Or: I get by with a lot of help from my friends.

I usually spend the days after Night Weasels completely blissed out in memories of the roar of the crowd, Ryan Kelly announcing each race and giving us all humorous, but benign shoutouts that make even the scrubbiest of scrub zone riders bask in a pro-like glow, melodic strains from an epic playlist and the ever-present burning pain of having to climb up a hill and terror of having to careen down it while turning a bunch of times. I also spend a lot of time kicking myself for not choosing better lines or not having the legs to counterattack someone that just passed me for the last time.

But mostly, just remembering how much fun everyone was having: even when it hurts. Even when your legs are screaming at you and begging you not to go up that stupid hill again. It’s just fun. Look at these smiles:

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The Cat 5 lads (Doug, Mickey and Remy) burned in the remaining sunlight and it was very hot out. For all of Doug’s jokes about how the only way he could ever beat Remy is if Remy had a mechanical, it was awfully suspicious that Remy got a flat right when he was in the top third of the race after getting an impromptu downhill cornering clinic from the amazing Roni Vetter (whose butt is probably way more internet-famous than mine).

In exchange for a burrito from Tenoch, I caught a ride to the race with Doug and Remy, friends made through the Boston Cyclists Union. We like the BCU because a lot of us commute to and from work via bicycle and ride home from practice. When you’re already tired from a long day of work and skill sharpening, the last thing you want to worry about are unsafe road conditions. The BCU works to bring about change in the Boston area, whether getting City Hall to put more protected bike lanes in heavily-trafficked corridors, creating educational materials for drivers of large vehicles to safely operate around people biking in urban environments as part of the Joe Lavins Memorial Fund for Bike Safety (Joe worked at the same place as me), getting more people on bikes through their Bike to Market program, or showing businesses the potential increase in customer base by becoming bike-friendly through events like the Taco Tour and Game of Cones. I have noticed that my commute to and from work and CX practice has gotten significantly less stressful over the past few years and it’s due to the hard work of advocacy groups like the BCU. So, this shameless plug is just my way of thanking them.

Anyway back to Dah Night Weasel. I had a lot of fun spectating and trying to come up with good heckles for our Positive Affirmation Heckle Zone™. Allison had brought some of the obnoxious noisemakers we got from Jessie and Dan’s wedding, so when I couldn’t think of anything to say, I just made a lot of clanging noises with a tambourine/cymbal shaker thing. Allison repeatedly yelled at people at the barriers if they had their saddles in their armpits. Teammate Ella came up with a few really good heckles, which I wish I saw on my Instagram last night, but I’ll share them here for future reference:

  • YOUR BUTT LOOKS GREAT IN THAT KIT (I’m only comfortable yelling this at my boyfriend though.)
  • YOUR SHIFTING IS WORKING GREAT
  • YOUR REMOUNT IS MUCH IMPROVED
  • THOSE SOCKS ARE FABULOUS

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Allison, Mickey and I chill under the tent and think hi-viz thoughts while heckling the men’s 4/5 and 3/4 races.

Then everyone’s favorite Canadian (other than Maghalie Rochette) Katie appeared, who has not been forced to return to Canada just yet. While we are sad to see her go, we were even more sad to not see her race. However, we were super-stoked that she showed up at all just to hang out with us. Katie, no matter how far north you go: once a MonsterTrucker, always a MonsterTrucker.

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When it came time for Allison and me to step up for the women’s race, we looked on in horror as a pileup happened in the first few seconds of the elite women’s 30 seconds ahead of us. We all made a tacit agreement to avoid doing that, though accomplishing that is always tricky with a straight gravel path that’s a lot like riding over loose marbles followed by a sharp left turn into dusty grass and right turn into even bumpier dirt in the dark. To my surprise, I found myself in fifth position going up the climb. Yet somehow a stationary telephone pole log barrier snuck up on me on a left turn and i had to awkwardly dismount/remount while five other people passed me, including Allison, who was thinking “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” I honestly have no idea.

This shook me enough to have a hard time on the bumpy, turny descent. I don’t remember much in between the first and the last lap other than watching myself drifting backwards through the field, taking regressively terrible lines through corners, vainly trying to claw my way back up only to completely run out of gas to the point I had to dismount and run the dirt bump near the top of the hill.

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Extra props to Grant for making me actually look fast as I was riding past the team tent. Despite the smile, I was in absolute agony at this point. A common symptom of Night Weaseling.

After the race, a lot of us just lay on the grass in between parts of the course, breathing heavily, in utter disbelief that we actually finished. Smiles and high fives all around. I wish I could have been there to see Maghalie Rochette finish with the confetti cannon, but alas I was way the hell on the other side of the course when that happened. I was a bit glum from my fall from grace, but a beer and a box of French fries later and all was well. We cheered on Grant in the men’s elite race, yelling at him to MonsterTruck until our throats became all hoarse and scratchy.

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Grant down on the boardwalk (but not by the sea). Though we don’t see the usual pain rictus, we can tell Grant is smiling on the inside because his sock game is on point. He is completely in thrall to Dah Night Weasel. [Photo courtesy of Katie Busick, one of NECX’s photographers extraordinaire]

On the way home, Doug pulled into a gas station and between the three of us, figured out how the free air pump worked and filled up the tires on his girlfriend’s van until the tire pressure light finally turned off (it had been blinking the whole way over, but hey we had a bike race to get to, check in at reg and preride). It really does take a village.

As much fun as I had, I kept ruminating about my finish in 14th despite starting in fifth position. But then I looked at my Strava recordings from years past. Sadly, I did not have a recording of my first year in 2013. While my best finish placement-wise was in 2015, my highest average and max speeds were from this year.

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And my barrier technique transformed over time as well. The second picture was from QuadCross, not Night Weasels, but it was from this year.

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Hence why I subtitled this “Marginal Gainz.” I look at the data and see that I’m getting stronger and faster, maybe even a bit smarter in some places (like last week at Midnight Ride when I gained four spots in the last lap because I somehow knew right when Darcy was going to attack on the fire road), but I still have a long way to go, especially since every year the field also gets stronger and faster. As frustrated as I can get with myself, I can still see progress. And I’m just as proud to see the progress and development of the women’s field, especially my teammates. Allison got fourth at both Midnight Ride and Night Weasels! Both Allison and Brie took first places on each day of the 2016 Really Rad Festival of Cyclocross respectively.

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Thus, we circle back to the second subtitle of this post: I get by with a lot of help from my friends. I don’t think I could push myself as hard or love this sport as much as I do if not for the great people in it. You know that scene in a lot of fighting video games/anime shows where the main character gets a boost up from all of their friends to launch a final attack against the monster? That’s pretty much what I picture when I’m deep in the pain cave. I hear Allison telling me to keep pedaling, to not put my saddle in my armpit. At some point, I’ll probably hit my limit break and inadvertently destroy the course with a huge fireball or something, but not yet. I’ll end this with a few words from one of the greatest voices to arise from the depths of the internet: Chuck Tingle.