game on at gloucester

It’s 5 a.m. and jet lag has me wide awake. It’s Sunday; the Sunday after the first day of Gloucester. Did I really see Lyne Bessette’s Paralympic gold medal yesterday? My stomach rumbled and I could still smell the giant bowl of rice Tim and Jamey were diving into after their race, inside a Cannondale team truck packed with about 10 frames of varying sizes. I remember running and nearly tripping over blue Shimano tape marking the race course with Chandler, his video camera in one hand. Didn’t we all last hang out and do the same kind of thing in Tokyo? But we were in Boston – er, Gloucester, this time, right?

The past few days have been surreal to say the least. One moment I was at Haneda airport in Tokyo at 5.00am. Next, I was in NYC Velo and it felt like I’d never left. Less than 24 hours later, I was in Boston, feeling like the nameless narrator in Fight Club, just as he’s on the cusp of fabricating Tyler Durden, his brain going a little haywire on too much Starbucks, travel and Dunkin coffee. Did I make this all up? Did I actually see Ryan Trebon smile, at me, in real life? [me: are you going to introduce me to Ryan “Dreamy” Trebon? Tim: …he’s too tall for you.]

The commuter rail receipt in my back pocket claims otherwise, but it could all be in my head. After taking the usual Chinatown bus up to Boston and spending the night watching “Lost in Translation” with Jeremy B. and Carrie, I jumped on the commuter rail to Gloucester. One of the biggest UCI races on the East Coast, Gloucester was the first cross race I watched back in 2009. I heard Richard Fries yell into the mic as Tim Johnson took the win that year, and hardly knew whom either of them were.
Since then, my knowledge of cross has progressed to a value greater than zero, but still less than one. Most of what I know can be condensed into what I’ve mentally fabricated as an appropriate slogan for cross: “Masochists who like to get dirty, unite.”

I’ve clearly yet to dip a cleated toe into the slippery mud of a run-up, but there’s nothing like a great cross race to make me want to ditch smooth pavement and banked corners in favor of mud, rain, and barriers. And the Gran Prix of Gloucester – two days of quality racing on a huge course that seems to stretch and weave its way across the entire length of Stage Fort Park – is one of the most entertaining cross races you can watch on the East Coast. Lucky coincidence had me arriving in NYC three days before this particular race, with more than a few friends racing. As an added bonus, heavy rain on Friday ensured the course would be slick and slippery on Saturday. Perfect weather for cross spectating.

Lucky coincidence also had me running into Tim [Johnson] just as I arrived at the course. He gave me directions to the Cannondale tent, among the multitude of team tents pitched in the parking lot and all along the paved road leading to the uphill finish. Dozens of bikes and wheels leaned against SUVs and team vans. Cowbells clanged as racers spun by and I shouted at Jeremy Jo, who smiled at me in surprised recognition. And then I saw a Paralympic gold medal.

Shown to me by Chan’s wife, Jenny, as I met her and Lyne, it looks incredible. I’m still not sure I actually saw it, and that I was less than a foot away from it. It was a surreal start to the day and was a sign of good things to come. After unloading gifts, I watched Tim warm up, bumped into Jamey Driscoll looking super cute with longer hair, yelled at Andrea Smith as she sprinted past in the Elite Women’s race, and was once again lucky enough to shake hands with some great people giving good advice.

Because as the Elite Men’s field lined up, Jim [of Giro] told me to “get up to the front, don’t be shy.” It defined the next hour, as I ran after Chan and Pat, slipping, ducking, and jumping around the course to the best spots to get pictures of the race. We yelled and cheered on the men in green, and laughed at the heckling. Waves of cheering erupted as Tim rode past, in hot pursuit of Jpow as Dylan McNicholas of Team hung tight with Jesse Anthony. I clapped and cheered and ran. I had the time of my life.

Tim came in a solid 3rd with Ryan Trebon coming in 2nd after Jpow. After the awards ceremony, I ended up crawling through a space in the mostly enclosed Cannondale tent and climbing inside the team truck to say goodbye and secure promises of a reunion in Tokyo. It only sunk it later exactly how much fun I’d had. So much so that racing cross – even as the personification of an American muscle car [low to the ground, only good at going in a straight line] – began to seem like a very good idea. Because, you know, I can totally learn how to turn…at speed…in mud. Totally.

I’ll be heading back to Tokyo too soon with lazy legs and a scary obligation to practice turning. I’ll miss Richard Fries’ voice and the smell of mud and cyclocross. The pitch of cowbells and the uniquely American practice of heckling. But most of all, I’ll miss the friends who keep gently – but insistently – enabling [and encouraging] my entrance into a world of barriers, run-ups, and other super hard shit. Spectacular face-plants, here I come.
And, Tim, Chan, Jamey, Ryan and everyone else at Cannondale – I’ll see you in February, with high five hugs.
[Lots more pictures here.]