Thursday, August 1, 2013

A little reminiscing.

I used to travel a lot for racing. I'd spend whole seasons criss-crossing the US. Phoenix, Lake Havasu, LA, Reno, Oklahoma, Seattle, Boston, Ohio... you get the picture. It was usually on my own dime (the last of my college money) and I'd sleep on friend's floors or in cheap hotels. Lots of eating at restaurants too. I liked it though it made relationships hard and it was, in many ways, a monastic existence. There are lots of stories from this time in my life. Any cyclist in the US who chased the dream of being a PRO has similar stories. It was like a traveling circus that would set up in one city and then move on to the next for the next event. You'd see the same faces each week, all chasing the same dream.


My flight banked south in a slow left turn, arcing over the foot hills where the prairie meets the rocky mountains. In moments the glittering jewel of Denver came into view out the window. The distant roads and highways below had the look of glowing, molten rivers of light flowing through the veins of the city. 


I mentally breathed this word with relief. I was tired. 

I had been almost 3 weeks on the road. None of it had gone terribly well and, though I had enjoyed myself, I was ready to be home. The plane was huge and, as it was a late flight, there were very few people on it. I had an entire row of 5 seats to myself so I stretched out and put my hat over my eyes. I was asleep in moments. The stewardesses left me alone all the way to Denver.

A week earlier I had boarded another flight, this time going east. After taking a few days off after Tour of the Gila to take care of last minute details, I was taking off again to go do a 6 day criterium series around the Boston area, The Atlantic Cup. 

Tour of the Gila, an iconic 5 day stage race in the mountains of southwestern New Mexico. The Gila is a dry, dusty affair with huge amounts of climbing, high altitude, and is capped off with it’s queen stage, the Gila monster. This stage lives up to it’s name with a huge climb up to the finish. The race had been unremarkable for me except for the simple fact that I had finished. I had ridden in in the groupetto on the Gila monster and, frankly, was pleased about it. With that race in my legs, I felt that I would be well prepared for the next race.

As I sat in the airport to go to Boston, I saw that there were people everywhere around the gate with bicycle helmets hanging off their carry-on bags. My bike, and my helmet, shoes and uniforms were packed away and checked and, honestly, I considered the display of helmets like this to be a bit of a conceit. Obviously these people were cyclists in their own right so I smiled to myself. Upon boarding the plane, one of these cyclists sat next to me. We began talking and, of course, talked about the bike.

Me: “So, I see all the helmets on people’s carry-on bags, what’s going on?”
Him: “We just did the Albuquerque Tour de Cure. A 100 mile bike race for charity.”
Me (knowing that this is a bike TOUR and not a bike RACE): “Congratulations! 100 miles is not an easy thing on a bicycle.” (also knowing that I had just come from doing multiple nearly 100 mile days back to back).
Him: “Do you ride bikes?”
Me: “I do a little riding now and then.”

I left it at that. Just then, a stewardess got on the PA and announced to all of us passengers that the group had just completed this 100 mile “race” and would we please give a round of applause for them. I clapped politely as the stewardess brought them all champagne. Then I put my headphones in and listened to music until I fell asleep. 

I touched down in Boston where my parent’s, who live in New England, picked me up. They generously loaned me their car for the week so I could travel to the races. The Atlantic Cup was a 6 day series of criteriums in cities in and around Boston. We started the week in New Bedford, Massachusetts on a technical course involving sharp turns and cobbles, and wrapped the week up in historic Harvard Square. Each race held a piece of my past as I had raced in most of these cities before I moved to Colorado. 

One night we raced in Somerville Square in a trendy bar district. The race was very delayed so we racers rolled around the course talking and keeping our legs warmed up. I was stuffing Clif Bars down my throat as I rolled around the course. The drinking establishments were filling with raucous patrons and they were watching us as we killed time until the start. It kept getting darker and darker. As I rolled by one bar I heard a female patron exclaim at my eating: “You’ll get a cramp eating like that before a race!” Another racer, a seasoned pro I was friends with, joked with me about all the attractive women on the square that night: “I can’t work under these conditions! This is unprofessional.” 

That race was chaotic at best and the pack absolutely exploded when they started us. It was dark, the course was poorly lit and, because it had been so delayed, most of us had missed our normal pre-race feeding and warm-up windows. It was a mess and I didn’t finish that night. 

Another night we raced in Providence, Rhode Island. It was a great, wide open course and my legs felt good. We started fast and I was able to maintain my position near the front of the pack for the better part of the race. The big teams were firing on all cylinders and keeping the pack under escort. On one lap near the end we swung around the final corner to find a homeless man had wandered into the street. The pack streamed around him and I found myself for a moment face to face with this man, eye to eye. I literally could smell him as I dodged him. Miraculously, no-one fell and I ended up 18th in a bunch finish. 

The final night of the race found us in Harvard Square. I was traveling with the powerful Colorado Cyclist team towards the end of the week. On this team were soon-to-be-superstars Danny Pate and Michael Creed. Also hanging out with us was journeyman pro Chris Baldwin who, at that time, was riding on the Navigators Pro Team.  The race that night was a beautiful course and I don’t recall how it went at all. Since the series was over that night, it was time to let our hair down a little after the finish and we all changed after the race and then navigated Boston’s famed “T” to Quincy Market. The rain had begun to fall and we settled into a bar to have a few beers and recount the week’s adventures. 

As I sat there looking at current and future cycling stars, in a bar having a much deserved beer, I tried to mark the moment in time in my mind. “This is one of those moments” I thought to myself. “I’ll never be here again. I’m in historic Boston on a rainy evening having just finished a great event.” I logged the moment away in my memory to carry with me long past cycling.

I went back to my hotel that night. I packed my bike up in it’s travel case and then washed my clothes before packing them away too. The next morning I headed back to the airport in Boston. I had an evening flight back to my beautiful Colorado and I couldn’t wait to see the mountains and be home.

No comments:

Post a Comment