Dead Last: Holding Down the Caboose

[cap]T[/cap]he first thing I noticed was how serious everyone else was. With a Clif bar, a Red Bull, a banana and yesterday’s coffee in hand, the sum of all my careful preparation couldn’t match even one ounce of anyone else’s. What made me stand out was not simply my refusal to wear lycra bicycle shorts or the borrowed clunker I would be racing on. What was screaming “black sheep” about me was the dumb look on my face when I realized that some people train for weeks, months, even years just to survive a full Cyclocross race. Complete lack of preparation aside, I was stumbling around the promotional booths looking at the latest and greatest bicycles like an infant who just found her thumb. I ride my bike every day, but not these bikes. These were for Cyclocross.

During a Cyclocross race, all the poor bastards involved are required to not only ride their modified road bicycle through mud, sand and gravel, but also must dismount and carry their bike over hurdles, climb stairs, and scramble up steep hills. Rain, snow or shine, the beauty of cyclocross is certainly not in the weather.

If it wasn’t immediately obvious that I did not belong at a bicycle race, there could be no mistake when I strapped on my ski helmet. Though the overall vibe of the race was casual and friendly, to me it felt like the Tour de France. All around me were competitors running, riding and stretching to warm up before the race. I warmed up by sitting in my car with the heat on.

The atmosphere of this strange event had me so transfixed I almost forgot that I was about to participate in it. I felt like a spectator, though other people’s eyes were probably on me much more so than mine were on them. I was too embarrassed to even ride my piece of junk up to the starting line, so I walked it. I stuck to the back of the group so as not to immediately be in everyone’s way, which I had no doubt would happen when I started getting lapped. I had some wild fantasies about winning the race, but I knew I would be lucky even if everyone didn’t lap me before completing my first.

Not a second after the start of the race, I was left in the dust. I huffed and I puffed but I still couldn’t keep up with the pack. Within minutes I lost sight of everyone. I was all alone and no longer in it for the race — I was just trying to survive the whole thing.

The race lasted for forty-five minutes and I made two laps around the two-and-a-half-mile course. To my disappointment I never took any spectacular falls, though I did have some fun playing in the mud and sand. The stairs were almost enough to keep me from making a second lap after the first. As I expected, the leader lapped me long before I had finished my first lap. It took him longer than I thought it would, though, which was a pleasant surprise among a list of unpleasant ones.

To my surprise, my shameless appearance had won over the spectators and I was the obvious underdog who everyone loves rooting for. I was never in it for glory, but I found it in the most unlikely place: dead last.

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