Lacy Kemp Column 2 header
Editorial

A Race to Absurdity

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Behold! A flying fart!

The year was 2000 something and I was fresh-faced and wide-eyed with wonder about all things mountain biking. I’d read about Whistler’s Crud 2 Mud ski/snow/mountain bike race and my curiosity was piqued. A snowboard race that morphed into a DH race? Costumes optional? Perfection! I donned my full-size whoopie cushion aboard the Whistler Gondola, crammed in with others in skin suits and various degrees of creative costuming as we hovered our way up to the Roundhouse Lodge. I was about to test the aerodynamics of what was tantamount to a flesh-colored parachute heading down Whiskey Jack, Expressway, and eventually A-Line. It was pure chaos and it completely changed what I love about biking.

The first year I participated in Crud 2 Mud, I was out of my element. Whistler's competitors are FIERCE and do not mess around. I watched the tactics unfold while getting absolutely trounced by the other racers. Snowboarders brought ski poles to help scoot through the mushy sections. The race could be won or lost at the transition stage when you move from snow to bikes. Skiers always had to take off their boots, but some snowboard boots were just rubbery enough to work. One year I pioneered the duct tape effect where I wrapped my boots in thick loops of duct tape, and stabbed them against my flat pedals which made ride feel akin to being clipped in while wearing clown shoes. It was damn near perfection and even netted me a silver medal. This strange form of competition was my jam!

Whoopie Cushion

The ol' Whoopie Cushion cruising down the Crud 2 Mud course in Whistler.

Mountain biking feels so...official these days, so in the words of the late, great Joker, “Why so serious?”

I went through a phase when I considered being serious, too. Once upon a time, I raced downhill bikes, and by “race” I mean I entered into downhill competitions and did not ride very fast, because it turns out I don’t actually know how to do that. Each time I dropped into a race run I’d pedal my face off with intentions of hitting the podium, but then I’d recognize someone cheering on the sidelines and say hello as I rode by breathless, or I’d see the photographer and I’d smile, maybe try to wave, and probably crash. I vividly remember racing the Pro GRT in Port Angeles while a dude on the sidelines helicoptered me as I went by. That image is forever burned into my brain. Feel free to tap into Urban Dictionary if you need clarification on that term.

I put immense pressure on myself to try to land on the podium, but I rarely got there. Frankly, I just wasn’t able to level up when it mattered most, but I still wanted to be a part of the idea of racing so I tried to find a way to make it my own. I noticed all the fast people wore jerseys with their names on the back. My insecurities prevented me from getting a real race jersey so instead I found a Shawn Kemp jersey at Goodwill and figured that would suffice. You’d be amazed by how many people asked me if he was my father. In fact, people still ask me that question. Folks, I’m a white lady who’s 5’3” on a good day. I digress. This was during a time when the Sonics were still cool and the memory of an NBA franchise in Seattle was still somewhat fresh (thanks for nothing, Howard Schultz). I started showing up in all kinds of weird “race kits,” my favorite being a child-sized Ricky Bobby Wonderbread skinsuit. If you ain’t first you’re last, and I was usually last on the timesheet, but I was definitely having a ton of fun mixing a bit of silly with racing.

Lacy Kemp column2

The Ricky Bobby skin suit at an earlier Alley Cat race.

I wanted to scratch the itch that Crud 2 Mud created so I sought out more unconventional events. I took part in my first Alley Cat race around 2009, loving the mix of strategy, scavenger hunting, and wayfinding. In 2010 I was invited to race in what was called The Gravity Experiment taking place on Halloween in Bellingham. It was a good old-fashioned klunker race. No suspension allowed. Coaster brake mandatory. I found a shitty Schwinn cruiser that met the criteria, slapped a Transition Bike Company sticker on it to jive with the locals, wore my best Axl Rose costume, and made my way north.

klunker1

A weapon of choice.

I met up with about 20 other weirdos dressed in all kinds of questionable attire: dudes in very skimpy drag, a pirate, a robot, a taco, and someone riding with a pumpkin on their head. We piled into the back of a rented U-Haul and rumbled in the darkness to the top of the hill. One by one we raced our way down one of Bellingham’s most prolific trail networks. It was my first time ever riding a klunker and it was a stupid amount of fun trying to master my foot position with braking. I crashed an ungodly amount of times as riders flew past me in their absurd outfits. It was a battle of staying upright and heckling your friends on the way down. I fell in love with Bellingham and that wondrously odd community that day. So in love that I ended up moving there. They loved bikes, loved racing against the grain, and loved combining the two.

On a birthday a few years ago, I decided to take matters into my own hands. Instead of throwing a huge bash or heading to some exotic location, I hosted my very first alley cat race—a hybrid mountain bike/urban challenge. The only rules were that riders had to choose one bike to use for the entire event and no e-bikes were allowed. Half the race took place on Galbraith Mountain and half throughout downtown Bellingham. The manifest had about 25 checkpoints and it was impossible to complete all the tasks, so strategy was key. I can’t express the sheer hilarity and joy I found each time I’d run into a team mid-ride covered in face paint, wearing something absurd, and probably in the middle of some questionable task. It was the start of something wild.

That race has garnered a bit of a cult following in Bellingham. It’s as far from serious as you can get, but it’s a seriously good time. This past Halloween we had nearly 200 riders "competing.” We offered a hefty cash purse, and prizes for best costume, best trick, best crash, and best feat of strength. We had an airbag to hit, an ocean to swim in, pumptracks to pump, on-mountain trick or treating, a stop where riders eat ice cream and get a slap to the face while consuming it, and a bar known for being frequented by serial killers. It brings people out of the woodwork for one day each fall and it’s become my favorite day of the year.

When I was looking out at the crowd of people smiling and milling around about to start the Alley Cat last October, I thought back to that first Crud 2 Mud and how all those years ago I was one of those people seeking something just for the fun of it. Something that built camaraderie, brought the fun back to biking and made me want to be a part of something unique, while still participating in the sport I love most. It feels like the essence of riding and community and to me, that’s what makes riding bikes so special.

There are many things to love about biking, but its universal language as something that brings joy to people is what matters most to me. Bikes don’t have to be the same for all people. Whether you want to race, ride after-work hot laps or use your bike as a creative way to commute—it’s all good. For me, I want the rush of racing without the pressure of winning. I want to moon my best friend while they’re hitting a big rock roll being roared at by someone dancing around dressed as a tiger. It makes no sense at all and that’s the feeling I chase on a bike—pure nonsensical euphoria. Yah, I know I’m weird, but I I’m not the only one likes to party to a different song. So, show me what you’ve got. Give me your wackiest bike experiences and I’ll meet you there dressed as human-sized whoopie cushion with a whiskey-filled squirt gun ready to annihilate whatever absurd competition you can throw my way. Let’s go!

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Comments

TristanC
+8 BarryW Pete Roggeman Mammal Lu Kz Mbcracken Velocipedestrian Beau Miller Curveball

I rode in a fat bike race two weeks ago. I was out there with friends and we had three goals:

1. Finish;

2. Consume as many beers and as much food in the woods as possible. I had: two PBRs, one shot of Malört, half a pound of bacon, two bacon and cheese English muffin sandwiches, a pierogi, a chili dog and an unreasonable amount of maple syrup and chocolate;

3. Don't let the single snowshoe competitor beat us (we caught him right before the finish but also he started 20 minutes after us so...)

It was a ton of fun!

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NotEndurbro
+2 BarryW TristanC

I can't get myself to stop for the fun stuff so I end up riding back to Hugs and Bacon from the finish for Malort and beers. Always a good time at Polar Roll whether you're RACING or "racing".

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rigidjunkie
+6 Mike Ferrentino Pete Roggeman Mammal BarryW bishopsmike Curveball

My favorite ride that I missed was a birthday try-athalon which was more of a decathlon but my friend who invited me had no concept of tri being reference to 3.  "Competitors" started by shotgunning a beer, then riding a 16-inch bike around a pump track, backflip on a trampoline (or 3 fails then move on), that stupid thing where you put your forehead on a baseball bat and spin around, shoot a Red Rider BB gun and hit a target, and I believe the final challenge was riding around the house to a rather poppy jump over a disturbingly large bonfire there was a shot in the mix somewhere and a few other physical challenges.  

That same group did a Halloween night ride that involved drinking stations on the trail.  If memory serves me, we started with 20 people and about 10 of us ended up so drunk they had to drive a truck into the woods and drive us out.  Someone wore a werewolf costume and I distinctly remember dropping my bike and running in absolute terror about 4 steps before I ran straight into a tree in the utter darkness.  

I really miss doing amazingly stupid stuff.

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lacykemp
+2 Beau Miller Curveball

I laughed out loud at the werewolf image in my head. I’ve considered doing a night race on the Winter Solstice up on the mountain but the weather can be so unpredictable and awful. But if I do I’m absolutely going to have scare stations like that.

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HughJass
+4 KavuRider Pete Roggeman Mammal BarryW

I remember the flight of the pigs! I did an Alley Cat relay race in Flagstaff many years ago. Cruiser bikes through campus, road bikes to the trails, XC bikes up the mountain, DH bikes down. Everyone had a dozen eggs they had to pass between teammates and then the team had to finish a 40 at the bottom. I rode the DH stage and went over the bars. I think we got second but I have no idea. 

That was 15 years ago and I still love the memory. Controlling the laughter was the hardest part. I need to recreate that now.

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lacykemp
+3 Pete Roggeman HughJass BarryW

Oh I am 100% using the egg idea. That sounds like complete chaos. Recreate it! Do it! Your community will be PUMPED. It’s wild how many people turn up for these things.

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HughJass
+2 Lacy Kemp BarryW

I’m motivated. Back then there was no worry of liability or permissions, someone just did it. I think I will start with just a friend group unofficial and go from there. Now with a kid, there might have to be a kid race at a park to cap off the chaos.

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BarryW
+2 HughJass Velocipedestrian

Lacy, 

Where, when, how do I sign up or what do I need to do to get an invite. 

This sounds like the best version of riding bikes for joy I can imagine.

Great writing btw. Reading reviews might make the bike/gear nerd in me get excited, but this sparks the pure fun an joy center and that's why I got hooked on bikes in the first place.

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lacykemp
0

It's always the Saturday before Halloween. Find me on the 'grams and I'll post about it there as it gets closer. @lacykemp

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BarryW
0

Got no social media in my life...

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Curveball
0

Me neither. That's why I have my teenage son look up stuff for me.

He's up on the 'Ham and should do the Alley Cat.

mikeferrentino
+7 Pete Roggeman HughJass Carlos Matutes mnihiser BarryW taprider Curveball

Speaking of athletic absurdism as art form, there was a cadre of riders from Virginia/West Virginia a loooong time ago by the name of Hugh Jass. I met them at the 24 Hours of Canaan one year, where they were all racing aboard hooptie old 27" steel wheeled fixies. One of them was running ape hangers and a banana seat. Their main claim to fame - that weekend, because they had many, many other famous claims over the years - was sharing the same pair of Carrera denim-look Lycra shorts. Whenever a rider would come into the transition zone, the others would huddle round him with towels, the shorts would get changed onto the outgoing rider, and another lap would begin.

They came out to Moab a year or two later, and I loaded them up with LSD at some point during the event. Usually at the end of a 24 hour race, most people just want to go home and cry. Not Hugh Jass. Shining brightly, grinning maniacally, resplendent aboard their total shitpiles, they looked around at the crushed riders lounging in the dirt, and the Primary Hugh spoke up; "I don't know about you all, but I feel like going for a RIDE!" And with that, they clattered off into the desert for more of what they'd just been doing for the previous 24 hours. They needed capes.

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HughJass
+3 Mike Ferrentino BarryW bishopsmike

Sharing a chamois is next level commitment. I assure you I am not that HughJass but I respect those that came before me.

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Losifer
+3 Mike Ferrentino BarryW Curveball

I got a chance to hang out with those guys (and sleep on Mike Carpenter's floor) back at the first Shenandoah Mtn 100. 

Good people, but I'd rather not share a chamois with ANYONE.

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earleb
+3 Mike Ferrentino BarryW taprider

Soon as I saw the Hughjass name I thought of the infamous shared denim Lycra.

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kavurider
+2 BarryW HughJass

That Alley Cat sounds like a fun time!

The FOTP was cool, too bad its over now.

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Ceecee
+4 Lacy Kemp HughJass BarryW Curveball

Look out, helicopter parents

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kavurider
+3 HughJass BarryW Curveball

There used to be a ride here in Arizona called the Flight of the Pigs.  It was held the day after Thanksgiving and was about 70ish miles around the valley on some challenging trails.  But people showed up in costumes, the heaviest rider+bike was "the Pig", there were whiskey flasks and beer.  It was a tough ride, but not serious and a heck of a good time.  I did it 3 times and had a blast with each one.  I miss rides like that.

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MTB_THETOWN
+3 BarryW Velocipedestrian cornedbeef

Shout out to the guy who handed me a bong at the top of the climb halfway through the downieville classic

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kavurider
+1 HughJass

Love the stories so far.

I don't see events like this much anymore...I'm not sure why.  I don't see a lot of people smiling on the trails anymore.

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Curveball
0

Yeah, I've gotten kind of old and boring. Time to change things up.

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FthisNewForumIsAnnoying
+1 BarryW

I remember when "racing" was fun

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earleb
0

Ah yeah the Ripper days. So much fun.

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NYDownhiller
+1 BarryW

This one time, a crazy lady I just met convinced me to do a nighttime DH race, in the rain, and basically blind. ;-)

One of the best races I've ever been a part of!

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lacykemp
0

I still have photos from that! Didn’t someone wear a chicken costume too?

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JVP
+1 Velocipedestrian

Lacy, I love your writing and the vibe you're bringing! More of this. Yes please to more weird racing and questionable antics.

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lacykemp
0

Did any ladies ever do the Betty and Veronica race? I always wanted to but never had the timing down to make it happen. That was a cool concept too.

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morgan-heater
0

Did you ever do the dead baby downhill? So rowdy, but pretty awesome.

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lacykemp
0

No, but I was just earning my bike stripes then so I wasn't quite ready. But I remember them and remember hearing the wild stories!

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Polymath
0

My old riding partner and I (at the time) both had Ellsworth Dares (2001).  We seriously considered getting a tandem Witness.  The real question was whom was going to be the stoker.......about a month after this idea came up we ran into a couple in Princess Park with a red Witness......we never bought the bike.  The Dare's were one hell of a bike however.....

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velocipedestrian
0

Fantastic stuff Lacy, I've entered precisely one race in the ~30 years I've been playing around on bikes in the dirt. If an event like this shows up in my 'hood I'll make it two.

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danithemechanic
0

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