For the Love of 'Cross - Beth Ann's Preseason Meditations
There is a thing cyclocross does to me, I cannot explain it – it’s transformative. Some things change you: climbing mountains, finding aloneness, relationships, trauma. Goddamn, cyclocross is all of those things rolled into one. I can’t stay away from it. I can’t quit. I tried once. It pulled me back. It sang to me its sweet song of mud, snappy lines, awkward shuffles, and shit eating grins. Cyclocross has a way of finding me, snugging me close, slapping me over the face with a wet hand, and warmly inviting me to do it again. Always, I accept. We all accept.
I was in grad school the first (and last) time I watched elite cyclocross nationals. It was the last time I watched, because I cried tears of sheer joy and vowed to race it the following year. I cried, over a sport. Standing next to my new boyfriend, now my husband, watching Katie Compton, Sue Butler, and Nicole Duke race the front of the field, I cried. Because dammit, it was inspiring, and I’ve cried plenty since over cyclocross, and make zero apologies, because it’s worthy of unbridled effort and emotion. I even sidelined a perfectly good career in medicine to pursue this sick endeavor, and 10 years on, it’s one of the most poorly informed and best decisions I’ve every made. Amen. Cyclocross rocks.
My first UCI race was in Gloucester. I’d worked some 60 odd hours in a surgical practice that week, and then hopped a red eye to Boston with Erik on Friday night. Chances are exceptionally high he’d worked even more hours in preceding days. I couldn’t sleep on the plane: I was nervous. He slept a lot. I was so pissed. But then, as Erik does, he bought me breakfast, we drove to Gloucester to build and race bikes on a Saturday morning, and I blithely forgave him. Then it rained. Oh, it fucking rained. I’ve not seen Gloucester so magnificent since. I followed Wendy Simms in pre-ride, took her advice to look ahead and break infrequently, did my best to ignore the pucker factor, and put in a decent ride. Then I slept. 13 hours. Sunday was more of the same, and the last day Paul Boudreau was permitted to include Stage Fort Park’s beach sand in the race. I’ll never forget. In those years, and still, New England and the Pacific Northwest were buzzing with cyclocross – races felt like a big city rodeo in a small town. They were alive. They were remarkable.
Then we flew home, and worked Monday morning. And I did that over, and over, and over again. And I fell in love with a sport.
I can’t properly frame what cyclocross has done for me in years since. It’s given me a sense of accomplishment, an intimacy with failure, a refuge, and a daily reason to ride bikes. There is no “I’m satisfied now, let’s stop”. Cyclocross does not permit such graces, but it provides a delicate sanctuary for learning process, and presence, and contentment. All of these things are gifts given to me by bikes, which I carry carefully into the rest of my life.
We didn’t have much mud last season. 2018 was a dry year for racing cyclocross in America. Everything was fast, and sharp, and a blurry, harsh endeavor. Sellwood Cycle Repair launched a new women’s cyclocross team, a professional branch of the same team I’ve called home for eleven years. There was nothing harsh about that - it’s a wonderful and lucky project to take part in. Erik still buys breakfast sometimes, but we’ve graduated modestly from red eye flights. We still do things our way, which is to say not always the easy way, but the best way we know how. I still cry, and Erik, Brenna, and Clara typically do not, which is to say, we are uniquely, and quite functionally balanced.
Today, as in 2009, I am filled with a child’s enthusiasm for bike racing - it’s what cyclocross does to me that I cannot explain. This year I can say, without reservation,
that I am racing for no one but myself, with nothing to prove, nothing to lose, no interest in past success or failure, and a hunger that feels brand new. I often think I’ll stop bikes, and ski more, and fish more, and be home more – maybe work 40 hours per week and not 60. Someday that will happen, but today, I can’t stay away from cyclocross. I can’t quit. I tried once. It pulled me back, and here I am, praying devotedly for fall rains, for mud, and for transformation.