After missing most of 'cross season and making multiple excuses (some actually quite imaginative, I think), I finally stepped up. So after much encouragement, some positive, some consisting of "shut up and race" or "man up!" I brought my mountain bike to the Hillsboro fairgrounds yesterday, still not 100% sure I'd race. I had plenty of time to back out. I hung around the Portland Velo tent for a while, then casually wandered over to the registration desk and was handed the number 423. It was karma - my birthday. So, it was decided. I had to race. I headed over to my car around noon, changed into my knickers & mountain biking shoes, and rode my bike over to the tent. A flurry of activity followed - people excitedly asking me "are you going to RACE?" which I replied with a shrug and "well - I'll ride, let's put it that way." My head is not really into this racing thing - I've got nothing to prove. I just thought why not - it'll be fun. (Right?)
Numerous people offered advice and to loan me their jerseys. I'm overwhelmed. I was told my long-sleeved jersey would be way too hot. I stripped that off as well as the sugoi shirt underneath and Sal tossed me one of Heidi's short sleeved PV jerseys. Kender patiently pinned the number on for me, instructing me to "raise my hand as if I knew the answer in math class", which makes me laugh. Can't back out now - I'm wearing a number. Looking around to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything, I grabbed my gloves, helmet and bike, and rode over to the start. I saw some women riding around, and not knowing anything about the course, I started to follow, but Traci & Kristin yelled at me to hang out with them, so I complied. I'm amazed that I feel no urge to hurl, no nervous butterflies waiting for names to be called as all of the women's categories are lined up & then started. Cheered when they called Heidi's name and noted that her hair was already wet with sweat from warming up on the trainer. Warmup? I don't need to warm up, I thought. I'm only going to ride - maybe see if I can finish a lap. A whistle blows and I follow Traci - until she disappears into the throng of women. I hear someone yell my name. All I can do is focus on not falling as people pass me left and right. Great, I think. I'm so slow! I pedal through and wind around on a very bumpy section as everyone comments on how bumpy it is. I realize I am going to have to pass by the PV tent and am absolutely unprepared for the volume of noise as I do. Someone tells me "ride through the tent!" I have never heard so much simultaneous yelling of my name - it's deafening, but I like it and can't help smiling.
I decide not to dismount for the mushy barkdust speedbumps. I can handle that. Off to the bumpy section again and then around in circles until I realize I have completely forgotten everything I learned in the clinic I went to 2 months ago. I still manage to do a decent run through the 6-pack of barriers, or so I thought, at least the first time. Then after winding around a couple more circles, I see it. The ocean of mud in the famed "corral of crap". Ugh. I slog through as much as I can, managing to ride through most of it. I'm told the right side of the puddle is better. I trust no one and think that must be a lie. My shoes are soaked and my socks are caked with mud. People yelling at me the whole way to "ride it! ride it!" I try not to disappoint. My legs are already tired, and my breathing is much faster than I would like. Is my bike too small? Am I the only dork on a moutain bike? At some point I am riding with two other women who take turns passing me when I decide enough is enough and I must get around them. I don't see them again. On the second lap, I'm passed constantly - and I am grateful for all the words of encouragement "great job!" as well as the "on your left" as fast women on fancy 'cross bikes skillfully speed by me. I wonder if I am the last of the beginners. Better to be DFL than DNF, I think. Once again I make it past the PV tent and hear my name shouted by so many people I think I might burst into tears. It actually gives me a surge of energy and I try to go faster, attempting to catch some air on the bumps, but I don't. By the third lap, I no longer care about anything. The silence on the far part of the course is almost deafening and I wonder, is it over? If I quit now, would anyone know? I could just ride home on my muddy bike, or ride to the car. No one would know. They can't see me out here, how would they know where I am? Then I see J-Rod with his camera, Daryl shouts words of encouragement, even a girl leaning against the fence tells me "great job!" I smile and decide to finish, what have I got to lose? It becomes my only goal. So I head for my third trip into the dreaded mud pit of despair, hoping to emerge unscathed. The shouting is both helpful and distracting. Riding through the muck becomes completely impossible so I slog through, not possessing the energy to run. I accuse one guy of lying to me when he says I'm almost done. I can't make eye contact with anyone. The finish line is around the corner, I can hear it. I decide to remount for the occasion and at least not completely humiliate myself. I hear someone commenting on my Diamond Back and think better of asking him if he's making fun of my bike, because I don't care. I ride through the finish to cheers and then nonchalantly ride back to the tent and hang my bike on the rack. I'm greeted with high fives and hugs. I chug down the contents of my water bottle. Sierra takes pictures of me all muddy. I'm not as tired as I expected to be, but wonder how long everyone else has been done with their race, and then decide it doesn't matter. I finally collect myself enough to change back into my jeans and suddenly I'm ravenous. I drag Javad over with me to get some fries, which taste like the best food I have ever eaten. I stand around stuffing my face and decide this is the best team, the best day, ever. I can't wait to do it again - and maybe I'll actually try to race, not just finish, next time.