Last Sunday was a highlight of my cycling/social fall schedule: it was the day of the annual Orchard Cross Costume Race (along with all the other regular races for those not in costume). For those of you not familiar with cyclocross racing, it is a timed race on a closed course of 1–2 miles, combining dirt, grass, sometimes pavement, and a variety of challenges: barriers that require getting off the bike and jumping over them, hills too steep for most to ride up (called run-ups), stairs, mud, sand pits, and lots of twisty-turny maneuvering at speed.
This race took place at Applecrest Farm, winding through their apple orchard. This makes it one of the most scenic cross races ever.
The real appeal of this event, though, is the costume race. It takes place on the cross course itself, although it’s modified to take out some (but not all) of the most challenging bits. And they treat it in many ways like the other races. You have to go register:
I am the yellow banana costumed person, and my friend Steph is the inflated T. rex.
Then it’s time to pin numbers on your jersey, or in my case, banana costume:
Before lining up, there was time to observe others in their festive costumes:
Before long, though, it was time to head to the start line. There were at least 60 people registered for the race, so there was some jockeying to find an optimal spot. For my friend Steph (the T. rex), her spot was on the side, because she could hardly see; she was limited to a clear plastic window (in the T rex. neck). A bunch of us were fairly sight-impaired, but that added to the energy level.
The countdown began: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… and we were off! And, doing our best to get around the course without a) falling over; b) running into someone else; and of course c) expiring from all the laughter and joking on the course. A speedy bunny passed me, yelling “your costume is very a-peeeeling!” hahahahahahahaha. A racer in a very elaborate skeleton costume for him and his bike passed me, calling out “I’m on your right.” I replied, “thanks, I can’t see anything either left or right”. He said, “yeah, me too. I wonder why I create such an elaborate costume when I can’t see a thing”. We both chuckled, and he went ahead.
The fact that we had this much time for a conversation during a race suggests that it was a rather mellow and lighthearted affair. Here are a few more examples of riders having fun:
It was almost as fun watching the race as riding it; at least this group’s attitude seems to suggest so.
Confession: the above photo is actually a group of fans during another race. Several of these folks in fact rode in the costume race (I know them). But it conveys the fun and frivolity, so please permit me some literary latitude…
For me, riding in the costume race was a great way to reconnect with some of my racing friends who I don’t see so often. It was fun (and a reality check!) to ride my cross bike on an actual course again. I forgot how important good bike handling was in order to navigate mud, bumps, berms, barriers, and tight turns. Even though I was enjoying myself, I was pushing very hard (you can’t really pedal in a leisurely way on a race course).
I also reconnected with my (former) racing self. It’s been very motivating to remind myself that I enjoy active and organized group cycling environments. It’s heartening to realize that I actually remember how to ride a bike in more demanding conditions. This doesn’t mean I’ll return to racing, but it does mean that I can and want to return to more ambitious rides– group rides with faster folks, off-road rides on my cross bike and mountain bike, and some winter riding too. Not a bad return on a total investment of $15 for the banana costume and $25 for the registration.