5.28.2013

Race Report: One Leg Up Alleycat

oh...
there was a time where I loved to write a race report
I loved race reports so much... that I usually started writing the race reports in my head while still riding the race
but somewhere along the line I lost my momentum
lost my momentum with racing
lost my momentum with writing

not just writing race reports... but lost my momentum with writing in general

trying to find my legs
trying to find my electronic voice

a few days have passed since the One Leg Up Alleycat
let me see what comes up when I try to type something up

RACE REPORT: One Leg Up Alleycat
as said... I have lost momentum on racing
have not had my focus on the bike as of late
being "under-employed" has really taken the structure out of my life

unemployment is not fun employment
and I am not entirely without work
as I am taking care of my two boys when they are not in school
while looking for a job... which is harder than an actual job and pays worse

the Memorial Day Weekend approached and there were no concrete plans
there was some initial discussion about heading out to West Virginia to my buddy Kent's cabin up on the ridge near Davis
but as the weekend got closer those plans did not make complete sense

then there was talk about a BBQ on a farm in Northern Virginia on Sunday
I was on the fence about going

the host was a woman in my wife's boot camp
which was a little obscure to me
it seemed like my wife had the day covered
it was some of her friends farm... some people I had never met

there was talk of a lake and other kids
the boys would be well entertained

so... rather than going to a BBQ where I was at risk of not knowing anyone or doing anything more than babysitting and making appropriate small talk with strangers
I decided I would race an alleycat where I would know a bunch of people
and of course get to be on my bike
needed to get on my bike
definitely needed to get on the bike

Alleycats are not entirely my thing... in fact... there was a time when I avoided them
the messenger scene can be exclusive
and well... not being a messenger
well... I did not feel as if there was an open invite

I avoided the possibly stressful experience by avoiding the events entirely
but a few years ago I wanted to support a friend's alleycat by taking some photos
when I arrived at the start I saw that there were already half a dozen people with cameras and more camera skill than I possessed 

so I raced it... I raced it and I loved it
all while trying to document it

so... with a newly opened mind on the whole Alleycat thing
I did a few more Alleycats
always racing hard while trying to document them
it fulfilled a variety of my needs
the need to ride/race and my love of documenting cycling culture with the camera


it was the Presidential Inaugural Alleycat where I decided I would try to get some shots of the leaders
on this day I decided I would try and chase DC Messenger Bruce
see if I could snap some shots and hang on his wheel
it was a blast... I snapped some good shots
and thoroughly enjoyed myself
snapping some shots and having a strong placement at the finish

that formula was seeming to work

it was then that I was introduced to the work of Lucas Brunelle
although I had seen his videos
I did not entirely get what he was doing
but after trying to race with the top guys and document it
I GOT IT!

I got it and my mind was blown... now I am not Lucas Brunelle... not with the camera and not with the bike... but it still inspired me

not to say I could do it... but I understood what he was doing
I was trying to do still photography in a fast pace moving environment
sort of stupid... but I was trying
it is really easier to ride with the cruiser pace DC Bike Party and document it
but to try and race with some caffeine fueled messengers is a whole different monster

so...
I had my camera battery charged... there was room on my memory card
the bike was not tuned... that is not tuned
yes, there was air in the tires and lube on the chain
but there were issues... shifting issues
I tried to fix the front derailleur 
things were not shifting right... it did not appear to be the shifter or the cable, but could not resolve it on the lever either
resigned myself to locking the front derailleur  in the big ring instead of the small

in short... I was ready to race
the preparation was done partially the night before
but really... the morning of
which as we all know is a bad idea

no major modifications or adjustments should be done to a bicycle immediately before a race
especially if the person with the tools is a less than certified mechanic

so... I on Sunday the day before Memorial Day I got on my bike and pedaled down to Thomas Circle to race in the One Leg Up Alleycat... a race that was the second day of a three day Triple Crown
Baltimore-DC-Richmond

I was not racing Richmond or Baltimore... but though I would jump in on the fun on the DC event
it was local... bike to the start local

the Facebook Event Page said that the event was set to start at 3PM
when I arrived at Thomas Circle at 2:30 there was Messenger Mike and no one else
the park in the center of the circle was essentially vacant
my Type A Slacker uptightness laughed a sarcastic laugh to myself as I thought about Messenger Time

it amused me that a culture of people that pride themselves on arriving fast and on time always start their messenger races late!

I hung out for a few minutes until John Dinn the race director rolled through and gave the heads up that the official race start would be at 4:30 prompt
so... I left off to run some errands... rode around town and dropped off some Tour de Fat posters at a few bars and shops

when I returned I was later than I had hoped
manifests had already been handed out
and I had missed the hanging out photo op experience
it was approaching race time and I needed to get an idea of my objective at hand

as said...
in a previous Alleycat I chased Bruce with the camera
so this time I thought I would try... and I mean TRY... to chase Michael Pearce aka Coach
chase Coach?
not an easy task... but that would be my goal

but no... Coach... the guy I call Cargo Mike was not present
I thought he would roll up at the start time.... but no
no Coach to try and chase... I guess I was spared trying to attempt the less than possible task

with the manifest in hand I tried to plot my approach...

I had done one of John Dinn's alleycats last year
John works a combination of manned and unmanned checkpoints
having the majority of the check points have information about the next check point
the manifest read like a MAD LIBS game
a series of intersections with one of the intersections blank

initially I thought that there were a variety of manifests.... with a different order to make chasing other riders more confusing
so I check some familiar faces to see if our manifests matched up
I did not want to chase a set of wheels that was going to a different destination

a glance at a few manifests showed that we all had the same manifests
and that this Alleycat would run the check points in order on the manifest
while many Alleycats leave it up to the racer to choose what to do first and what to do in what order

this made for a somewhat more simple routine
a race that gave less of an advantage to the seasoned courier
as well as a buffer for the people looking to chase the pack
while taking into consideration that this weekend the DC Alleycat was part of THE TRIPLE CROWN
which meant that there would be racers from Baltimore, Richmond, and beyond

I fumbled around with the camera snapping photos and catching up with familiar faces and old friends

then John gave his pre-race meeting... which I did not hear much of
just as I "focused" on the camera instead of the manifest or the pre-race meeting in prep for the race
I still gave more attention to the camera than to what John was saying

oh... hoped I did not miss any helpful clues

the first check point destination was known... it was 2 Mass Ave NE...  a sign post by the Post Office Building around the corner for Union Station
and easy and obvious destination... well... a street sign in front of this easy and obvious destination
so I positioned my bicycle pointed in the direction of Union Station
waited for the 4:30 release

I watched a few people sneak off... thought about the same... but John called out and retracted others back
there are elements of Pirate behavior in the courier culture
it is an alleycat... not a USA Cycling event... no microchips here!
but... what is acceptable pirate behavior is up to the pirates

a little more time passed
then it happened... JOHN SAID GO!
we were released
the flood gates were opened
50 or so bicycles flooded the streets

my wheels were the first out of the park
but it was only a few blocks down traffic packed Mass Ave before I was passed by a number of fast moving bicycles
it was an intense moment
all sorts of legs pumping and pushing the pedals... moving their bikes at maximum speed through a minimum space... splitting lanes between the long queue of cars... working the weave  through the dangerous pathways... with bicycles all around me

IT WAS SKETCHY!
NOTHING SHORT OF SKETCHY!

the alleycat is different than a road race or a mountain bike race
in that there is no set course
there are checkpoints
but how the racer gets there is usually up to them

so a few blocks down the road and the pack started to fragment
I watched and wondered what route other racers were going to take
I knew the destination and knew that I could go with the flow
Messenger Mike was pushing his yellow KHS with flat pedals at a fast pace through the tight lines between cars
while Bruce took a line away from the bikers and in the far lane headed into oncoming traffic

when Mass Ave took its somewhat illogical one block hop by the convention center there was a major split in the pack

lights were changing 
but none of the bikes were stopping
some bikes rolled through free and clear
other bikers pushed it fingers crossed
it got confusing... it was not all free and easy... it was sketchy
cars stopped on green lights to let the cyclists through... or maybe so that they did not flatten the rogue bikers

no body wanted to lose sight of the leaders
but at what cost?
actually it was not close
but me... I do not want to put myself in a situation where I am dependent upon a car stopping for me, actually.. I do not want them to stop for me
my desired line is to move where I do not slow and my actions do not require the cars around me to slow or stop
like a ghost... through... here and gone before the car can respond

that said... I am thankful for any or all that would take their foot off the gas and tap their break in a hope not to crush me

at the first check point racers scanned the back side of the NO PARKING SIGNS
one of the no parking signs would be marked with an orange and a green marker with the next Check Point destination
that answer for the next fill in the blank
n
the information needed to know the intersection of the next check point

this early in the race information was shared
the packed moved together
there was some shared momentum
the next check point was not close
it was a fast pace and hard work to get to the next stop

in town racers assisted out of town racers about the direction of traffic as we blazed through lights
giving heads up to trouble points

racers started to form allegiances as the pack started to fragment into even smaller packs

I found that this race was pushing things way too fast for me to try and take any photos
it was RED LINE ALL THE TIME
having the other racers in front of me and in back of me heightened the race experience
it was all about going as fast forward as the wheels would take me

like a swarm of bees the bicyclists migrated from check point to check point
with a flurry of activity at each Check Point Intersection
the information on the back of the signs was not always easy to find
which added to the chaos of the swarm of bee like bikers

this element of chaos where it was slow to find the marker on the back of the signs gave an advantage to the trailing riders

faster riders would arrive first and have to go to each corner and check the back of each sign
while later riders had the chance to be lucky enough to arrive at the check point intersection destination on time to see a racer or two standing at the corner marking their manifest
thus taking some of the guess work out of the equation

it is hard to think when the oxygen is going to the legs instead of the brain
I was flustered the whole time

at one point in the race I see racers waiting at a light at Rhode Island and 14th Street... 

What? waiting at this light?
in an alleycat?

then I see a dc police cruiser pulling over at the corner across the intersection
I make a complete stop at the stop line
I ask... "is he stopped for us?"
then as the light is turning green I start through the light... leading... not stealing... I am one of the first riders to pass the officer as he gets out of the car
he looks at me and waves his hand and gives a friendly "hey, hold on..."

I am face forward... eyes behind my sunglasses looking at him
there is no time for a conversation
his voice was not in that disrespectful police speak
it sounded warm and friendly... but I was not looking for a conversation
in reality... my actions are responsible for my actions... the actions of the others... these do not represent me...

my stop occurred at the stop line... I went through the intersection when the light was green... I did not want to try and convince him of that
yes... I may have started my progression AS THE LIGHT WAS TURNING GREEN
but his attention was to something before that
a tad bit of anxiety entered my system as I wondered if he would get back in his car and chase us down
or worse yet... that he gets on the horn and calls for back up

as any cyclists knows... YOU MAY BE ABLE TO OUT RUN CHEVROLET.... BUT YOU CAN NOT OUTRUN MOTOROLA!

a few blocks of splitting lanes through thick traffic and there is no sound of sirens and no sign of flashing red and blue lights
this cop seemed cool... he was not angry or aggressive... I think he just wanted to give some friendly advice to chill and be safe... 
okay I got it... thanks

I wanted to take photos... but was not feeling as if I could make it work

even though it was Sunday afternoon... the traffic was Rush Hour intense

the pace was hot... red line hot... too fast to be riding no handed with my hands on the camera instead of on the brakes
the camera process is a little more than just hitting a button
just a little more

too much going on... it was not possible to snap pictures and keep pace with the pack

the race was not without its issues

early in the race I heard it... it was a block away... but I heard it
someone got a flat
it was Edwardo
I had a tube... but I brought it for me

as I rolled past Ed I shouted out... The Bicycle Shop at District Hardware is right there
he knew... he was already walking that way
lucky him... that flat would cost him a few minutes... but he was still in the game
he day was not done

then later I would see an urban fixed gear rider named Alex also walking his bike 

the race had us zig zagging all over town
Union Station was as close as we got to the Capitol or The National Mall
Memorial Day can have parades and of course Rolling Thunder
it was wise for John to keep things north of that madness

we race east... then we raced west...
our path had us climb up north then dip back down south
then... 
after a few quick and close downtown check points
as we neared the end of part one of this two part race
we headed north

we passed and recrossed our own paths several times

then once back downtown the Mad Lib fill in the blank clue was Rittenhouse

RITTENHOUSE?

as we clustered around the street sign trying to read the information about the next check point... Sean Campbell... said... Rittenhouse... Where is Rittenhouse?
I said... NORTH... WAY NORTH!

Sean waited for his out of town race partner Roz Patterson
I did not have time to give him a better idea of what "north meant"
I started pedaling thinking we could discuss it as we moved... he did not move with me
but I am sure he figured it out as he grouped with his pack

Washington DC has its own logic for naming streets
the US Capitol Building is the origin of a grid.... ZERO-ZERO
panning out from there in four quadrants... just like a sheet of graph paper there are streets
numbers and letter

there are four quadrants: NW-SW-NE-SE
the number count up as you go away from the Capitol building in each direction
then letter streets move in alphabetical order away from the Capitol Building
but when all the letters are used... and some are skipped
the streets move to Names in alphabetical order... starting with ONE SYLLABLE, then TWO SYLLABLES... then three

RITTENHOUSE... RIT TEN HOUSE... THREE SYLLABLES! 
that is up there... REALLY FUCKING UP THERE!
Rittenhouse is not downtown!

so I hammered...

Up 14th Street for a couple of miles
out of the business district
passing through a variety of neighborhoods and a number of zip codes

my legs were burning
the route up 14th Street was a series of roller coaster climbs
I tried to time the lights... wanted to keep momentum
I tried to roll downhill at speed... crossing through the intersection with momentum to climb the next hill

my timing was pretty good I passed some racers... no racers passed me
and I managed to keep pace with a rider that I left the pack with
there was some distance between us
yet I managed to keep a pace with him

I looked behind me a few times
the pack was no where to be seen
I felt good... not strong... but good
I knew there would be some wheels trying to reel me in... so I worked hard

there is a bit of energy that comes from the notion that the finish is just ahead

but no...
this would just be the finish of the first stage
stage two would be a time trial in Rock Creek Park
so... there was no time to rest and relax... but a only a moment to recover

it was confusing
it was chaotic
there was the classic elbowing to get to the front of the line at each checkpoint where we needed a signature
when really.... we were instructed to step into line and wait our turn

Slavko worked calmly to keep the madness under control

sadly.... it is not always our nature
especially when your heart is pumping at a fast rate
it is hard to step in line
this is a me me me time in our society and the urban cyclist is no different

at the final check point DC Messenger Slavko handed out a little map to the start of the next stage
it was not far away
but everything was a little confusing

was it ten minutes to start from here
or from the next stop

foolishly I waited at that stop
but it did not change things
my arrival was recorded
and the next stage was a time trial
which would have individual releases

I rolled down to the time trial with a few fast folks
Larry and AZ were near me
at the time trial start I saw Kate Shrock and a few others

I was dreading the time trial
my legs were already feeling the effects of the day
I was not sure what to expect
but most of us felt that it was pretty certain 
I feared that there would be some hills... I hate hills... at 230 pounds I am disadvantaged on the hill
but I was confident that the Finish line would be John Dinn's house in Kensington 
a house in a neighborhood just out of Rock Creek Park
a house I had been to before

I thought about where his house was... I had programed his home address into my iPhone before the race
I thought about the trajectory
thinking that Connecticut Avenue would be faster than the winding road through the park
but no...
the time trial had a series of check points in the park
check points that would force us to stay in Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park

it gets a little funny...

not far into the start of my time trial I see one one jersey from my mountain bike team DCMTB
then I see another
then another
the last one is my brother

my brother marc in a black and white DCMTB kit... a kit just like the kit I was wearing... only in a smaller size

my brother looped around and rolled along side of me
my brother Marc asks if I am involved in this messenger race
then asks if it is kosher to have me draft off him
well... drafting is not my style
but I will try anything once

so... I try to get on my hammerhead of a brother's rear wheel
Marc is faster... Marc is more fit... and well...  I am tired
I am working to hang on his rear wheel
keeping pace... but not hanging in his wind slip

at some point another DCMTBer in the race joins our pace line
it is Kate Shrock
she is also faster and more fit... she is having a much easier time hanging on my brother's wheel
I am not so happy that she is getting pulled along while I am fighting to keep them within view

I work hard to catch them
the check points help us to regroup
my brother pulls us until the final turn off that leads to John Dinn's house
the final check point and the after party

as we enter the neighborhood I see a few racers just ahead
I cheer kate on to catch them
she is as tired as me
we work hard to keep pace
but there is no chase
there is no fight to the finish
everyone is moving good
but our best efforts are behind us


we roll in and get into line as John's wife Kim takes down the information of our arrival order and finishing time

FANTASTIC!


WHAT A DAY!
what a beautiful day for a bike ride?
an even better day for a bike race!
time well spend

I filled my water bottle and got some food
some excellent food
gotta fuel up and recover
Kim and John really know how to throw a party

a good number of people are already there
more bodies are rolling in
the front yard is littered with bikes and bodies
the dogs are being entertained in the back yard

people throw sticks for John and Kim's dogs 
Kaos and Go Go get to chase beers in between sips of beer
it is an interesting culture this messenger culture
there is a pirateness to it all
a wildness with some serious camaraderie

the race is a shared experience

people are sharing their tales of pain and glory
what happened here... what nearly happened there...

what would have happened here... 
did you see that...

where is so and so...
this person dropped out...
this person lost their manifest...
this person left early before the mass start...

and of course...
there is a discussion about placing
who won? who thinks they won?

with all the racers in and the manifest in hand John Dinn goes to a secure location to take measure of the results

people eat and drink 
there is good food and good drink
people are indulging... I am over indulging
I need that slow cooker chicken recipe

results are in

then there were awards... a raffle... and then a group ride back into the city
good times for sure
time well spent

some raced the day prior... and other raced the following day
some racers raced all three
I was pleased to be able to experience one day of Alleycat racing
wanted to crack the top ten
was STOKED to finish 5th!

in the end I was frustrated that I did not have a GoPro on the bike for this race
there were some intense moments for sure
and well... having the camera running makes more sense then my unwrapping the camera from its case... pulling the lens cap... snapping a shot... then putting it all back together again

THANKS JOHN DINN and KIM for a great event and for hosting the after party
thanks to all who volunteered and all who raced!
be safe out there... watch your back... put your bike where you are most safe

A FILM COURIER CULTURE
http://vimeo.com/41872431

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Alleycat on the Gwadzilla Page

LINE OF SIGHT by Lucas Brunelle
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