Posted by Ryan Rickerts
Happy endless summer, folks! Welcome to the new California! I'm sure you've been out riding your bike endlessly for at least five months now. Maybe you're tired of the dust & heat & wildfire smoke. Maybe you're looking forward to rain and cold and MUD like a proper Northwest fall! In fact, I'm certain of it because people have been asking - what's up with local cyclocross?!
I can tell you (as has become the requirement of the past few years as the series and sport has grown) that there's been a great deal of planning happening behind the curtain since the end of last season, such as: discussions with other area promoters to balance the regional schedule, discussions with clubs and venues to determine the most feasible layout for our events, and MANY meetings & discussions with local 'cross leaders to consider an organizational restructuring of Cascade Cross.
The last item was hinted at during the season-concluding speech at the Awards Party in January. Many creative options were considered for a formal business structure to best sustain the success and community-feel of the brand while also distributing the load and protecting the owners/investors: a cooperative, a non-profit, a limited-liability partnership... None were championed to the degree required to support the series at the level of abundance it has reached in years past. It was bound to be another year of Sole Proprietorship, which to me, signifies a lonely & difficult five months.
I have made a tradition of announcing the series schedule during the Tour de France each summer to celebrate the enthusiasm during one of the most popular cycling events in the world. In that window in July, I honored that tradition and posted up the six dates that fit reasonably well with the regional calendar. Some adjustments were made for the addition of special events like the WA State championship at the Deschutes River CX event on Nov. 7th and OF COURSE the incredible return of SSCXWC to the PNW in Victoria, BC on Nov. 21st-22nd. Joy! Singlespeed shenanigans right in our back yard, a reasonable riding distance away even! I believe it is important to accommodate and make room for these one day championship-style events outside of the established series (but it appears not all promoters agree with me). We were still able to squeeze in six races around the other events on offer (theirs all in Sept/Oct/Nov), which was consistent with our 2014 lineup.
Most recently (meaning today), I reached the difficult conclusion that there is not adequate organizational energy locally to sustain a series of that length, especially with the turnouts we saw last season. As Obama would say, Let me be perfectly clear. We have an amazing racing scene with some of the most friendly yet fierce competitors I've ever had the pleasure of lining up next to on a bicycle. Many helping hands have been there over the years and will continue to make Bellingham cyclocross possible. We will always have some flavor of local 'cross that is inviting to newcomers to bike racing, that helps cut down on I-5 miles on your precious weekends, that inspires you to stay on your bike in the cold, dark months. However, the Cascade Cross of yesteryear, where Ryan hosted 6 races in the span of six weeks, is no longer. Running a successful series like we have had is too exhausting for one person to manage on an administrative level - permitting, insuring, resupplying, marketing, advertising, banking, accounting, online registration, results, website maintenance... writing! - particularly with a full-time day job, a kid, and many other responsibilities. It's time for a better balance.
So what I am presenting to you today is the Great Pruning of 2015. We are back to three cyclocross races as we were in the beginning, with the potential to stretch that to five if things go well and everyone chips in. Here's what we get to celebrate keeping alive:
I am bringing back Woolley Cross, aka Northern State Recreation Area at Sedro Woolley, to open up the series for 2015 on September 26th. This venue has always been a favorite for it's layout, scenery and difficulty, and we lost the opportunity to experience it last season. I love giving a venue a rest and coming back to it with a fresh pair of eyes! It will be good to kick off the season in late September and capture that early season enthusiasm. Our Saturday race also pairs nicely with Cross Revolution event in Arlington on Sunday for those traveling into the area from afar. We have a new enthusiastic club in town supporting that which I will announce shortly.
Gratefully, we also have the return of the Thanks Given'er at Fort Nugent Park in Oak Harbor, brought to you by the Whidbey Island Bicycle Club on December 5th. These guys did an amazing job last year and the venue was just soooo incredibly perfect, I'm begging them to do a double-header in early December. Since no other promoters in the region are willing to host races past November (I'm talking all the way to Oregon and up in BC, too), and U.S. Nationals are in January (and Worlds in February), I feel we have an important role to play in filling out what has turned into a very imbalanced cyclocross calendar in the PNW, especially in the months where we might actually have 'cross weather! So if Brad Nelson (who just opened a Skagit Cycles shop in Oak Harbor) and his dedicated crew can be convinced (along with the City of Oak Harbor), we might have at least four races to look forward to!
Last, but certainly not least, we have Bandit Worlds at Cornwall Park. This event has long been a shining diamond for cyclists in the long winter months, often bringing sunshine and many smiles to a beautiful park in the heart of Bellingham. It is not the most epic course ever designed, but it has all the elements we require - grass, gravel, pavement, twisty loamy sections, rooty sections, hills, stairs, and a great spectator experience! We are fortunate the City of Bellingham Parks Department continues to allow us to have our day of fun. As long as that is the case, we will keep coming back, and thanks to the highly efficient work of the Fanatik Bike Co. Racing Team, we are doing it right!
Now let's grieve what we have lost (at least allowing to rest):
First, on the bubble is Bellingham BMX. As everyone who's been paying attention to Bellingham 'cross knows, working on this space has been near & dear to my heart for the past two years. I've put countless of my own personal hours, sweat, blood, tears, and dollars into building the first permanent cyclocross course in the region, that is turning an abandoned golf course into a top quality track built for speed, challenge, and fun! I think we accomplished that and had some amazing days out in those fields. We've had some tough days, too. Everyone who has come out during a wet spell has discovered the temperamental & devious nature of the glacial silt clay. When it's dry, it's rock hard. When it's saturated, the peanut butter mud will grab you and your bike and try to stop all forward momentum! See the picture above with Dale Plant running, for example. I've always placed course quality as the first & foremost requirement for my venues, and even with my bias and hardened character I have to admit that some days this course is just too hard to be fun.
The sweet spot is somewhere in between, and one of the most amazing days I've had as a promoter and rider was the official debut in early Oct. 2013 when nearly 200 riders showed up from all over the Northwest to see what we had created. After a few days of drying out and a couple solid sessions of grooming with with a 4-wheeler and a chain harrow, it ran like a dream! We dialed it in just the night before and dubbed it cyclocross corduroy. Well, what we have right now after running 5K running races over it last winter in very wet conditions and neglecting it all spring and summer is a bumpfest. We have some big trees that blew down in the forest and have to be sawed up. We still need a major bridge. I've built sandpits and Belgian stairs to keep it interesting and force you off the bike when it's dry. It's very challenging to adapt the course later in the season when the water table finally comes up and it's wet everywhere. So we can run races there early in the season and have a good time, but it's still going to take a fair amount of work in the remaining days of summer to get it to a pleasantly rideable state again. If I get some material help (which WWU Cycling has offered at least labor), we should be able to get at least some practice races up & running in September. If it seems workable and weather is cooperating (which I have no way of predicting based on our unpredictable climate), we may be able to host an official race there in early October, or add another date in 2015 as energy & conditions permit.
Now onto the Cross Border Clash: After years of trying to move into Bellingham, Transition Bikes has finally done it. They are no longer headquartered at Delta Tech Park. It is still feasible to run an event there, and that may yet happen under someone else's leadership. I need to give it a rest. It is a great track but it's huge - not easy to build and not close to town. It takes a lot of marking equipment. We had our lowest turnout there last season (partially to blame is choosing the day after Halloween) and the Border Clash concept never really took off. Where were you, Canada?! It is plenty of fun but we usually counted on the Transition guys to prime some new features and do some basic maintenance out there. We will give this one a rest in 2015.
Lastly (at least speaking of last year's venues), we are walking away from Lutherwood on Lake Samish. Personally, I love Lutherwood. It is so epic! It is hilly. There is often great mud, tricky descents, fast gravel sections, a big slippery field, indoor registration with a fireplace, BBQ, beautiful lodges to stay in... we had such a great time there last year. I always tried to turn this into a festival atmosphere by offering trail rides on Sunday since there are plenty of campsites, beds, showers... but nobody ever stayed over. We had at most five people out riding the amazing trails on Chuckanut and Blanchard mountains guided by none other than the master of the local trails, Chris Mellick (last year, it was just Chris and I). There is so much potential out in this space. We can add our own trails specifically geared to CX. For now, the layout is limited to one direction or another, and we gave it a good run. I'd say we've pushed the envelope a bit on what the generous operators of the bible camp might tolerate in terms of behavior. I'd like to meditate on how to reinvent this event so it meets the potential that the venue provides while at the same time respecting the atmosphere they have created. Perhaps you could offer some suggestions the next time you see me.
So that is the honest truth - both the beauty and the tragedy that I'm faced with doling out to you, my loyal cyclocross aficionados, this season. As was duly celebrated last January, I have put in nine seasons and hosted 50 cyclocross races in my “career” as a cyclocross promoter in Bellingham. I feel blessed to have done this at over a dozen venues, all of very high quality and in beautiful settings, so I know I'm doing my craft in the right place. Never have I been so often thanked and told how much I was appreciated, but never have I worked so hard for so little personal reward - other than seeing smiling faces and kids getting on bikes. I don't have the energy & passion that I once had to fire up this amazing project, but I can't stand to see too many frowns in the months of October to February either! I also want to have the fitness & enthusiasm to race my bike (preferably locally). I want to put my creative energy into building new events, particularly gravel grinders like the Spring Smash. It is time for a new chapter for me, and therefore a chapter must also be closed.
Stay tuned for more news in this exciting adventure!