The house is cold and dark at 5:30 in the morning. Sam lets me sleep in a little while he makes the coffee and prepares his gear. I wake up at the smell and sound of the coffee brewing but I lay in our low bed with my arms wrapped around the fatter of our two cats. He is purring like an engine and we don’t get up until Sammy comes with the coffee.
I can tell he is nervous because he’s quieter than usual. Focused and serious. He cracks a joke every now and then to try to give me the idea that he is keeping it light but I know better. Sam’s getting his game face on.
My job is to give him space to do it.
Having been on the other side of this coin almost a million and one times, I know exactly what to do. I help pack the car. I double check for gloves, glasses, helmet, shoes, vest, socks. I fill the thermos with coffee and load water bottles into the soft cooler.
I’m the support crew this time.
And it’s amazing.
We’re not headed to some crazy softball tournament for an 8am draw, we’re headed out towards Gresham for a bike race.
The first bike race Sam has seen in almost 8 years.
His goal is simple for his first ‘cross race: survive. That’s it. Just finish. Just get through it. Just make it.
He left cycling just before his bump into Cat 2 after he and his two teammates watched from behind as a rider went down in a sprint, leaving half is face on the pavement. “It’s not worth it” he tells me. “It’s not that important.”
He’s right. Even so, I know his return to racing is significant to him. He loves to make bikes go fast. This is what he does. This is his deep-center-running-back-over-the-shoulder catch. I get it. He makes this shit look easy. Moreover; he makes it look beautiful.
So the morning is about having fun but it’s also about celebrating the return of this really fundamental part of who Sam is. He underestimates the weight of it but I don’t.
I keep my cool until he leaves for the start line but the truth is that I want to throw up and cry my eyes out. I’m nervous for him, proud of him, scared for him, in awe of him. Instead of throwing up or crying, I make my way out to the first set of barriers and wait for his group to come barreling through. When they do he is up in the front where I told him to be.
“You’re going to either suffer in the front or suffer on the back, Sam.” I said. “You might as well suffer on the front for as long as you can.”
I’ve been reading cyclocross blogs for the past few weeks trying to glean as much information as possible. Universally, race reports refer to getting a good or bad start – in most cases it sets the tone for the final results. The start at Barlow was on pavement going a little uphill which suited Sam’s strengths. “Jump on the pedals. Get off the line.” I told him.
He reminded me that he was only racing to finish.
“Sure you are. But at least give yourself a shot at getting ahead of the early crashes.”
“Good point, coach.” he said.
He finished strong although the woman who registered him made a mistake and gave him a beginner’s number so he doesn’t show up in the official C Masters results yet (they’re working on it). I think he finished 15-20th out of a field of 47 which isn’t bad for a first outing in which the only goal was to “survive”.
We decompressed at Hedge House over pulled pork, a chicken club and two Lompoc Strong Drafts on nitro.
“Oh my god – you just raced your bike!!!”
He was happy like a pig in shit. 🙂
I drove downtown to do some work and came home to seared scallops and a nice merlot from Napa Valley Vinyards. We landed on the couch to watch the reunion episode of Project Runway and finish off the wine. It’s Monday but it’s cyclocross season – I will take as many Mondays as you can throw at me, goddamit.
Go get muddy.