“Can’t you see the tears roll down the street” – Stevie Ray Vaughan
Indeed I saw the tears roll down, figuratively and literally, in one bizarre Sunday morning riddled with flashbacks of bar fights, Embrocation Magazine squeegie maneuvers, and homemade chicken mole. It was a stunned awakening on the gray drab of Austin that was soon to be tweeted around the world as the cyclocross race that almost never was. Before I lay into the surreal moments that I woke up to with a mild hallucinatory state, there was so much more that was worth reminiscing about in two flights and an eight hour travel back to Chicago.
I lived in San Antonio, TX for just over two years of my teen life, and had found solace in nearby Austin. The city was weird then, and it continues to thrive in the passion of the counter Texas culture while still wrapped up in its lone star pride like a warm tortilla. I vaguely remember the Jane’s Addiction show in 1991 at The Coliseum, but the river and the park are a crystal clear memory, down to the scent of the Texas shrubs.
That scent caught my attention again this past week, it lingers ceremoniously around the river, and Zilker Park, giving the metropolitan view a whiff of Texas country. I relished it now over 20 years later as a different kind of hooligan, the kind that came to see the backdrop of the Texas capital famous for live music, turned into the arena of cyclocross orgasm for the National Championship. It was my first time away from work in just over a year, I was ready, and I came with my trusty crew to lay havoc with our heckles and screams for all our midwest brethren. Austin did not disappoint me.
We rented a fabulous set of cottages nestled in the Old Austin neighborhood of Terry Heights. Highly recommend the Casa Kenwood, for those looking for an alternative to the hotel atmosphere and still be accessible to the Austin metro area it’s most famous for. Uber, a bicyle, and my feet made the most of getting around town in a self sufficient and gratifying way. Breakfast tacos seem to disappear before my eyes at every turn of the Congress mile and food truck lot nearby. USA Cycling arranged for a number of after parties that brought good crowds and stirred up the spirit of the cyclocross party gangs in every team, with ample opportunity to Instagram your fave hero shot as the pros are known to accommodate so easily. The first few nights were calm blur of high fives, bad choices in drink mixes, and the random Brian Worthy sighting in his iconic orange puffy jacket. I grabbed a second dinner at Lucy’s Fried Chicken on Wednesday evening that landed me in a great conversation with the famed Zapata Espinosa, better known as Zap, of whom I had followed among the pages of Mountain Bike Action in the ’90s. Frog legs were ordered, fried chicken livers were munched on, and swigs of Pearl, made for a great backdrop of the dirtastic conversation of our mutual love of gravel biking.
Sometime on Thursday, my mother stopped by with my sister and her kids to drop off a homemade gift of mole, rice, and tortillas to fill my friends with Latin soul. A double chocolate cake was also involved, I satisfied all the housemates, and then some.
The venue was stellar, honestly. A few easy miles that meandered the Austin river front brought us to Zilker Park where tent cities filled the lots and a course draped in Volkswagen blue fencing awaited us. The technicality of the course was it’s primary feature when viewed at any angle. It was up, and down, and a lot chicane twists that made use of every inch of the park features. This included a gnarly run up of made of shale and craggy rocks. It was what I would expected out of a state known for its exaggeration of everything. The races from Wednesday through Friday were calm, tough, and with over 30 midwesterners showing up for the fight, every bit worth watching for. I even escaped to get a ride in along Barton Springs that took me, Embrocation Cycling, and a Robot Powered by Love, to the rocky, swift, natural trails that graced the parkside. It was the highlight of the trip to explore new paths and be included in the warm aura of the springs on a chilly day in Texas.
Somewhere between that ride and the next morning, I witnessed a bar fight, and had a 4:00AM firepit chat with kind friends dispensing sage of the twilight hours. We figured we’d have a few hours to sleep in before the big show, until of course, the actual morning plan that awaited us.
Eight o’clock came fast, and my phone started chirping maniacally. My roommate’s phone too, had also taken onto vibrating fits. Something was amiss as media friends and our own crew starting live social mediating between race officials, the twitterati, and us. Blurbs came across from ‘race cancelled’ to ‘lance gives last ditch effort’. It was a horrid ball of confusion as to exactly what was going on, and our hungover disposition didn’t digest the news well. We were in a silent disarray with a whole house awoken with the details and stunned at the communiques that soon followed. We were heartbroken, and I personally was very upset for everyone who had travelled to enjoy a great race day. The dust had settled and some people chose to go home, and some were already booked for the next day but leaving earlier than the new start times for the races, so effectively still losing the opportunity to spectate the elites take the City of Austin on, as that is what it became, the race against Austin’s 5:00 traffic jam. I saw the elite race, in pixelated slow motion video granted to me by the San Antonio International Airport. It was bittersweet, and I was okay with that because it wasn’t the racers themselves I came to see, it was the friends I came to spend it with. Of course, our awesome Chicago crews that came down south of whom we supported as their biggest traveling fan club, are to thank for their dedication to this great sport and finishing another incredible year of Chicago Dirtbaggin’.
I believe that Sunday would have been a well attended spectacle of fierce competition and love for the weird City of Austin, but instead I will giggle everytime I think of the Austin Heritage Tree Foundation as a group of ne’er-do-wellers sending out a 911 web alerts while rocking out to Rush’s ‘The Trees’.
I did dance with a unicorn, so there’s that.