The Paris to Ancaster “Psycho” Cross Country Race: A tale of the triumph of the Iron Princess containing within it an ode to boys.
The course consists of 20km of gravel and dirt roads, 18km of rail trail, 13km of singletrack (1-3km sections), 8km of paved road and about 3 tons of mud – give or take a ton. It ends with a climb up a dirt hill surrounded by more hills on top of which are perched, like vultures, various onlookers cheering you on (not so much like vultures, that part). On the side of the road are the fallen warrior men (never a woman) screaming in pain at the cramping of their quads. If someone would just play Ride of the Valkryies over a loud speaker, the scene would be complete.
In short IT IS FANTASTIC.
It is also very very male. Really male.
Now, I like males. I really do. They have within them such a core of self-assuredness that they will show up at the above race with a piece of crap bike that looks like grampa used it during the Second World War. This is admirable, but stupid. I’ve elected to be in the third of three waves and it is by far the most unattractive group of bikes I’ve ever seen. There are kickstands, fenders, handmade whatchamacallits and doohickies. One guy is wearing a golf style wind breaker and a pair of pants. People are massively overdressed as newbies always are.
Off we go and within a few kilometres the side of the trail starts to be littered with mechanical breakdowns. Clearly, male self-assuredness, absent of bike tune-ups, is actually highly overrated by the self-assured males.
But you know, you’ve got to love them, when they aren’t parked in the left track of the rail trail holding you up.
I’ve decided that what this race needs, to offset the testosterone, is a dollar store tiara on my helmet. It is brilliant. I knew that the women out there would love it, it’s so very Barbie, but the men are having a good laugh as well. And there is something about wearing your own personal crown jewels that gives you that perhaps unfounded belief in your ability to ride a ridiculously varied course on whatever 2 wheels you have lying around the house. Ah ha, so that’s it – my dollar store crown jewels gave me the same abilities as those crown jewels that the men though they too were wearing, snuggled up in their bike shorts.
As we whip throught the Ontario spring countryside I point out to my fellow competitors all the pretty flowering trees so they can tell their wives about them later. As I past them of course.
I LOVE CHICKING GUYS. Is that wrong?
I pop out of a mud trail onto a road I recognize as the start of the short course race and, checking my watch, am dismayed to see that it took me 1:35 to ride 25 km. Given that I finished the next 35 km (the short course) last year in 2:27 I’m feeling a little down that I’m going to be over 4 hours. I honestly thought it was doable in 3:15 which would have put me in about the same placing as last year’s short race. This year I absolutely refuse to not PB every single race I do. I just refuse, so clearly I need to somehow PB this one somehow.
I’m mentally kicking myself for walking so much of the mud in the first portion but I know what’s ahead of me and, except for the formal mud hills, the trails are pretty much going to be dry. Riding a cyclo-cross bike also gives me an edge on the portion left as it’s not quite so technical. Mental readjustment and it’s back on.
So, I start sailing past those boys, down in the drops to fight the wind, cursing the fact that I’ve dropped behind and I’m now faster than everyone so I can’t find anyone to draft off of. Not that I don’t receive some drafting attention, notably from a guy who tells me he’s never done it before but can he draft off of me. Sure I say but then proceed to put the hammer down to shake him off. I just didn’t want any newbies with kickstands taking me down. Sure the scars would look impressive but I might ding up my tiara.
On we go, over hill, dale, farmer’s fields, rail trails and fast happy pavement. Two guys on a tandem go down behind me as we struggle through muddy tractor tracks and I watch the process of remounting before seeing them take off yelling in tandem as they tackle the ruts. I do a bit of my own self encouragement a little later on as I get to the top of a forest trail hill that suddenly seems to end in an awful lot of loose dirt.
And then, the mud, the famous part of the race. We are all corralled into a steep little valley not much more than maybe 10 feet wide with mud oozing over our shoes. The husband, having seen someone loose one of their shoes last year, counselled a tight fit. I’ve ratcheted them on but I can still feel them slip around in the suction. The other key to success is to carry your bike so as not to gather up 5 pounds of mud on your frame. Another bonus of the cross is that it’s much lighter than the mountain bikes around me and I manage to carry it all the way to dry land.
After the mud is a brief respite of pavement and hard pack dirt roads. And then there is more mud. It was so much fun the first time that the course steers you into another mud valley. Same routine, carry the bike, hold onto the shoes, scrape off the cleats, remount.
I’m getting tired here but I’m pretty sure that the race is almost over and when I see the “chewed up” dirt road I know that we’re starting the uphill slog to the finish line. All I can do at this point is to stay on my bike as much as possible as I work my way through massive ruts and small ponds. Then, the final ascent has me off my bike, calves burning at the angle and I walk to the top. You can’t walk the finish line however – that would be shameful so it’s back on and I ride across the mat.
So, how about the personal best dream. Well, I sailed through the second part of the race over 20 minutes faster than last year so I’m taking a PB both on the 35k route and the 60k. I may not have placed as well as hoped on the 60 but it’s always a PB for the first time.
I've come to believe that the very essence of our humanness is found with endurance sports. They are seemingly solitary, self absorbed pursuits but those of us who take that route to life know, perhaps more than others, that we are a team out there.
Please take your life and use it up, wear it out, get blisters, chafe and sunburns. If you choose triathlon, and I hope you do, I wish you well on that journey. You will take on a lifestyle that is unparalleled. Either way, drop me a line, tell me your story.