Fear and Loathing in Bakersfield

Alternate title: We can’t stop here, this is cat country.

In case you don’t have time, I’d like to open with what you almost certainly came for: A totally badass picture of me positively flying up the runup at Hart Park, during the inagural Norcal vs. Socal Cyclocross State Championship Race.

Hart Park Runup

Oh, and here’s the course, brought to you by the magic of GPS. If you click on it, you can see my turn-by-turn annotations on flickr!

Norcal vs. Socal Cyclocross Course (GPS)

And here’s my teammate May Woo’s awesome video. Watch it! You’ll get a good feel for the course, and you’ll also see me going really fast (because I’m going downhill).

NorCal vs. SoCal CX Smackdown 2011 from May Woo on Vimeo.

You should also read Cyclocross Magazine’s coverage of the event. First of all, I co-wrote it. Plus, it’s shorter, and doesn’t waste time talking about feral cats, mexican food, lukewarm tubs, giant novelty checks, or California Vehicle Code Section 23229(a).

For any of that, you’ll have to read on…

The ride down in the Moon Unit was a rolling party. When we stopped at the MacArthur BART station, random strangers tried to get on. Clearly, these strangers knew what a good time we were about to have, or else they wouldn’t have tried to board a private vehicle. It couldn’t have had anything to do with the fact that our team bus looks like (and formerly was) a paratransit shuttle bus.

On second thought, Norcal was at a serious disadvantage in terms of numbers for the “State Championship” aspect of the race, so if any of those guys had bike handling skills, we should have let them get on. Next time…

My first and last attempt at live-comicking the weekend...

I had two missions for the weekend – I wasn’t just there to kick ass for the pride of Norcal, but I had also accepted a field reporting assignment with Cyclocross Magazine. Naturally, the first thing I did to prepare for this prestigious assignment was to recruit my teammate Alia to contribute the “actual writing skills” to the piece.  And she did! Not only did she do a bang-up job on the article, but she’s already wrote up her version of the weekend in a fabulous two-part blog-blowout. Within, her post, she was able to explain away what went down on the team bus with a simple link to the DMV. And that, my friends, is why she’s blogging at least three grade-levels beyond me. And it’s also the reason that having a team bus rules. In any case, click these links and read her posts. (Part 1 / Part 2)

The Moon Unit aka Shortbus

We arrived to the venue in a thick cloud of fog. Right… fog, just before 4pm and suited up en-masse for some course recon. “Time to show these SoCal suckers what’s up,” I thought! Well, “what’s up” was that the runups at Hart Park are no joke! After a few jaunts to the top, I was done with riding at speed around the course, and resorted to “analyzing”. Some Ritte guys were hanging out near the descent, so I had to maintain cred as I bombed down it (read: not crash right in front of the cool kids t this school). Success!

MOON UNIT Load-out!

One funny thing that happened was when I was hanging out near the organizer. A racer on a fancy carbon bike, with fancy carbon wheels rolled up to the organizer, and complained loudly about a curb hop-up on course being “A wheel-breaker” and that sandbags must be placed upon the curb to ease his ascent. Well, I suck at hopping up curbs as much as the next guy–In fact, I’ve pinch-flatted a mountain bike tire on the curb directly in front of my house–but I’ve never complained about it. Note that a sandbag WAS placed on the curb, and I used it. I’m going soft.

After the pre-ride, it was on to the dinner party – Neutral ground for Norcal and Socal before the big battle! The food was excellent, and I think machaca con huevos is my new favorite dish. I met some of SocalCX’s staff and promoters and had lots lots of good conversation about the scene. Good times!

Team Norcal arrives to the pre-race feedbag fiesta (and meet-the-Socal-folks)

On the way back, we stopped at a liquor store for supplies, and I saw an ill-omen:

The bad omen of the day in the enter-at-your-peril liquor store...

I’m sure it didn’t mean a thing…

Back at the luxurious Rodeway Inn, we decided to hit up the hot tob. I wore bib shorts, as did Alia (“Motel hot tubs are the only good thing about road racing”, she said, “but not good enough!”), while Erik and Arena displayed superior planning skills by donning appropriate swimwear. The hot tub didn’t deserve the name, and was quickly dubbed the lukewarm-tub.

“Maybe the pool is warmer than the hot tub!” A hopeful possibility was presented. I took it upon myself to test this hypothesis. Of course, I did so by jumping straight into the pool instead of just dipping a toe in. The girlish scream I let out told my teammates everything they needed to know about the relative temperatures. Soon after, Teem Crash arrived in search of tequila, but never made it into our room. They probably partied all night with Josh and his trainer.

Break time! You’re going to want to hit Play on this bad boy and let it go for the rest of the post. You’ll thank me later.

The next day, we were rolling back to Hart Park bright and early for the main event! I decided that Team Norcal needed a little extra inspiration, so I commandeered the iPod input on the Moon Bus stereo to play Thunder In Your Heart, from RAD during our roll-in to the venue. I trusted that it would be suitably inspiring to our motley team of bike racers facing insurmountable odds against the assembled Socal hordes. I also found out that several people in the bus hadn’t seen this cinematic masterpiece, and filed a mental note. It went: Team Screening Of RAD. Soon.

One thing to note about Hart Park: Feral cats were everywhere. It was agreed upon that we were going to steal the little black one that kept climbing into the bus, but in the shuffle of bike loading and beer drinking that occurred at the end of the day, I somehow forgot to. I guess that’s something to aspire to next year.

Cats of 'Cross!Cats of 'Cross! Again.
Need new Flickr pool: Cats of 'Cross!

“Don’t forget heartworm!”

Despite a favorable forecast, it was rather foggy and chilly in the morning! I started my 11:30 race with armwarmers and knee-warmers on, but the sun cracked through during my race and they were wholly unnecessary for the rest of the day.

Now, the course. They called it Euro-style. I called it hella fun. I’ll just blockquote it so you can skip it if you aren’t interested in the particulars. And most of it is shown in May’s video. But hey, maybe this will be a handy reference in a year.

There wasn’t anything particularly technical on it, by Norcal standards, but it was fast, required fitness, and was super fun to ride! It started with a very long paved front straight going up a hill. It reminded me of the CCCX Manzanita Park start, but less steep. The paved section crested at a sharp left corner up a curb and into a series of large grassy switchbacks around trees, until reaching the bottom of the hill.

Then the course took a turn around (and under) the branches of a willow tree and across a minor mud bog. They call this mud? It was easy to ride through, but still made a mess on everything. A couple of little momentum climbs separated by a low-speed switchback down a stone-lined walkway, and then it was on to the flyover. This was a lot of fun to ride and a first time for a lot of us! The backside of the flyover led into a fast and smooth approach to the first pair of barriers. This approach allowed me to carry a lot of speed into the planks, which made me look better than I actually am.

From there, the course started to work its way towards a hard left hand corner that led directly into the first runup – A Mclaren-esque affair punctuated with three barriers. From the top, a short flat section led into a seriously fast descent across the road, burning off all the hard-won altitude from the runup. After passing by the start area again, the course kicked up right before the road and across it into the beer tent. That’s right, the course went through the beer tent, providing a strategically beneficial location to receive a handup.

But for those still in the race, the beer tent provided little respite, as it exited into a giant log barrier at the start of the second runup. This one was shorter, but even steeper than the first, and forced me to pick my footholds carefully in the grassy dirt. Luckily, there was a little time for recovery after it, as another fast descent followed into a grindy little climb up to perhaps the sharpest corner on the course. This left-hander dropped you all the way back down yet again, into a series of tighter tree-lined switchbacks that led into the final right-hand turn back onto the paved finishing straight.

So, repeat that about six times and you have my race. I did pretty well, or so I thought. There was lots of space behind me (which was dutifully controlled by my teammate Derrick), and two guys ahead of me that I almost (but couldn’t quite) caught. I came in 16th out of 36, one spot away from a ten dollar prize check. Damnnit! That could have paid for almost a third of my entry fee. Speaking of checks, May Woo was in the money in the women’s race, as well as Chris Atkinson in my race. Here’s the proof!

Checks in photo may be less novelty-sized than they appear.

The Women’s and Men’s Elite races were next. A lot of things happened in them. In fact, there was enough to fill an article on Cyclocross Magazine’s website! So you should read that one. The short version is this: Emily and the other Norcal women crushed it in their race. Josh, Scotty, and the Norcal men crushed it in their race. There was crrushing all the way around.

Here’s a video I took of the start. Fast riders are fast.

Let me pause for an observation: It seemed to me that Socal riders didn’t go for the holeshot like I’m used to in Norcal… Must be the roadie influence, or they are just more Euro. Marko used this fact to great effect, leading his 35+ race from the gun, for half a lap. We all know that’s what’s important, anyhow… And also speaking of starts, my field was all about the bump-n’-grind. It turns out there is a reason why Tom Simpson made sure everybody gridded up in lanes during BASP this year – Our starts were way less sketchy, despite bigger fields and people going much harder. Or maybe it was just the fact that I was racing the 4’s.

Lobsters at the line... #Norcal
Here’s Norcal heroes Josh, Scotty, Dustin, and Emily at the line! That’s right, Emily too. We fielded four women in the men’s race in an (ultimately futile) attempt to shore up our total points in the Norcal vs. Socal battle. It didn’t work, but at least they weren’t racing without support:

(That’s right, I’m executing a triple handup to the Norcal ladies IPA, of course. Not pictured: Emily Thurston, who was out beating up the boys)

Leaders with 1.5 to go!
Here’s Josh Snead, battling it out with Brent Prenzlow, who is clearly some kind of cyborg (or maybe just the Southern California version of Don Myrah – The elite race would be his third podium of the day!)

In the end, we had no chance in the Norcal vs. Socal points race. But Norcal riders won the Elite men’s (Josh), women’s (Emily), men’s 45+ races (Howie). I also have, on good authority, that Team Socal refused to challenge us to a drinking contest, because they knew they were outmatched. We may have to train their (surprisingly strong) singlespeed field in that regard, so that we may team up when Norcal hosts the Singlespeed CX World Championships later this year. After all, we’re all brothers and sisters in California, at least when the Pacific Northwest guys invade…

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9 Responses to Fear and Loathing in Bakersfield

  1. Alia says:

    Lee, you flatter me — the blog post involving a good-faith attempt to live-comic is clearly at the superior grade level. If there is such a thing, which I’m pretty sure there’s not.

    Thank you also for the beer. :)

  2. caitlin says:

    I love background hooligans in pic #1!

    • Slonie says:

      Yep, that’s what makes it! I need to give May credit for that photo too… I believe Murph is yelling “PASS THAT TALEO GUY OR YOU’RE WALKING HOME, AND IT’S A LONG WAY TO SF!”

  3. hernando says:

    shiiiit – just found this sweet site. thanks for the chuckles.
    m

  4. Pingback: Get Hype for LOCAL CYCLOCROSS NEWS | Slonie

  5. Pingback: CX is Here! by Slonie | NorCal Cycling News - Cycling and Racing in Northern California

  6. Pingback: Cyclocross 2011: The Bitter End (Race Report Roundup #4) | Slonie

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