mud, cx, and the glass slipper

I’ve been to the Glass Slipper once. We went because of the Yelp reviews.
I wasn’t as drunk as I could have been, and as the only clothed woman in the establishment, felt the side glances from the other patrons somewhat acutely. “No place for a woman,” a man kept growling [into his $9 beer]. But it was a friend’s birthday, and we were intrigued by the promise of girls with knife wound and bullet hole scars. I asked to use the bathroom and was sent upstairs, where the dressing rooms were. “Don’t come down the stairs, honey,” the woman told me, “you’ll end up on that stage if you do.”

I remembered to take the elevator down, but can’t recall too much of what happened after my staring contest with the toilet used by the strippers there [“well, it’s clean,” I thought, “but do I really want to sit on that?”]. I know I crashed on my friend’s couch for a few hours afterwards and rode my singlespeed, cyclocross Bianchi home, covered in that thin layer of grease and sweat that every almost-all-nighter seems to require. The back of my eyeballs felt sore with lack of sleep, the veil of a headache was edging into the corners of my brain. And back then, I had no idea what cyclocross was.
The echoes of that night at the Glass Slipper still linger. Not so much when I talk to the guys who were there, or share stories from Boston, but most sharply on colder days in the fall, when I’m watching guys in skinsuits – both familiar and strange – getting dirty and sweaty. I’ve never set rubber to mud, and to paraphrase the guy at the Glass Slipper, CX is “no place for [a roadie who has difficulty turning right].” But like the inappropriate and obnoxiously drunk plus one at any given wedding, I yell and cheer, despite the peculiarity of my attendance. Because when your friends are into stuff that you might not know anything about, to the point where you’re forced to line up your visits to the U.S. with big CX races, there’s nothing to do but to embrace it. To open up your arms, front like you know anything about disc brakes, and hope that no one notices that you’ve never, ever ridden a CX course.

A happy affiliation with Tim Johnson and Chandler, however, mean that I’ve escaped detection thus far, and to continue my covert operations in the CX world, I immediately headed towards the bright green Cannondale truck and tent on my first day at the Providence Cyclocross Festival this past Saturday. Once again, it seemed to work; somewhere between the inappropriate jokes and the, well, even more inappropriate jokes, I lost the self-consciousness that is triggered by the sight of tire tracks in slippery mud. I’d made it to Rhode Island just in time for the Elite race, and after dispensing the necessary hugs and hellos, comfortably slipped back into the role of the shameless, screaming spectator.

Despite the fact that [or, perhaps, because ]almost every cyclist I know on the east coast is somehow involved in ‘cross – as team mechanics, racers, or otherwise – showing up to big CX races has always implied a bit of voyeurism. Because road has always been my chosen sexual orientation; skinny, slick rubber on unwrinkled asphalt is what primarily gets me off. That doesn’t rule out going gay for ‘cross – and the idea’s been more than tempting – but given my general clumsiness and dearth of bike funds, it seems unlikely.

Clearly, that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate it. Stumbling around a taped off course, trying to find the best spots to heckle and state the obvious [“Go faster!”], can give even the road-confined spectator a vicarious race high. Because one of the greatest things about ‘cross is that it’s as fun to watch as to [presumably] do. After a summer of vacationing in delicately cultured European locales – through live feeds or otherwise – the familiarity and accessibility of ‘cross is like walking into a New England home. One that’s just slightly chillier than you’re used to, but you can smell the apple pie baking in the oven.
Admittedly, there was no apple pie involved this year at Providence, but there were beers with Tim and Chan and Todd, and some non-dairy soft serve covered in toasted coconut. There was screaming and cheering and hiding out in the Cannondale tent when it started to pour, with two guys named Sam. There were friends to cheer on in the Cat 3 race, friends that stopped by the race just to hang out, and all the things that make an annual pilgrimage to the U.S. worth every single yen.

I may never quite belong there, but every year, when the air starts to get a little sharper, I hope I’m stateside, screaming inappropriate things at guys I may or may not know, from the side of a muddy, wet, ‘cross course.
[Thanks Tim, Chan, Todd, JF, Tom, Sam, Sam, Dave N., Oscar and everyone that hung out with me last weekend. Hopefully see some of you guys in Japan!]
[Also, lots more not-so-great pictures here.]