Blind Date at the Dairy
Yep, finally made it out to Blind Date. It was a hot 88F in Portland in late September and rain loomed in the coming forecast. I knew the chances of having another dry and beautiful night like this were slim so I got my butt out to Alpenrose for a crack at this course before facing it again during the first weekend of Cross Crusade.
The only problem was that I had just been upgraded to CAT2 and so regardless of going 1/2 or 2/3 I knew I’d be in the last race of the night, kicking off at 7:30pm! I could race with the big dogs in Men 1/2 and get killed, or race with the medium dogs in the Men 2/3 and face similar fate. I opted to roll with the 2/3, clearly not ready psychologically for the torture and then epic failure awaiting me if I rolled in 1/2. Racing at 7:30pm meant darkness…lots of it. 7:00pm was the official sunset time and by 7:30 sjit got real.
Of course I had prepared for this by bringing my light but I still had a ton of excuses why I shouldn’t race:
- Never raced in dark
- Light could popout of holder
- Knee hurt
- Past kids bedtime
- Low energy
The reality was that I was just doing my normal thing. Having low confidence and making excuses. By 6pm I decided I should just go register. A little after that I zip tied my light down so I wouldn’t lose it. My front wheel was flat but I pumped it up and it seemed to be holding air alright. I had a spare wheelset but decided if I were to roll or flat on the course I’d just throw the towel in. $20 is not that much of a waste. I had some food, but not too much. The 3/4 race kicked off in what looked like a huge sandstorm. Reminded me of Dune.
Eventually, I lined up with the 2/3s. There were 13 of us. The points leader was a 16 year old from Hood River, OR, Caleb Trumbull. Next to him was Felipe Nystrom, CAT1 road racer. Pretty much one of the fastest guys on a road bike in the state. To the left of Caleb was Randall Fransen, who’s been killing it this year so far. He’s got a super nice instagram, his own race team/clothing line and does leaveitontheroad and rapha stuffs. Fashionable dude…wearing bibs and a black T with cut off sleeves. Adam Kachman was also on the line after having smoked…another guy I follow on Instagram. These guys have been some of my inspiration of the past few years in falling in love with bike racing. It felt a bit strange to line up with them and be racing into the shadows at Alpenrose together. Man I hoped I could keep up!
Whistle went off and away we bolted. I felt good about following Caleb and Felipe at the start, knowing they would likely be near the front. The first corner is onto a gravel road and if you don’t get the inside line it can get dicey. Yeah, I was not on the inside and almost lost the front wheel. The guys were super active and most of them powered ahead of me as I fought to keep the bike up. Next corner was a hard fought 180 degree turn and Randall skidded his bike into it. Whipping the tail around for fun.
As we headed down the hill I could not see a dang thing. It was dusty, dark, and absolutely intimidating. I squinted and stopped pedaling. Are we really going full blast into the night like this? I really wish I could have pre-rode the course…Back up the hill I almost lost it again in the slight off camber. It looked rutted from last weeks meager rainfall, but also seemed to be slick from the nights pounding. It was difficult to see any lines. My headlight wasn’t pointed far enough ahead, and I missed so much with the shadows.
Out and around and back into the trees, I started to find a bit of confidence and belief that I could go faster in the dark, and just feel the ground surface through my bike. Nope, almost lost it on the left-hander heading towards the trees. Dude in a skinsuit blasted by me at the bottom of the stairs – yelling something like, “I DON’T BELONG BACK HERE WITH YOU GUYS”! Then he proceeded to ride/bunny hop up the stairs. I carried my bike and passed him. He re-passed me heading into another off camber. Guy looked pretty reckless to me.
I followed his wheel. A few guys were laughing and joking about it all. We all buds here? Wrong gear up the cattle climb but still with the stair hopper headed up to the Velodrome when he missed the little hop onto the pavement and bit it right in front of me. I nearly ran over him but the whole thing put me in a spot where I couldn’t do anything other than wait for him to get up. Another guy (or maybe 2 went by). This was not a good lap.
I figured, I was pretty much at the back of the pack by then although there was a guy that lined up at the back of our group in a sick kit that I hadn’t seen before. He was a muscular dude that reminded me of the redhookcrit guys. I hadn’t seen him go by yet. I eased up on myself psychologically (for being in the back) and tried to fight the urge to go slow. The fact that I could not see the ground surface was just really getting to me…wash out in gravel, hit a rut, would have no clue if it were coming or not.
Regardless, after 20 minutes and about 3 laps I became much more confident. I knew the course, and some nuances that I could exploit. I knew which gear to take on the tough climb and what the entry was like. I had two lines to ride in the off camber section and that exiting the velodrome required a bit of finesse. I also knew that there was a little bump in the road on the first right-hander into the Dairy Land if you cut it too close.
My light was pretty much useless, at least at the speeds I was going. I knew I was not contending for podium due to such a poor start but I also seemed to be doing ok, passing a few people here and there. Caleb must have had a flat or something…he was going slow in the Velodrome when I passed him. There were two that I battled with for a bit but they seemed to have crashed at some point because suddenly they were no longer with me. One person I passed heading into the velodrome…all the sudden on a bumpy grassy straight spot he just bit it. Sniper! I passed another on the pavement and he seemed to just be cursing at himself. Cross is crazy, it really is.
The dark was nuts. It was quiet and you couldn’t see much so when the wind kicked up and blew the tape it made it sound like someone was coming up on you fast, about to run into your side as you rounded a corner. The flood lights were good in spots but when you flew past them they blinded you for a few seconds. People were scattered, mostly on the climb, cheering and talking among themselves. The buzz was slight, but noticeable.
I could tell the 1/2’s were gaining on me and I just hoped that I made the final lap. Turns out I did…and then it got real quiet. I still pushed it, unsure what gap I had to other riders. I didn’t catch anybody that lap but it was nice to ride over 50 minutes instead of the typical 40.
When I rolled through the finish the riders were mostly chatting and recovering. One guy was puking off to the side when I came by. I threw some respect at the CAT2/3 masters winner who had caught me on the last lap. I’m not sure what gap we started with but it was a solid ride by him. I had beaten him at Corn Cross earlier in the year but he obviously completed this course much faster than me.
Many of my teammates and family had stayed until the end, encouraging me along the way. I felt a bit embarrassed of my performance but also felt good to have them supporting me. Nic showed me a few of the pics he took out on the course (shown here). We joked at the look on my face on one of them. We joked about me riding with these stylish guys…and I’m out here with zip ties holding a flashlight on my spray painted bike and canti’s! Then he made fun of me for driving a Prius.
I got 8th. 2 minutes off the lead. 1 minute off the podium.
All Pics @Nic.Kytlica