Seattle’s rich cycling scene is vibrant and full of life. It’s not surprising why ’cross is so popular in the NW. The vast amounts of rain, force commuters and cyclists to learn how to navigate through inclement conditions. Seattle is also home to a handful of companies like Raleigh, Traitor, Davidson, Stanley Thermos, Seattle Bike Supply and a number of local bike shops that support the local bicycle scene like family.
I have been lucky enough to attend every SSCXWC since the begining in 2007. If there is one thing I’ve learned about this race is, to expect the unexpected. I was pleased to find out qualifying was going to be an alleycat-style, time trial on the streets just South of downtown. As some of the more serious competitors were worried about their gearing, the organizers made it clear that you had to use the same bike, set up exactly the same for both the qualifying and main race. The rules were simple, each person was grouped together with 10 riders. The top four finishers within each group advanced to the main race. There was a detailed route consisting of five or so checkpoints, some of which had unknown tasks required.
The pavement was damp and slick as my group got called to the line. We blasted out of the Schooner Exact parking lot, and it was on. I knew I needed to get out front as soon as possible. We pre-road the course the day before so I had an idea of how to pace myself. Four blocks from the start we were quickly re-grouped by a train crossing the route and the group who started behind us joined our wait. The first major climb was up Beacon Ave. It was a nice feeling to shock the legs while overlooking Seattle’s skyline. The top of the climb popped us out onto an off road path through a park along I-5 which was infested with soiled clothing from abandoned homeless residences. The organizers warned the racers not to pre-ride this specific area after dusk so I was prepared to dodge any 40 oz thrown at me. Midway through the park, we met one of the hardest off-the-bike run-ups I’ve ever had to conquer. The ground was a loose, slippery mess and my legs were still burning from the sprint up Beacon Ave.
At this point, me and another guy had put a pretty good gap on the rest of the group. We got our checkpoint token and were spit out on a bike path. It was a fast, well paved relief only to be met by another checkpoint in which we had to jump rope for 60 seconds. Trust me, it hurt. In total, there were three “tasked” checkpoints. The jump-roping, the thigh master (60 seconds worth), and the dizzy barrier jump (spin around with your head on a baseball bat six times then jump a few barriers). Between the tasked checkpoints, the organizers made every effort to keep the riders off pavement. If there was a road with a gravel shoulder, they made you ride the gravel. A few small parks with thick soggy grass were also thrown in the mix. The course route had green arrows painted on the ground that told you which way to go throughout most of the route. The final checkpoint to the finish was “get there anyway you want” style. I raced with the same guy the entire distance and we rolled into the start/finish together, super stoked to have qualified. A tall glass of local brew was a pat on my back.
For those who didn’t qualify, there were several “other” ways to get into the main race. The Bell Town Underground hosted the pre-main race party later that evening. Emerald Sprints were set up and the winner received a ticket into the race. For the best hula hooper, tall boy beer chugger and trivial minded also bought you a ticket into the main race. While everyone was focused on the next day’s event, cities like Boulder, Vancouver, and San Francisco were competing for something totally different. They were all fighting to prove who was worthy of hosting the SSCXWC next year. Each competing city had to participate in selected events and the best performance in all the events (including the main race), would get the privilege of hosting next year’s event.
Mother nature blessed us with rain throughout the night and into the next morning. I knew the course was going to be a cross racers wet dream. We helped Ryan load the kegs of malted nectar into the back of his XL pickup truck and drove to the course. The main race was held in conjunction with the MFG races in Kent, a smaller city just outside of Seattle. The course was designed on the PGP Motorsports park, a high speed go-cart track with some fun surrounding terrain. We arrived at the course just before 10am. The beer garden, food venues, and team tents were just getting set up. The rain was persistent through the morning causing a bit of a delay in getting things going for the MFG events.
The sky cleared as we were getting close to the start of the main race giving the riders a kiss of sunlight as the single speeders were summoned onto the course. As people made the final preparations on their costumes and the Lucha Libres tightened their capes, a dark cloud rolled in from the west. The costumes and theatre surrounding this race are almost reason enough to attend. I was positioned between a dinosaur and a French maid at the start line. While waiting for the go at start of the race, we all anticipated the Seattle crew would have something up their sleeves. The racers were herded to a new start location at the bottom of a grass covered climb. Everyone was scrambling to regain optimal position as the organizers unleashed the starting guns. Volunteers popped out of the bushes with water balloons as the racers elbowed their way up unstable ground Braveheart style. I mounted my bike and was instantly blinded by the gritty spray of cross tires. Immediate mayhem ensued as racers slid down the first steep mud pit. Bodies were everywhere and I’m pretty sure I ran over someone’s wrist in the first minute of the spectacle.
On the other side of the course, a set of barriers lined with double-stacked 16oz cans of Pabst, were awaiting the mob of unruly mud hungry single speeders. As we hurtled over the six pack barriers, spectators showered us with beer. This continued every lap until the barrier section was a beer foamed mess. Eventually people started moving, raising, and altering the barriers as the racers went through. It was probably just as fun to spectate and heckle as it was to race at this point. The peanut buttery terrain turned to rock soup. The only recognizable racers were the ones in costumes and speedos. I managed to battle my way past a few Lucha Libres but had trouble following the wheel of a damn lime green dinosaur.
After a couple laps I started to get used to the motocross style course. There were plenty of whoop-de-do’s, which people where getting rad on thanks to the encouragement from the heckling spectators. The smaller sections of pavement seemed like ice as mud coated the asphalt. Dark rain clouds covered the sky and stiff winds forced the rain sideways. Each lap seemed to feel longer and longer. I stopped paying attention to the lap counter and kept my head down away from any tire spray. By this point, racers were so coated in mud you couldn’t even tell their gender let alone their racer number. After what seemed like hours, the race was coming to an end. As the line formed to get hosed off I picked the sand from my teeth and tried to keep warm.
It was a tough race for those in-it-to-win-it. There was some really fast cats but a majority of the racers treated it as a Woodstock on bikes. Wendy Simms deservingly won the women’s category and Drew Mackenzie defended his title from last year. For the most part it didn’t really matter what place you came in beyond that. There is only one champion. The shivering spectators and racers didn’t stick around very long. I am pretty sure everyone had the time of their lives, but was glad it was over. The Seattle crew never ceases to amaze and threw down an epic event. Not sure how it officially panned out but SF ended up with the (dis)pleasure of hosting the 2011 SSCXWC. A week later, after our return from Seattle I kept on finding mud in places I never knew existed. The SSCXWC is more than a race, it’s a chapter in every ’cross racer’s book that’s read over and over again.