“I’m really sorry, dude,” he said with an extremely apologetic and embarrassed tone of voice.
I looked at his sincere expression and was impressed with how badly he obviously felt. He was a young fellow, clearly nonplussed at the mix-up, and his first instinct was to do the right thing and apologize. I took all that into account, and with a polite nod I accepted his words in the spirit they were offered. Then I said, “Get off me you stupid fucktard,” and pushed him backwards by the throat.
With the other hand I shoved his chest, even as the cascade of idiots kept piling atop us, screaming, cursing, skidding, and clumping like a spaghetti bowl of arms, legs, helmets, bikes, cranks, chains, and wheels in a grimy sauce of sand.
First ‘cross race ever.
First technical spot on the course.
And mowed down from the rear like fresh meat in a men’s prison.
Yesterday, Karma Bitch was just getting warmed up
I banged on the bars to straighten them, put the chain on, got the brakes working, and hopped on my bike. The last of the idiots from my Sub-wanker Cat 4 “C” group had just started to scale the sand wall at the end of the sand pit.
After a few pedal strokes I saw that the front derailleur no longer worked. At the bottom of the wall I dismounted, and this occurred to me: “What kind of fucking bike ride is it where you have to get off and scale a wall made of loose sand?”
I struggled up the sand wall, and this occurred to me: “What kind of fucking bike ride is it where you have to carry your bike while running uphill in loose sand?”
I tried to remount, smashed my shin against the pedal and racked my nuts on the sharp end of the saddle (MMX had warned me against trying the jump-remount technique), and this occurred to me: “What kind of fucking bike ride is it where you bloody your shins and bust your balls on the saddle?”
Then I tuned in to the fat bald guy at the top of the wall who was screaming so hard that his pale skull throbbed with purple, swollen veins, “Puke and spit ’til you shit blood, goddammit! Puke and spit! Catch those bastards! Puke and spit!”
Next to him was an even crazier fellow who was profoundly drunk even though we’d yet to crack the hour of eleven a.m. This gentleman had a giant black megaphone and it was stuck between his legs from the rear so that it looked like it was coming out of his ass. He had bent forward and, with his head between his knees, was mouthing huge farting sounds into the megaphone.
This occurred to me: “What kind of fucking bike ride is it where you’re exhorted to puke and spit and shit blood and be faux farted on by drunks?”
The answer occurred to me, finally: “It is cyclocross.” And the race wasn’t yet five minutes old.
Success in ‘cross is nine parts preparation, one part Preparation H
I had arrived early and ridden two laps around the course. Set in the middle of a dustbowl in Costa Mesa that serves as as BMX track and breeding ground for thorns, the racecourse started with a few turns in dirt and then went through the massive sandbox, up the wall, over a cement sidewalk lip that hit your rim so hard and so deep that your skull felt like it would rattle off your neckbone, through more dirt, up and over a tight mogul that accelerated into an off-camber mogul with a tiny chute off to the left that if you missed put you in the thorns but if you nailed tried to throw you over the bars, then along more dirt to a jerk-up dirt mound also with a narrow chute that you could either nail and coast over or miss and stall out on the steep top of the mound, and then sharply down into a high-speed right with more thorns and loose sand, a brief respite of more dirt and dust along a flat section, and then into the BMX bowl with a quick drop and climb, then down a head-first elevator drop, up along the edge, 180-degree pivot and down a second elevator shaft, around a couple of turns, and a fast drop and straightaway until you hit the grass, which was partly muddy, wending past trees that all shouted “Hit me!” and through more soggy shit and around a turn and then what-the-fuck-is-this-here where someone had placed a couple of barricades and you had to jump off and either time it perfectly or rack your shins and have the people behind you run you over, and of course there are tons of people camped out next to the barricades to watch you trip and hopefully hang your bike on the lip of the barricade so that you bellyflop into the mud, and then remount from a standstill if you’ve fucked it up while the gazelles leaped back on their saddles without ever breaking stride or spearing themselves in the balls, through more grass and sharp turns and bingo–you’ve completed one fucking lap and felt like you’d run a Paul Ryan marathon with ankleweights, all the while people calling you a slacker and a sub-wanker and ringing cowbells and laughing and enjoying the shit out of watching you dis-enjoy the shit out of riding your bike with only four or five or a thousand more laps to go.
This all seemed impossible at recon speed. Once the whistle blew it was ten times faster and a thousand times worse.
Taking Karma Bitch head-on
The rest of the race was as advertised: sheer dick-stomping agony at threshold, with trees, barriers, sand, moguls, drop-offs, and briar patches at every turn. My swollen and bruised ankle banged against the crank arm every few pedal strokes until it was a bloody, throbbing mess of flesh and pink sock and pain. I chased and passed wanker after wanker, but never caught the leaders, and never so much as caught sight of Jules, who had done on the ‘cross course what he does on the Switchbacks: Show up, nod, and ride the fuck off.
After what seemed like days I saw Hines on the sidelines and shouted out, “How many laps?”
“This is it!” he said.
I sliced through a few more turns, crossed the finish line, and left the course filthy, bleeding, drained, sore, gasping, and DNF’ed as my placing never showed up on the Sub-wanker Cat 4 result sheet which was posted, appropriately, on the back of the port-o-potties.
Five minutes later I was on the start line for the 45+ A race, which was easily the second toughest field of the day, sporting hammerheads like MMX, David Anderson, Victor Sheldon, John Hatchitt, and a sprinkling of other veteran badasses. MMX had summed it up when I told him I was doing the 45+ A’s immediately after the Sub-wanker race.
“Oh,” he said. “So you’ll be completely gassed before the race even starts.”
Victor helped get my chain onto the big ring, as I’d ridden the previous race in the small one. It’s nice to start your race knowing you’ll do the whole thing in the big ring, and having your fingers covered in black grease-and-sand tar.
The whistle blew and everyone rolled away. In the BMX bowl a kindly spectator shouted out, “Yo, Wanky! You’re dead fucking last! Do you hear me? DEAD FUCKING LAST! Get your ass up there!”
So I hammered until I caught the one gasping, gaffed fish who was dangling ahead, passed him, and, no longer last, set the needle at “cruise” for the rest of the race. I got passed by the 35+ B racers. Then the 45+ B racers. Then a pack of kids. Then a flock of starlings. Then by an empty oil drum. And finally by Jules. “What’s he doing out here again?” I wondered. “He’s already raced and won three times today. Isn’t it his bedtime?”
When MMX and the leaders lapped me, I was enjoying myself thoroughly. No longer compelled to dash crazily over the barriers, I daintily dismounted, stepped over each one, dusted the crud off my shoes, and remounted. No longer afraid of the sand pit, I coasted easily through it and walked–yes, walked–at a leisurely pace up the wall. Bald Dude and Farter looked on in disgust. “Aren’t you even gonna TRY?” asked Bald Dude.
“Yep,” I answered with a smile. “But not any more today.”