In the world of cyclocross, an obstacle course-type adventure racing that I’ve always wanted to try, “Nats” means “Nationals,” as in, the National Championships. I was touched when my eldest son called a few weeks ago to invite me on a road trip to Louisville, Kentucky to attend these events, hashtag “CXNATS” (and shocked my mid-December calendar could accommodate it).

Henry and his girlfriend, a Louisville native, introduced me to many cool aspects of the town, including a holiday-themed light show in a drive-through cavern, some guidelines on sampling bourbon, and a blackberry chocolate ice cream for which a local shop is famous. I loved seeing examples of very old architecture, limestone everywhere, and an eerily foggy sunrise drive through Cave Hill Cemetery.  Cassius Clay, the great Muhammad Ali, is buried there. Henry and I drove a few miles through the massive cemetery sort of hoping to stumble across his final resting place, but not motivated enough to get out and ask at the office. It felt like it would break a spell.

It had rained the entire week and continued to drizzle through Friday and to storm Friday night. Joe Creason Park was a MUDDD FEST both on and off the track, but it was such incredible fun to experience. Never have I attended a national-level sporting event and had so much access to the event and its participants. It was easy to walk (I mean, as easy as I ever walk + thick, slippery, shoe-stealing mud) from the hill climb to the pits to the ramp to the finish line and see, up close, the riders and the terrain they attempted to conquer. A friend advised me in advance that a cowbell would be an appropriate accessory. What do you know, I have a giant and very loud Dirty Kanza cowbell… oh  yeah. I rang the hell out of that cowbell.

I’d love to talk to some of those riders and ask how the heck they keep going in all that mud. My sole experience dealing with it, during just the first few hours of this year’s DK 200 was that it completely clogs up the derailleur and rear cassette. I stopped more than once to poke out and shoot precious drinking water at thick, clingy mud. How would one deal with that in a race? At the elite level, riders were using the pit to swap bikes at every opportunity, which was twice per lap. Pit crews washed bikes and readied them for another go. But even that would have been little help… from each stop at the pit it was mere feet until the bikes would be once again mired in Kentucky mud.

It was fascinating to see riders descend the steep ramp of the “flyover” and handle their bikes in the literal feet-deep mud, wrestling through a 90-degree turn where the ramp dumped them back onto the course. Initially, I thought it certain we’d see wipe-out city, but in fact the majority of riders maintained their seats and continued to pedal through the muck, most flinging a leg out to help maintain balance while entering the turn. Incredible leg strength had to play a part in any forward motion through that swampy turn, as well as confidence and a healthy dose of luck.

I feel further away than ever from a return to competitive cycling. (I write that as if I ever rode competitively, rode for the podium — I haven’t!) Okay then: a return to cycling events that happen to have prizes for winning. But while watching these amazing men, women, young adults, and children (yes! one event was a non-competitive U10 lap! Little bitty bodies on great big 29’rs!) I did feel my quad muscles start to twitch. I watched bike handling with interest. I want to get back to biking and do crazy muddy rides too. They do have a masters division, for old guys & gals like me. . . .

First things first: back to commuting. I pledge I will commute to work at least once before the end of the year, at least with the e-bike. That means one of these days:  December 21, 26, 27, 28.  ULP I might have typed a little ahead of myself. TOO LATE I’M COMMITTED. Hold me to it, people.

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