Double Blind- Blind Date Race #1

“Active 40+ female looking for new adventures midweek. My gears have been around the block a few times but spin really fast once I get them going. Looking for like minded individuals that love to do it in the dark and don’t mind getting a little dirty in the process.”

Cross season has arrived even if it still feels like summer here in Portland. Regardless of what time of year it is, racing in the dark is not like any other type of bike racing I’ve done.  It requires good night vision and a sense of adventure. Needing a mid week competitive fix other than battling stationary cyclists at C-Velo Cycling Studio, I signed up for my third season of the Blind Date cyclocross series, sponsored by the Gentle Lovers team. With my hubby Shane neck deep in nursing school studies, this is the closest thing I will get to night out for a while.

Kim in 2011, much wetter weather

Held at Alpenrose Dairy just outside of downtown Portland, this location is close to home which is convenient  incase my date goes sideways on me.  Getting a good look at the course after watching two races I am offered this nugget. “You guys are gonna need a dust mask out there tonight” says Team S&M icon Ron Strausser.  No rain in months and the grassy, outer field section of the course was simply dry, brown grass over bumpy, parched ground, resembling a bad comb over.

In a move I can only imagine was made to keep the neighbors happy after dark and entice more racers to come out, my A’s race time of 8:00 pm was moved to 7:20 PM and shortened to 50 minutes of racing from an hour this year. And now, the men’s singlespeed, B & master B guys were going to be racing with us. Six categories on the field at one time could mean for some bossy boys and traffic problems.  For those of you that have never been to this race, that is a lot of people on the course. Fabulous weather helped bring a huge turnout. Still, we only had ten A women racing (avg. is 4-9). Prizes are awarded 3 deep in categories of 15 or more racers and you can win hole shot and first lap premes. But I am after something else. 2010 & 2011 I raced every Wednesday night (but 1), trying to earn the coveted pink leaders jersey.  Two ways to earn it; win a race, or win over all in the series. I have yet to win a Blind Date race, but I came within 1 point last year of winning the series, finishing 2nd overall.  So I am hoping my dating life is strong and exciting in 2012.

Normally I am very nervous before a race but when surrounded by 128 guys (and a few gals in singlespeed including teammate Erin Playman), there will be some traffic to get lost in and that is somehow comforting. Handlebar lights switched on, we wait for the whistle. “Tweeeett”.

A blur of racers heading into the darkness (2011)

Amy Rice (Lazy Tarantulas) and I lead the charge from parking lot pavement to gravel around the baseball backstop. Pulling ahead, I lead in the S turns of the field that send us downhill to the far end parking lot. U turn at the bottom of the hill onto dust and gravel and Amy takes over in front with a high spin back up the slight incline. Chasing Amy, we loop through the rocks and ruts in the tree section and pounce on two punchy climbs. We are trying to get to the run up first. A long , side slope downhill with a left U-turn at the bottom. This led to our climb for the evening. Amy got off her bike and ran but I rode the climb, even though it was really steep, and I figured it would be faster than running. The Hart family kids were cheering for me from the top and that was encouraging. Amy leading though the back, grass slope and into the Velodrome, clicking big gears for 1 lap on the apron to get a gap on pursuers. Out of the Velodrome and up a slight, bumpy incline, we turn left for the double barrier section.

Gravel is BAD -Blind Date knees 2010

I did serious damage to my knees tripping over these higher than normal barriers 2 yrs ago so I am very careful not to crash in the hunky gravel. Amy and I hit pavement and do the loops through “old town”. 2 more barriers on the “in field” grass by the finish and Amy crossed the line ahead of me in lap 1 (and wins the 1st lap preme). It appears we have created quite a gap. Heading back out to the field, we are double blind with darkness and dust as catagories start to mix with each other. Even with a light on my bars and a few generator lights on course, it’s difficult to see the ground, dirt clouds thick as fog, and eyes burn. I call this riding by Braille. Maybe this will help us get lost from our chasers faster.

Riding the run up again, Amy gets a tiny gap by running again and I am starting to think I am just wearing myself out by riding it, since I can’t ride it faster than her running it.  Still able to stay with her through the Velodrome loop, I take the exit out of the gate too sharp and Ooooffffff, wipe out on my left side in, you guessed it, hunky gravel. My knee is bleeding but nothing horrible. Remounting I realize I have dropped my chain. Too much time trying to put it back on in the dull generator lights, giving my chasers time to find me. By lap 4, Rachel Bagley (unattached) catches me and I have decided to run the hill on this go around. A little faster than riding but Rachel is able to beat me to the top. We trade back and forth for a bit working through the course. My legs were a little tired coming into the race and at this point I am pushing hard to stay with Rachel after the run up. A few guy friends from Team S&M and Hammer Velo pass me with “good job Mielle” and “keep it up” but for the most part, it is very hard to see any discernable kits on most of the course. Sitting on Rachel’s wheel for the next two laps, I finally let her go after the run up and could not make up the gap.

Thinking I was in 3rd, my goal was to hold that and keep up the pace. The leader of the A men, Shannon Skerritt (Bike Gallery), had already lapped us once, earlier in the race (on his mtn bike). At 2 laps to go, I am passed again by Shanon, meaning that this is my last lap. I know Amy and Rachel are up there but I don’t have anymore “get up and go” to find them in the dark. Finishing my last lap strong, I rode the run up since I didn’t have anyone to challenge me on the climb. Singlespeed boys flew up that hill like it was horizontal. Much respect for you guys and thanks to all of the men for polite passing.

Coming into the finish as Shannon sails off to finish his 10th and final lap, I get the checkered flag and realize Amy made the cut off for the last lap. Rachel and I both did 8 laps. She beat me by 37 seconds. Blood running down my left knee and upper thigh swollen and stinging, I had a seat at first aid. “Didn’t you do this last year?” he asks, staring at my filthy wound. “Yes”, I say proudly, “I am the official gravel tester for Blind Date.” While he scrubs and scrapes debris out of my knee with a little plastic implement (and I wince and cringe), Amy comes to check on me. Turns out Abby Watson (unattached) passed her (I never saw her) and beat her by 20 seconds in the end.

My first Blind Date was full of surprises.. and a little heavy breathing in the darkness. I think I want a second date. Same time next week?

Dirty in the dark. 4th pl in Blind Date #1

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