Crusades (part 3) – Oh the Crusading…

16 November 2009

In what has become long over due (life is busy), welcome to my first cyclocross race. In reference to previous posts (1 2 3), the primary reason and what initiated our epic trip to Oregon was the Cross Crusade race series, possibly the largest and certainly the best (yeah, I said it) cyclocross circuit in the US. Race #5 was our target, which fell on Halloween day. Normally the Halloween day race features costumes, but for some reason the organizers put the official costume day on the following day. For my sake, thank God. Racing with a costume would’ve almost certainly ended in catastrophe with some fraction of the costume and/or my body mangled. Racing without a costume would’ve made me cannon fodder for the hecklers (more so than usual).

I had no race experience and @the_danno only had a single race under his belt, or rather bib shorts. Our intention to race the beginner race meant we needed to be on the road no later than 6am to get to Astoria in time for the race. We register with a little spare time to pre-ride the track. First observation: it’s muddy. Time is limited so I only get to ride 2/3 of the course before heading to the starting line. Then it’s call-ups. Racers with points from previous races get preferential stops in the start pack. Then randomly based on the last digit of your race number. Apparently 3’s get to go first (the first random number is referred to as the “beer number” apparently), which means that I get to head out in the first batch.

Before we know it, the race starts. I’m ok off the line, but pretty timid through the first patch of mud beyond the start line. Immediately we are zooming down a hill surrounded by the pack of racers. I am getting passed like there is no tomorrow and @the_danno is past me in a flash. The first section is a simple loop leading up to the first big hill of the course. It’s a deceptive one. A long gradual stretch leads up to a steep lip at the end, which just got muddier and less ridable as the day went on.

Huffing and puffing from the hill, it’s immediately into dimly lit, surprising bumpy stable that were jarringly stiff compared to the water-logged grass fields. Down in a stable, back between the stables, down in a stable and out and around. As I turned around the end of the last stable, some combination of mud, wood chips, and probably cow pie provided an amazing bog that didn’t sink down too much, but was like pedaling through molasses. For a moment I am dreaming about slowly pedaling through soggy water-logged grass. Around another corner and up ahead was the other tough hill, mostly because the bottom was a mud pit. First time around I am far enough behind and my legs still have some juice, so I climb it successfully. Then a long run along the hillside and quickly back down the hill.

Onward through a few zig-zags, up and down a few short steep bits. Then a long straightaway with a hair-pin turn around a chainlink fence. A paved section of uphill is a welcome alternative to the muddy alternatives. Down through some tree cover and back into the open, eventually these curves lead us to the eventual finish line. I am far enough behind that the announcers have plenty of time to get my number so they can mention my name and that it’s my first Cross Crusade race. That is what you call star power. When you’ve got it, you’ve got it.

The race then takes it’s first detour into the larger indoor section. A couple tricky lips and a short steep section as you head out allow me to spin the tires a bit as I grind things out. Around the corner are the series of barriers, which I’m actually decent at somehow. I remount and there is some sort of gravity vortex that makes the next section of gradual uphill devastating and slow (our best guess is something to do with the side slope and muddiness). A few more hairpins and a detour back inside and we are triumphantly back to where we started. Now just keep going.

Just prior to the big hill I see the first rider walking his bike. His chain is absent, which decidedly makes cross racing more difficult. Another guy heftier than me is sucking wind at the hilltop and I don’t feel quite as bad. The next lap is pretty uneventful if you ignore the fact this is the hardest bit of bike riding I’ve ever done. I fail the second hill and slide into the bark dust pile that lined the edge. May as well pick yourself up and get back at it. All I remember is hearing “2 laps left” and thinking “dear lord I like the sound of that, I may finish after all.”

Next time around on the first big hill I pass the other big guy I was keeping pace with. Did I mention he was in a pink tutu? He is done. This is too fucking hard. This time around I am just smart enough to know my limitations and dismount and run up the second hill. It is just steep enough that I don’t bother to remount until the top, where a spectator shouts the quote of the entire weekend: “You’re a gazelle, you’re a gazelle in a beer-drinker’s body.” This is like a shot of adrenaline. As I remount I get some encouragement “alright, that’s looking better,” followed by “wait, nevermind” as I have difficulty getting clipped in. There is a fine line between heckling and encouragement in cross.

At this point the Oregon skies are conspiring to make things interesting and gradually start giving us some rain. Within a minute the heavens let loose and it is pouring. A proper Oregon rain. So good. My first cross experience has gone from demoralizing to painful to hopeful to downright amazing, and the best is yet to come.

The whole race I am in pursuit of the rider ahead of me, never really gaining ground. It isn’t until we’re out of the big barn for the last time that he seems to start slowing down. His lighter frame makes it up the first hill a bit easier, but after making it up the second hill I seem to gain a bit of ground. Just after the hairpin at the chainlink fence he turns it on a bit but I keep pressing as well as I can. Up the paved section I’m out of the saddle pushing as hard as I can.

With three curves left, someone on the side of the course shouts to him “someone’s behind you, don’t let him catch you”. He hears this and I can see him put the hammer down. Fuck. I heard it too, so I know I’ve got to nail it. There a bit of a downhill followed by an uphill before returning to pavement and the short section before the finish. He seems to let up a bit on the downhill. I can tell I have a chance. I’m just going to give it everything I’ve got. On the uphill curve into the finish, the inside line opens up just enough for me to pass on the inside at which point I’m pretty sure I heard him mutter “oh, shit” out of what seemed like complete surprise. On the pavement I popped out of the saddle and drove as fast as I could through the finish. @the_danno who had already finished provided the description of my opponent’s face: “defeated.”

Through the whole race, I was convinced I was holding onto DFL, so that last pass felt amazing. First, no DNF. Second, no DFL. With half-way through the race thinking there’s no way I can make it, I was proud of my finish and first completed cross race. Later I find out there are another 4 racers that I beat beside my friend at the finish. Not too shabby. All told the roughly 40 minute race corresponded to about 6 miles of riding.

Alternatively, the full recap of the weekend’s races is covered in full by the fine folks at Wend Magazine.

At this point, all that was left was to enjoy some beer, cross food, and cowbelling, but that will have to wait for our next installment. For now, you can check out an approximate race map (whoosh!):

View Interactive Map on


11 November 2009

“What exactly is cyclocross?” is usually the response I receive when I mention this new hobby of mine. Short answer: cyclocross is amazing. Longer answer: cyclocross is somewhere in between road and mountain riding. I suppose you could just read about it on Wikipedia, but really, it’s so much more to it…

Depending on the course you will see some combination of pavement, grass, gravel, dirt, bark dust, wood chips, sand, and even puddles that are closer to being proper lakes. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere that cross thrives, like Belgium or the Northwest, the course is often an excuse to get covered in mud. Obstacles are key. It’s what separates cross from riding around on your lawn. These come in many forms. The standard is a ~40 inch high wood plank positioned in the middle of the course that you are forced to dismount your bike and jump over. Some obstacles can be bunny hopped (personally, I think this is for the weak). In certain races, the rules state you must dismount your bike, but that’s not always the case.

The length of the races are a bit unique. The races are roughly time based, where duration of the race typically correlates with skill level (better racers means longer races). After a lap or two, the race official decides how many laps are left based on the pace of the riders and the total duration allotted. The last lap is the bell lap, where you’ll heard some cowbell prodding you on for one more lap.

@the_danno making the best of a dropped chain (Photo Credit to @BrianLeeT)

Half of the cyclocross experience is audience participation. This includes beer hand-ups (nothing like a swig of beer to power you to victory), dollar grabs (put sticking out of a bottle or in the mud and wait for a rider to grab it), taunting/encouraging the riders, and simply more cowbell. A well stocked race will also have the belgian waffle stand and some deep fryers for some fritz. If nothing else, it’s a good excuse to have some beer for breakfast.

A dollar grab in the wild (Photo Credit to @BrianLeeT)

Cyclocross season is in full swing – let’s make some bad decisions.

Crusades (part 2) – Oh the beer…

3 November 2009

During the course of our crusade in Oregon, alongside all the driving, there was quite a bit of beer to be had…

Initially we were hoping for lunch at Deschutes Brewery in Bend, but no food at the brewery, only at their Pub on Bond Street. Luckily we had a tip about Cascade Lakes Brewpub not too far away. Normally I’m not a big brown fan, but they had a nice one. A fresh hoped brew and a kolsch were also good. Brewery #1 down.

Onto Deschutes Brewery – let the pilgrimage begin. Jubelale and Hop Trip were my personal highlights out of the tasters I picked (I didn’t even bother tasting Black Butte since I drink too much of it anyway). For something considered a “craft” brewery, it was amazing to see the scale they are producing at these days. Their hop room was incredible. Bundles of whole hops everywhere. Definitely interesting to hear they dry-hop most of their beers. I left with a case of Black Butte XXI to age in the closet (best after 10/2010) and case of Hop Trip to split. So. Good.

After making the drive up to Portland, we made our way to the Raccoon Lodge (Cascade Brewing) for dinner. A mere week before the trip we went to a beer & cheese night that featured their Kriek, so we were excited to check out what they had. They had our 3rd fresh hop beer of the trip and our first series of lambic-style sours. The collection of aging casks was awesome. Very unique for an America brewery. It’s apparently the new microbrew revolution. We tried their taster and I can’t say I was impressed with the IPAs and sours on tap, but it could’ve just been that I was drunk by then…

Next stop – Cross Crusade. While not technically an official brewery stop, our effort was sponsored by Van der Dans Brewery

since we enjoyed plenty of Crosstoberfest as we yelled and cow-belled on the racers after we had raced. More to come on that later.

Post race was followed by a short rest at the hotel, and then onto the Astoria Rogue Public House. It’s no secret, I love Dead Guy Ale. Add on the fact that Rogue makes a huge selection of delicious beers and we’r

e golden. Dinner and drink involved their Sesquicentennial (commissioned by Oregon for their anniversary), Imperial Porter (I love porters), and Double Dead Guy were all great. We sat at the bar, which was luck since a Cross Crusade guy came in with cowbells worn as rings. Everyone sitting at the bar was gifted a free Cross Crusade Cowbell. Good luck part 1. Ro

gue was also has a “Garage Sale.” That meant the two of us each got a case of Double Dead Guy for super cheap. Good luck part 2.

After dinner we dropped off our beer at the hotel and headed to Fort George Brewery. If only we hadn’t woken up at 5am, then we would’ve been able to handle more than a beer here, but we were dead (and no that had nothing to do with a halloween costume). We just grabbed one mason jar and we were done. Complete exhaustion.

Enjoying the extra hour of daylight, our next beer adventure was to Mainstreet Homebrew Supply in Hillsboro, a personal favorite for homebrew supply, whether local or mail-order. Here we picked up whole hops (yes!) and wax for coating the caps on our longer aged brews. Our Scotch ale with be the first test subject.

Next, we needed lunch before the bike show, so we stopped at Laurelwood in NW Portland. Vinter Varmer was definitely the highlight. Then after the bike show, we stopped at MacTarnahan’s Taproom (a Pyramid partner) a block away. Their Hum Bug’r was my favorite. Then onto Yamhill County to grab dinner with Mom at Golden Valley Brewing. Yet another fresh hoped beer here. It’s quite a trend the in the NW apparently. At this point it is not even 8pm and we are ready to curl up in a ditch due to exhaustion.

Monday morning, all we had left was a long drive back to San Francisco. On our way south we attempted a stop in Eugene for an early lunch and beer, but the recommended Ninkasi Brewery had no food and our attempt at two other brewpubs fail because they weren’t open yet. Onward. For dinner we took a similar tack and decided to divert to Chico and stop by Sierra Nevada. No proper tours on Mondays, but we thought we’d manage the self-guided tour. The girl in the shop said we could walk around upstairs even though there was a function happening. We tried and were promptly sent back downstairs like the heathens we obviously are. In defeat, we grabbed some of Sierra’s Estate brew. I tried it the other night and it is fantastic. If you’re ever in Chico grab some, since that’s the only place you’ll probably find it.

Altogether 9 breweries later we were back to the bay, with all sorts of fantastic beer in tow and all sorts of crazy ideas about our future brewing plans.

Crusades (part 1) – Oh the driving

3 November 2009

I’m back from our trip to the Cross Crusade races in Astoria last weekend and what an epic trip it was. The update will come in parts, but first off, we did a lot of driving. Roughly 1500 miles included stops in Weed, Bend, Tigard, Astoria, Hillsboro, Portland, Carlton, Eugene, and Chico, for reasons I will elaborate on later. For now, behold:

All told, 9 breweries/brewpubs, 1 homebrew store, 1 cyclocross race, 1 amazing book store, 1 coffee shop, 1 bike show, and the first 46 episodes of The Bugle.