Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Alley Cat Racing

There's always a lot of uncertainty, loneliness, messiness, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed with life.  Then there are days like Saturday when I wake up with a clear vision of my mission, secure in my place in the world and what I need to do.  Which, of course, is to ride my bike, or, even better, race it!
The first race, The Dirty Dozen, was a follow up to last year's Kuchen Rennen (cake run), and the fifth year in a row an OBRA team has stepped into the gooey gutter that is alley cat racing.  Teams of five started out sharing a dozen donuts each.  Hell, it was free breakfast.  Team Messerschmidt finished eating first and took off in formation for the furthest out checkpoint at the Lumberyard.

Each stop had a unique, or not so unique, task for us to complete.  Most of them involved some variation on squats, which certain bloggers with bad backs were incapable of doing.  Team alley cats are new for me, and can be tough as routing decisions are made by consensus instead of gut.  But, more brains are better, and we created a tight efficient pack, staying together for most of the race.

The hard part for me was being left behind at the final checkpoint when three of our five were suddenly competitive and shot ahead without two of us.  We didn't see them again til the finish line, where we were presented with the terrible news that we were disqualified for skipping a checkpoint.

While we waited for the other teams to come in, I felt itchy to leave and ride the couple of miles to the missed checkpoint, but the team was dissolving quicker than an electrolyte tab in a water bottle, so that was a no go.  My first ever DNF for an alley cat race: a very sad feeling.
Beer Mongers Cycling Club won, and they sure deserved it.  They were all in full kit, and really demonstrated true teamwork and sportsmanship.  Plus, they ate four dozen donuts.  The prizes outnumbered the racers, which is always a good ratio.  As a fundraiser for the Oregon Food Bank, this was also a good thing, as many folks invested a few bucks for a fist full of raffle tickets.

After drinking much of my raffle winnings, I jetted off to the next race, the 40Cat.  This race was put on by genuine bike messengers and is a spin off from the West Side Invite, which has been going on for a dozen or so years.  The first alley cat race I did in Portland back in '03 was part of this great culture created by messengers and the West Side Invite organizers.

Two hours after our meet time, we were given our manifests.  I quickly scanned mine and picked out the three west side destinations, and more importantly, my first stop: Montgomery Park.  I'd figure out the east side stops later.  The map in my brain was activated and hot.  I clipped in and looked up.
Then, the strangest thing happened.  The organizer gave everyone time, like twenty minutes of time, to map their route on their smart phones.  Not only was I twice the age of most of the kids there, but I was realizing what a curmudgeon I'd become in my idea of what alley cat racing is.  I was really putting the old in old school.

Back (way back) in my messenger days, alley cats were a ready-set-go scramble where racers read their manifests and charted their course on the bike.  Races were an all comers contest of speed, compromising laws safely, thinking on your feet, and knowing all the right short cuts.  In the dozens of races I organized or raced in, not a single one gave racers time to plan their route.  But, alas, those were the old days and the next generation will do what they will.  I'm just glad they're still putting on races.

We all sprinted off together toward Montgomery Park, where racers had to gather ten stones to carry with them.  By the end of the race, I'd have thirty stones total in my jersey pockets.  I kept seeing racers everywhere, even way over on the east side near the now-demolished Lafayette train bridge.

Racers were equipped with trash bags and latex gloves so they could gather road kill to win the CARCASS bonus.  I didn't see any roadkill, but I was happy to have the gloves when told to grab a huge prickly thistle plant by the roots and carry it to the finish line.  Due to the aforementioned bad back, I had mounted a rack and pannier for carrying stuff and was really happy to have that thistle there instead of on my back, with its flyaways flying off behind me.

Finally back to the Fremont Bridge, I was the second lady in.  Of two ladies.  But it was still good to finish, to not win the DFL award, or get another dreaded DNF.  By the time I got home, my odometer read 67.  67 miles of urban riding, most at breakneck speed.  A good day with lots of lessons learned.
The innermost ingredient to my cycling identity comes from those long passed messenger days, which can be recaptured on a day like last Saturday.  These unsanctioned street races, or alley cat races, light up that part of me and renew my instincts on the road.  They remind me who I am and where I came from.  The alley cat scene is alive and well in Portland, and so am I.

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