Warriors of the Holy Cross

My first foray into bicycle racing left me on my knees begging for mercy. The Kiss Cross Cyclocross race, otherwise known as “racing for beer” is the sort of punishment dreamt up by fanatic bishops in Monty Python sketches minus the comfy chair. My family came out to watch me flounder like a fish on a bicycle on the Cannonburg ski hill north of Grand Rapids.

Let me describe the course. The start of the race was basically 3-4 inches deep in water and mud which ran for about 200 yards until it came to a steep uphill climb on what I can only assume is a mogul hill in winter. This uphill climb wound up and around, then peaked. Then the course looped down 50-80 yards until you were forced down a steep steep narrow trench. Then racing downhill across a single track bike path where you were priveleged enough to reclimb everything you just ascended, except on a more open hill with less traction exposed to the 20 knot winds. Descending again on wet grass through a windy turn where you were dropped unceremoniously and sereptiously in thick dark mud. Then the object was to make further lateral progress across the hill on somewhat passable terrain until you climbed again for maybe another 150 yards. Then you dropped again in slippery two track roads where a 6-8 inch deep mud puddle waited to suck you in like the scary witch monster from Legend. Slogging it out of that mud puddle brought you to the barricades where you dismounted and carried your bicycle to the bridge. Then they tease you with a short ride on pavement just to be really cruel. And finally just to make it interesting you get to decide between going back through the mud at the start, or fording a swift moving river with your bike on your shoulder.

Take that and multiply it by 7 in under 50 minutes.

I did 6 laps in 53:00 minutes which some of the old hats of the B race, (oh did I mention I did the sissy race?…There is an A race that does the same course but with 10 laps!!!) said that it was a valiant attempt, and that there was no shame in doing 6 on your first try based on the conditions. My sense of dignity is still left in that mud. I think marathons are way easier than cyclocross just for the record. There is no pace in cyclocross it is all balls to the walls sprinting up and down muddy hills. You can’t pace yourself, or detach mind from body at all. It is essentially surfing your bike through mud but with monumental, if not herculean effort.

I have to say all my prep was not wasted. My time at Fort Custer was spent on the technical descents and ascents. The climbs and drops at Ft. Custer were challenging from a bike handling perspective, but not challenging in terms of strength. This race took everything I had, and I was left wanting.

My hat is off to the A racers who must do 10 laps in 50 minutes, it defies the imagination, but challenges the spirit and gives me something to shoot for.

Nothing can say cyclocross quite as well as being completely covered in mud, including my teeth and ears, out of breath, and happy.

I have some friends who backed out of the race at the last minute. I see where they might think themselves wise, but I guess I really want to go back and do another one next year. I want to do all 7 laps under the time limit. Who knows I might actually place in my age group next time.

One final note, only the winners get beer… I guess it pays to be a winner.

More pictures my wife laura took, some make me look less than heroic.


  1. You should have come up to Cannonsburg yesterday! The weather was far more favorable to actual bicycle riding, photography, and spectating, although perhaps less favorable for epic storytelling. 🙂


  2. This sort of reminds me of my first 10k running race at Addison Oaks (all up and down hills). While you are competing you are in agony and when its over you are in in ecstasy.


  3. Keith,

    You and I spoke twice at the Kisscross race, once before and once post ride. I was wearing the yellow jacket. Good job on your first race, it’s an addicting sport. I race mountain bikes and thought I’d give cyclocross a try. Now I can’t wait until the next race! Hope to see you at the next race.


  4. Haha! Welcome to the dark side! The red-headed step child of road and mountain bike racing. No one wants to claim it! It’s addicting. I found “the cross” about 6 years ago and have recently strayed from the pack but I hope to return someday. It looks like you had true cross conditions. Enjoy. With regards to the course…. What? No run ups? wimps. 🙂

    Have fun. It’s an excuse to be a kid again and get mudddddddyyyyyyyiiipppeeee.