Learning Cross

by Carolyn Johnson and Darcey Moore


With the dirt/road/gravel ride season wrapping up, new adventures called. Neither of us had been anything more than spectators and supporters at a cyclocross race, but it's part of what our bikes were built to do and a great way to become better cyclists. Our teammates are more experienced racers, and they have provided skills tutorials, equipment advice, and the all-important peer pressure to just give it a shot. We both agree: neither of us would ever try something so hard, fun, and, let's face it -- awkward and occasionally painful -- without our team's encouragement.


Photo by Chris McIntosh



Photo by Chris McIntosh


Chapter 1: A 'Technical' Course, Silk City Cross, Manchester, CT  //  Carolyn

I sat in the backseat of Cindy and Charlie's car twitching and making intermittent panicked moaning noises on the drive down. I had been warned the course would be pretty technical, but I wasn't sure what "technical" meant -- or if the distinction would even matter, since I anticipated being bad at pretty much everything. I slipped under the tape for my first pre-ride and soon found myself standing in a hesitating cluster of people at the top of one of several heart-stopping sandy, bumpy, steep downhills -- with a loose left turn at the bottom for good measure. My fear was matched only by my determination. Once everyone else had gone down, I tried it. It wasn't elegant, but I survived. That's pretty much how the race went, too. Victory!



Chapter 2: Riding the Log, Uncle Sam Cyclocross, Troy, NY  //  Carolyn

We were invited out for a team weekend with id29, our sponsor and the fantastic creative agency based in Troy, bookended by racing in an urban park. The course was much less scary than my first race, but I fixated on a daunting log in the middle of the course. I thought I lacked the skills to pop my wheel over it, but I didn't want to dismount. With my teammates, I studied the log. I practiced the log. I approached the log and turned away at the last minute many times in pre-ride. During the race, I heard people heckling/encouraging me to ride it. I gritted my teeth and rode the log! It got a little smoother every lap.



Chapter 3: Boulders and Dust. Rapha Supercross, Gloucester, MA  //  Darcey

My first cross race. I quickly got onto the course to pre-ride and see exactly what I was in for. Loose corners, tight turns, unmovable rocks in the course, so many options of the "wrong" line to take. And the dust that rose in clouds and concealed the ground. I sat down to watch the first race of the day by a loose, steep descent where you had to avoid a few boulders and concrete picnic tables at the corners. I saw a few guys fall, yell at each other, and one guy with a flat running to the pit. A spectator next to me shared a piece of advice - take this turn outside, then cut across the descent right next to the rock in the course. This would be the best option to stay in control of my bike. Well, I'm here, I thought. I might as well race. Go outside my comfort zone a bit. My favorite part of the course was the long gravel straightaway, where I passed four people. That part felt just like the summer's adventure rides in Vermont.



Chapter 4: KMC Cyclocross Festival, Providence, RI

Day 1: Staying Upright  //  Darcey

It just so happened that my first races were during Holy Week - I figured that if I could survive these, then the rest of the season wouldn't seem as daunting. At Providence Day 1, I lined up at the start next to Carolyn with over 100 other women in our field. My goal was simple: just stay with Carolyn, I told myself. And try to stay upright. Right out of the start, everyone sprinted from the pavement then quickly slowed down at the first bottleneck. I watched the girl in front of me hit the brakes, crash into the bike in front of her and go over her handlebars. I quickly swerved around her to stay with Carolyn. On the next section, I watched the girl to my left slide out and fall right into my line. Unable to get around her quickly, I watched Carolyn speed off in front of the crash. My goal of the day shifted to solely staying upright. Day 2's race would be redemption - an opportunity to take what I learned from Day 1 and do it better.





Day 2: Learning to Pass  //  Carolyn

I had been approaching the cyclocross experiment with some boundaries. I thought it was probably best to ease into it and do one race a weekend. The first day at Providence was difficult, to say the least. Still, the prospect of trying the course again and hanging out afterward on a sunny fall day was too great. I signed up last minute, lined up in the very back of the field, and finished at about the same spot as the day before, feeling both proud of my new-found ability to pass and like my heart would explode. Doing it right, so I'm told.



Chapter 5: Fun > Fear. Minuteman Road Club, Lancaster, MA  //  Darcey

The ground was slick with dew when I pre-rode the course, which didn't fully register until after I felt the bike slide out from under me and I fell hard onto the wet grass. Ouch. Lesson learned. The gravel was very loose around the last two turns before the finish - I took them too fast around the first lap and nearly lost control of my bike. Whew, I'll remember that for the next laps. As a beginner, cyclocross was still a puzzle to me. Every lap proved to be another chance to find a better line, put down a little more power at the right time, shift my weight a bit more to turn effectively. I started to see the spaces where passing was possible. I took some risks and passed a handful of people. I rode the few climbs with all I had and on the last one, looked back to see that I dropped the group I was riding with. Small victories! Most importantly, I started listening to the course. It would say: sprint here, take this line, brake here, do NOT brake here! The balance of fun and terror that characterized my previous few races tipped so there was much more fun this time.



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