The Race

I raced a race on my bike yesterday. It was called the Hub City Alleycat 2 race. It transpired throughout New Brunswick, NJ, and it was organized by a bunch of guys that just like to ride bikes and happen to live in New Brunswick, which made it, for lack of a better word, pretty punk in the bike race sense of the word. The object of the race, was that everyone entered had to make 5 stops at different places throughout New Brunswick. We had to pick up either a can of food or a flyer (depending on the quantity available) at each stop, collect all of them and then return to the starting point (which was at the top of a 6-story parking garage and no, we couldn’t take the stairs). There was no preset order either, so it was up to each competitor to decide what routes to take and what strategy to use. The area involved in the race included most of the downtown area from Douglass Campus to the College Avenue Campus of Rutgers University. Not to sound pretentious, but I’ve been riding that area on my bike for about 12 years now, so I was looking forward to finally using my street smarts, my knowledge of slopes and my ability to get from Douglass to College Ave. in 4 minutes.
The race began at the very top of the parking garage, and we had to run about 100 feet to get to our bike. I grabbed my bike, started running as fast as possible and did my best 20 mph ninja mount (grabbing seat and bars and jumping to the pedals). The race down the inclines of the deck was amazing. Imagine 25-30 of the most random assortment of people you can imagine (men, women, black, white, asian and of course, someone with dreadlocks) on all walks of bikes, tearing down a somewhat crowded parking garage at 4:30 PM on a Friday afternoon amid a busy college campus, and you get the idea. BMX bikes corner about twice as easily as anything on a 26 inch wheel, so the few of us riding BMX bikes jumped to the front of the pack with ease.
I made the mistake of not pacing myself at the very beginning and pedaled my ass off into the first stop I had chosen; the gazebo in a nearby park I used to play basketball in. It was located close to the starting point and was easily attainable by sprinting out of the garage. After grabbing the first proof of stoppage, we decided on the next stop (a comic book shop/cafe) across the street from a house I used to live in. The route we were taking formed a triangle and allowed for an even mix of uphill and downhill routes, so we weren’t going to kill ourselves anytime soon. After zig-zagging down suburban streets off the beaten path, we had arrived at the second stop, grabbed the proof of stoppage and made way hastily past the hospital, up a small hill and down another which only happened on one side street next to a dollar store that used to be a club in 1992 that I could get into without ID. At this point, I began to lose my two riding partners, making my way past 3 places I used to live in, through the ghetto and over to the Douglass area, past a house where my brother used to live and into the backyard of a Bicycle Library. I had my third stop done and tore down Commercial Avenue towards George St. (And this is where a BMX bike came in handy. Because of our smaller-wheeled handicap, we only had to make 4 stops.) So I pedaled my ass off back through the ghetto of downtown George St., past another place I used to live, past a few houses where friends used to live and past empty spaces where shops that I frequented once existed. By this time, I had made it to the train station, up some spiral stairs that I stumbled down half drunk in the past to my 4th and final proof of stoppage. I was now finish-line bound, further up George St, past College Avenue Campus where I once had classes a plenty and through the parking lot where my mom used to park when she worked at the College Ave. Campus Post Office. Finally, I had arrived at the parking deck, in no shape to pedal up 6-stories of incline. Another rider appeared on a 24-speed and quickly passed me. I caught him at the third level, but couldn’t keep my pace up. He quickly made his way ahead of me. I turned around behind, and noticed no one behind me, so I sat down and enjoyed a slow ride for two levels, trying with all vigor to regain my breath. It was nowhere to be found, so I said, “Fuck it!” and pedaled as hard as I could. When I reached the finish line, the few people there were clapping. I had placed 6th overall with a time of 23 minutes, 4 minutes behind the guy in first place.
At this point, I was much too wound up to sit down and regain composure, so I paced back and forth on my bike til my breath slowed, and then sat down. And I began to think; in 23 minutes, I had ridden a triangle around the location of some major events that have transpired in my life within the past 12 years. Going into this race, I was probably over self-confident in my knowledge of the streets we would be using. But by the end, it was easy for me to realize that these streets I was tearing down had as much knowledge of me as I did of them.
I think this is one of those special relationships with places that only people on bikes can relate to. And by that, I mean, people that pedal the streets everyday, not just grinding a ledge or riding a wallride. I mean, real gritty pedaling, whether that’s for getting to work or getting to the liquor store; the kind of pedaling that makes you realize where your true home might just actually exist….

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