El Dorado Hills
The sun shone low as it rose in the east and began its circuitous path, casting long and eerie shadows across the landscape. The fall air laid its moist breath upon the thick Bermuda grass, a mish mash of silver tipped matches under the radiance of that bright yellow orb, and if one listened closely the faint sound of ice clinking on cut crystal could be heard. The smell, ah, the smell of a freshly lit fire and cut grass livened up the nostrils with promise, promise of good things to come. The ghostly ‘tink’ sound of small dimpled white balls being batted around the links by fine Pittsburg persimmon were audible only if one closed their eyes and used a truly active imagination. No, instead the DJ played top 40 bubble gum tunes and the only distinctive smells were of embrocation and the foul and odiferous stank of the port-potties. Cyclocross.
El Dorado Hills. NorCal. Country club style. Defunct, the country club that is; the cyclocross was and is first class. This was my first race in over a year as I have been sidelined by injury. I had also fallen prey to the family trap: coaching softball, travelling water polo, old age and senility. So why not race? I loaded up the truck and headed north east to EDH. My partners in crime were of the usual variety: Captain Agro and my 12 year old son – the shit dreams are made of. We met up at the venue, registered and were kitted up in no time. Now when I say country club, I mean country club. Registration was on the 19th hole, the only things missing were Tiger Woods and some spicy bloody marys. Oh, and the golfers.
After some warm up I toed the line, Agro to my left. I was actually pretty nervous, which for me is a good thing. If I fail to achieve nervousness it usually means I am not prepared to enter into battle or that I am so sure of myself I am sure to, well, suck. Before I go on we need to reiterate golf course and the hazards that come with said environ: deep Bermuda grass, trees, slopes that translate into plenty of off camber sweetness and, yup, you guessed it, sand traps. All of the aforementioned deliciousness were in abundance and made for a sweet and challenging cyclocross course favoring the strong and technical rider.
The gun, 6th place into the first corner. I was pleased with my position and the pace was indeed doable and surprisingly manageable. We had an early gap and what appeared to be a decent group. Man, was I wrong. We hit this uphill hairpin and some dude in front of me took it down yard sale style. I, having nowhere else to go, tried to go over him to no avail. The impact was indeed solid. And the leaders had a gap. The good part? My good friend and teammate, Jeff Anderson, was in the 2 man break and would continue to stay there all the way through to the finish, taking 1st in his division. Nicely done. I, on the other hand, was left with some chasing to do and no one to do it with. I was not sure how many had passed me while I untangled from Mr. Yard-sale so, once clear from the mess, I gave chase. The 1st half of the 1.5 mile course was climbing and the 2nd half had a little room for recovery until the sand trap and the second set of barriers. But, and there is always a but, the recovery was welcomed and the long fire road straightaway offered this guy a chance to pick up some ground. I saw maybe a half a dozen guys out there and I could see on the hairpins that I had a good gap on those that followed so I told myself to relax and settled in for the duration. The rest of the race was honestly uneventful outside of the pain and suffering, which were welcomed. But, and there is always a but, with 2 laps to go I was seriously looking for a beer hand up but that was not in the cards. I had to settle for a chocolate covered pretzel hand up one of the Mash guys was offering at the second set of barriers; sweet and savory. Thanks, dude. My son was cheering me on from the side of the course and at worst I would not let him down. One to go. Bile and tincture taste. All good. Let no one pass and pass anyone I see ahead. I caught one cat on the last stretch and finished in a pleasant and depleted haze. Dirty and stinking like road kill I limped back to my truck to wipe down, hydrate and change. Then, off to see the results.
My expectations were low. My hopes were high, though Mr. Yard-sale had taken some of that from me with his awesome bike handling skills. But that is racing. And from what my kid said, it appeared I was only about 30 seconds off the lead duo, so I had that going for me which is nice. After some discontent and confusion about numbers and categories and the mass start things finally got sorted out. I saw my name up there, but not really up there. There was no gold in dem der hills for me but I was, for the first time in my life, pleased with a snowman on a golf course (though it would appear after the confusion got straightened out I was 9th not 8th – truth in fictional journalism, people. I mean really). Pleased? Yes. But in no way am I content.
Well, the first race of 2012 is in the books, so to speak. The old injury felt alright. There was some pain, but there should be pain when racing cyclocross. And my performance, while marred a bit due to purely circumstantial happenings, was not too awful for the first race back in over year. In fact, it felt good to be out there and competing again, so much so that I am looking forward to racing again this coming weekend at the Lion of Fairfax … in Vallejo? Whatever – I’m in!