race ahead. My mood lifted. Another friend, an industry colleague, yelled to me at the staging area; he asked where the viewing was best and I sent him to the wacky off-camber section outside the left end of the velodrome. He waved and smiled and headed off. I chatted happily with the other ladies in my category, and felt very welcomed among their number. We all cheered when Brad Ross (the organizer of Cross Crusade) congratulated us for making the largest-ever women's field at a Cross Crusade, and the largest at any cross race in North America, ever. (There were easily over 300 women out there in all categories.) And when the whistle finally blew I surged forward with everyone else, getting sucked into the mad slipstream of cyclocross.

Last year's massive run-up was gone, filled in by a backhoe during an ongoing landscaping project; but in its place organizers laid out a fantastic backfield with bumpy, chunky ruts and fresh, soft dirt in the sharp corners. The course here felt less like a cross course and more like a mountain bike course. A short, steep run-up followed at the top by a 180-degree turn and a drop-down back down the slope. I hate running; ergo I hate run-ups. But at the top I was able to quickly re-mount and barrel down the drop -- wheeee! -- and zig-zag on, in and out of the velodrome where barriers had been laid out. To my surprise, even though I was pitifully slow on the run-ups, I RAN over the barriers, and did a mostly fair job of getting back on the bike each time. I winced as women around me mis--judged their timing during dismounts or re-mounts, and a couple came crashing down beside me during the race.

It was hard, hard racing. I had to pull off a couple of times and get out my inhaler because my face felt like it was turning blue and I was gasping hard enough that my eyes nearly crossed. I was wheezing hard enough by then that I didn't care what it looked like to anyone else. On two long inclines that were part of the course, I amazed myself by staying on my bike and pedaling nearly every lap (on my last lap, on the final incline, I was wheezing AND my legs had turned to rubber. I pulled off, used my inhaler, and jogged my bike up the incline until I could breathe again). Along the way, people screamed my name -- hearing your name screamed at a race does make you go faster, even if only for three or four pedal strokes before your knees become jello again -- and cowbells clanged loudly. I heard lots of people cheering for my bike -- "go singlespeeeeed!" -- and had to smile in spite of my efforts. And althoug I knew I was slower than most, my bike-handling felt better, cleaner and more confident. I was happy to realize that, even as I struggled to keep up a good pace.

In the end I was not the lonely, pathetic finisher straggling so far behind. I had somehow managed to time my laps so that I finished with other racers around me (even though they may have lapped me, it didn't matter). We all congratulated each other as we snaked out of the velodrome, with poor Candi [Murray, the Queen of OBRA officials] yelling at us to get going so they could let the next category start racing.

I had a good day, an excellent day. I hung in there and finished strong. I don't know where I placed, and oxygen deprivation is lousy for mathematical functions so I'm not sure if I completed three laps or four. If I did three I'll be content. If it's four laps, well, I'll be over the moon.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

saturday night hype of the week: "what is hip?"

For my pre-race hype of the week, the first of cyclocross season, I decided to go to the source.
Very early vintage Tower of Power, circa 1973. Enjoy.
And if you know the words to this tune, they're worth contemplating at tomorrow's mob scene known as Alpenrose. OBRA officials estimate that well over 1,500 racers will show up, plus another 1,000 or more fans. I invite Portland-area cyclocross fans to consider what hipness means as we prepare to open the largest participatory bicycle racing event in North America, and possibly the whole world:

Friday, October 1, 2010

does your bike talk to you?

I went to get the cargo bike out this morning (I have errands this afternoon) and Stompy was sitting there, looking at me. I stared back, and a teeny tiny voice emiitted from the bike:

"I know you're nervous. You're out of shape, I'm too heavy to be a proper cross bike, and your belly doesn't believe that you love her. Whatever. Forget all that stuff. Sunday, we'll go out super-early, walk the course together and check things out. Then we'll hang out with your pals and people will walk by and admire me, and admire you for riding me (because, well, I'm a very cool bike). Finally, you'll do a little warmup, and then you'll line up at the start, chat amiably with the other nice ladies, the gun will go off, you'll ride through mud and dirt and grass, and do crazy run-ups up the zig-zag stairs -- remember to take the left-hand side! -- then you'll drag my heavy frame over the barriers, and you'll feel miraculously breathless, heart-thumping-in-your-ears crazy and on the verge of collapse for 45 minutes, and then you'll push hard over the finish line and it'll be over. And you and I will have a blast. End of story."

Believe it or not, Stompy said all that to me. And then Stompy winked at me. (At least that's what I got from the barely perceptible twitch of the hot-pink rear brake housing.) And I suddenly felt much better. I am less nervous and way more excited now.

I rode to work this morning feeling a blissfully cool breeze. The leaves are beginning to turn. As I pedal my bicycle, nervousness has been replaced by gratitude, and then excitement.

It's cross season, and I can't wait for Sunday.