When your bike shop buddy asks if you want to help sponsor the Wednesday Night Cyclocross at Aquila Park on September 21st of 2016 you simply say yes. You then mark your calendar, set up some soft goods, take the day off from your full time job and be ready for a full day of bicycles, nature, good people, and a fun atmosphere. All taking place in the middle of a first ring suburb known as St. Louis Park.
Fun Fact: Al Franken and the Coen Brothers are both from St. Louis Park. Within this fact you have comedy, politics, brilliantly messed up movies with a lot of murder and mayhem. “There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’tcha know that?” — Marge Gunderson
So Wednesday the 21st comes quickly. The shop is ready, John and I are ready and the day is looking, well…sorta awesome, weather wise, and potentially dismal. With cooler temps and rain in the forecast the possibility of the race getting canned is actually pretty good. Being in a city park and all, the idea of the park getting torn up from wet and muddy conditions is kind of a deal breaker. So we meet at noon and get straight to work.
Here is what you mostly need to set up a cyclocross course:
- A large plot of land. Preferably with some hills, trees, nice grass, and other potentially cool topography features
- A shit ton of stakes for marking out the course
- Caution Tape or the like to make the staked out course make sense
- A start and finishing line area
Really, that is all you need to make a go at it. Wednesday Night CX (aka WNCX) is way more refined than what is simply listed above, but the main idea of it all wraps up within those few parameters. With chip timing, multiple race choices, sweet locally sponsored atmosphere and a great centralized spot, it is a great way to learn the sport without feeling the intimidation factor of what CX can look like. A red-lined sufferfest of cycling greatness.
So the stakes and caution tape get dropped off and we are all set to start making up the course. Really at this point you take a good look around, figure out where your start and finishing lines are going to exist and begin to work forward and make something out of it all. We noticed quite quickly that the dips, hills, trees, roots, ruts and natural flow of the park would help navigate and dictate much of what the course would look like. So even though we had a pretty good plan of what it would end up looking like on paper, the process left us with quite a different course than maybe what was imagined in the first place, and we were okay with that.
The process took us about 2 and a half hours to get handled. Once the stakes are all laid out properly we went back and laced in the caution tape. It was actually quite a sight to see how the park transformed from a spotty mess of stakey goodness to a flowy, rich, fun maze of bright yellow caution tape amongst nature. Next time a time lapse video of the situation would be a great idea. Once the course was all set and ready we started staging the registration area. With the multiple tents, trailer, truck and everything needed to stage a rad bike event we were set up quickly and efficiently.
Then the clouds formed a little darker above us and opened up a cleansing rain that could have put a real damper on the whole thing. Luckily for us it only rained for about 10 or 15 minutes and then the damp air settled in and stayed for the whole night, but without dropping any more precipitation for the remainder of the race evening.
Riders come from all over the Twin Cities to take a stab at this whole WNCX thing. Some commute there by bike, many will drive, park and head to the registration area and others may show up to partake in spectating, drinking of beverages and sharing the essential hand up or two. No matter the reason for being there specifically, it is guaranteed un and smiles for everyone (except maybe those who are actually slaying the course at that very moment).
The races begin promptly at 5pm starting with the 30 minute (beginner) race. The point of CX racing is to get as many laps of the course in within that time frame. Some may get 4 0r 5 laps while others may squeak out 6 or 7. The most laps and the fastest time doing them when the bell sounds (last lap bell, or ‘bell lap’) is the winner. What do you win at WNCX? Nothing at all…maybe bragging rights. But essentially no one really cares, it’s about the camaraderie. And that is number one.
The 30 minute race is quickly and efficiently followed by the 45 minute (intermediate) race and after that the evening finishes up with the 1 hour race which is geared toward the more experienced riders or the crazies who just want to get their monies worth.
From a spectator standpoint, it amazing how quickly the time goes by while watching everyone take their laps out there. Before you know it the final lap of the 1 hour race is underway and the riders are finishing up their race which will finish up the night of racing, at least for this week. So as the last riders make their final loop we begin to clean up, tear down, put things away and get ready to take down the artwork that we had just laid out hours before.
At this point you’re mildly exhausted, running on fumes. The task ahead is as easy as done as soon as it’s, well, all finished being put away and locked up. So, foot by foot the tape gets rolled up and tossed aside. One by one, the stakes come out of the ground and put back into their boxes….and with all hands on deck as the sun slowly disappears, the job is done, the racers all gone and it’s time to beat the storm home. If you’re lucky (which most of us were not).