Last year I was a sick spectator. Chris, his progeny, and I made the short drive to Philly and Big Guy’s Used Auto Parts to watch we knew not what. Immediately thereafter, we vowed to return with bikes and a registration.
It is morning one year later I’m kissing The Lovely Annalisa goodbye. She wishes me luck and says “You could take my wig you know.” WONDERFUL idea!
The gates to Bilenky Junkyard Cross don’t even open until 9 AM. Compared to our race last weekend, rolling in and parking at this hour feels downright lackadaisical. The best feeling however is the feeling of NOT THROWING UP. Last year’s demons have been vanquished and I feel Tony the Tiger GRREEAATT!
Chris and I are taking our sweet slow time getting out of the car and stepping into the cold. There seems little reason to hurry so we watch people mulling about unloading their bikes while we sip a good Cup-O-Skratch (Matcha + Lemons with natural caffeine for me). Our teammate Tammy Bonn swings her car into the lot and comes over for a hug. She unloads her beautiful Team Stampede Edition Tomii Cyclocross bike and we walk over to the junkyard to see what’s up.
Our first impression is that they’ve taken a step back and refreshed the spirit of the event this year. There are no tents. Just a bit of corrugated sheet metal for reg. There is no big brand emblazoned truck with monster speakers and merch hung all over it. Instead, there’s an old pickup with the hood open and half its parts gone.
There are speakers for the PA, and they are woeful. Go ahead and yell into the mic, we might hear half of it if we’re standing next to you.
So for a anyone who said this thing had gotten too big for its britches, stay home. It doesn’t need you.
Second impressions reinforce those gained last year…
If anyone asks you where the course is, say “right there” or “here” and you’ll be exactly right. If anyone asks you where to set their stuff, say “over there” or “here” and you’ll be pretty much correct. The course is delineated by junk. It takes up every open space and some that don’t look so open. Wherever you step, you are on course. So step AFTER looking, then look again before you step, or risk being run over by a moustachioed 6 foot Boy Scout in 70’s short shorts.
It sounds rough and tumble, and it is, but there’s an incongruity about it that is hard to explain. There’s beer and solo cups, but the beer is craft and I bought a Guava and Cream Cheese (Philly!) pastry for second breakfast. Tammy says her veggie wrap was to die for. There’s a “freak bike” made from an old car door but so is there a custom Quiros singlespeed cyclocross bike. This event strikes me as a great way to celebrate a love of cycling geekery, release some racing tension, and exorcise the frustrations from the salted roads and mid-atlantic winter that all local cyclists feel.
There are too many registered “Group B” riders to fit on the course at once so Mr. Bacon Suit divides us into 10 heats, then three semi-finals, and a final main event. Each heat has about 8 riders in it and you must be in the top 3 to advance. Simple and cutthroat.
My start is really good. We sprint up the junkyard’s paved driveway and make a sharp left through a gap in the fence. I get there first and lock up the rear tire to slide it around and shoot through the chain link.
Somewhere behind me there is mayhem. Handlebars hook on the only obstacle on that part of the course and take out half of the field, including Chris who is now stuck behind a man in a leopard print coat, a half-naked tutu wearing guy, and Captain America.
Rocketing between a couple of shipping containers I jump off my bike to run up over a wooden bridge and down a wobbly pile of mini-spares. I get back on my bike, pedal once, and jump back off again to jump over a row of tractor tires. I get heckled “RIDE IT!” but can’t tell if that is in regards to the tires or the teeter-totter now in front of me. I can’t help that I’ve already not ridden the tractor tires, so riding the teeter-totter is the best I can do for now. I teeter for a looooong time before tottering back down to the ground with a thump. Some “Sweat Hog” passes me as he avoids the teeter-totter. We ride a narrow and weedy path against a fence then struggle up a rocky incline back into the junk and towards the car(s)-over. I dismount, jump on the first car’s hood, and promptly fall on my ass as my shoes slip out from under me. I scramble up and then stumble off the other side, struggling back into the saddle and pedals. DUCK for the low bridge made from a Dodge/Plymouth Neon and scrabble for traction in the left turn. Hook around a hairpin now and then plunge into the junk-jungle of pathways through hoods, fenders, and bumpers. There’s a fence gap in here that is about 30 inches wide. It occurs to me now that there’s someone behind me with 31 inch bars, and I start laughing.
I dismount to climb onto a loading dock and run down the shingle of a shed-roof then pedal for the line and lap 2! The lap begins by entering the “Stabbin’ Cabin”, a camping trailer with the walls blown out. I get heckled by a chainsaw named “Heckler” and notice that it has a water bottle cage mounted to its side. Cute.
Oof! I clobber my head on the exit, on the other side of which someone has written “WATCH YOUR HEAD SUCKER” in black sharpie. Thanks for the (belated) warning, buddy.
Down the hill and rock the sketch dirt hillside detour then around the hairpin turn and hit the starting hill hard for a second time! I finish safely in 2nd place. Chris caught and passed 4th place Captain America, in part due to the aerodynamic penalty of the good captain’s shield, but couldn’t overcome the massive deficit from the early blockage and missed the top 3. Bummer.
Adding to the bummer side of the scale, Tammy jammed her knee into car#1 of the car(s)-over and wasn’t able to start her race. So bad luck relegated two members of Stampede to the cheering section. Actually, given the hazards of the course, the beer and food being handed out, and the general spectacle of it all, it wasn’t all that bad a deal.
The Semi-Final goes much the same way as the first heat. I grab the hole-shot and finish in 2nd place, advancing to the final round. The main note to take is that someone changed the course by moving the teeter-totter forward. Now it divides the row of tractor tires. Instead of being able to easily ride around the teeter-totter, you have to go over the tires if you want to avoid it. I want to ride my bike so I took the teeter-totter every time.
The final finally rolls around. I’ve successfully strategized my way into the first row but waste it all at the start by missing my pedal the first few tries. As a result, I’m 5th into the first corner. We are approaching the teeter-totter and the guys in front of me are weaving oddly across the course. I can’t tell what they are thinking!? Second place looks like he’s going for the teeter-totter though which means I won’t be able to use it. I jump off and run the tires, only to see him chicken out at the last minute and do the same. The teeter-totter sits there, sadly, un-teetered and un-tottered.
Somehow, I’ve made up two spots by jamming hard for the drop to the fence line and getting a good run over the cars. I enter the tight-and-twisties and try to go fast but end up bouncing my shoulder off of a car door while avoiding running over a piece of Pontiac trim. I’ve got to slow it down a bit. No one can pass in these tight confines anyhow.
Still in one rolling piece, I turn the corner that leads out into the open and THERE’S A FENDER! It seems that as the spectators drink more, and stand out in the cold more, they get more ideas about mid-race course modifications. You know, to liven things up a bit? I skid to a stop amid the heckling and grab the fender to fling it as far and high as I can. A cheer goes up! I have no idea where the fender flew other than “away.”
This episode has allowed the guy wearing a Camelbak and a “CUTTERS” T-shirt to muscle his way past. We shoulder-shove each other around the corner but he’s on the inside as we stumble over the loading dock and gets in front. We’re speeding towards the “Stabbin’ Cabin” when I catch sight of a stumbling, no, DANCING, pair of red pajamas heading in the same direction. Hang on. Those red pajamas have a white beard and fur lined red hat. SANTA! Santa is in the way and the Camelbak kid in the CUTTERS T-shirt is… BOOF…
Santa has drunkenly stumbled into the racecourse and taken out my competition, gifting me 3rd place. Thanks Santa!
Half a lap later, I’m jumping off the cars and catch 2nd place. His rear tire is flat but he’s riding it anyway. I keep trying to go around but he’s on the edge of control and slews across my path every time. We go into the tight and twisties and all I can do is ride behind him and wait until we get out of here. See me calmly biding my time behind this guy like a respectable adult bike racer?
There’s daylight at the exit and he pedals hard causing his rear tire to slide out while I just fit through and I hear a heckler yell “Go Blue Hair! I’ve got money on you!”
I fly up to the finish line where someone sticks their arm out with some fuzzy orange thing at the end of it. I guess that’s for me so I snag it and cross the line in second place amid shouts of “You found Nemo!”
Phew. Race done. Not won, but done, and what a lot of FUN! I’m already looking forward to next year. But what about Nemo? I look around for someone to take him but settle for leaving him on the water heater at the edge of the course. Someone standing nearby says “Don’t worry. I’ll see to it that he gets taken care of.” Aww. What great people!
Thanks to Tammy for the support and Chris for the same plus sticking around to get the ultimate podium shot. Though lets keep things in perspective here, I did have the keys to the car.
Links and acknowledgements:
- ALL my photos are here http://photos.at-speed.com/Cycling/Races/Bilenky-Junkyard-Cross-2014/
- A.E. Landes watermarked images courtesy of A.E. Landes Photography
- Thanks to Chris Heerschap for the use of his photos.
- Thanks to Chris for taking photos with my camera when I couldn’t.
- Photos by Adam Nawrot
- Radavist – Racin’ Bikes in a Junkyard – Chris Lee
- Dirt Rag – Trail Talk With Cush – Going to the Junkyard