An Off-Season Love Letter to Dirt

The first in a series of entires from freshman pro cross racer Cari Higgins.

I ♥ dirt!

 

Recently I was donating some old cycling clothes and came across one of my first pair of cycling socks that simply read, “I ♥ dirt!” A subtle reminder of days past and a clue to what lies ahead.

 

Earlier this year, I made the tough decision to stop chasing the World Cup/Olympic Track Cycling dream. It has been an amazing journey full of accomplishments I never could have predicted when I started riding a bike at age 29. But, this decision left me staring at my first ever winter that some people might call an off-season. What the hell is the point of an off-season? Yes, that’s exactly what I thought.

 

So, I called my coach, Mark Legg and before I could finish my sentence he said yes. For years Mark, Katie Compton’s husband, has been telling me how much I would love cyclocross and that my physiology would make a good engine for the sport. For several years, when I was feeling mentally tired from training, Mark would tell me to go hit the dirt knowing it always rejuvenated my cycling spirit by bringing a simple smile to my face. After a very brief conversation that amounted to approval, my mission was clear: make this dirt-party thing they call cyclocross my new winter sport.
Zaveta and Higgins Warming Up, KMC Providence Cross Fest p/b Maxxis

And so it began…

 

Exactly twelve days after competing in the Team Time Trial at the UCI World Championships in Richmond, VA, I was flying to Providence, RI to compete at the KMC Providence Cross Fest presented by Maxxis Tires in the UCI C1 race. I was diving head first, blindly, into what I’m trusting is going to be one hell of a challenge. The goal of the weekend in Providence was to smile. Secretly, I also had the goal of not crashing!

 

Day one was unbelievably fun! I laughed, I smiled, I didn’t crash myself (I did crash but I swear it wasn’t my fault) and I realized there isn’t much you can do when you start on the back row. So, small things became my personal challenges: dismount, remount, pedal through the turns, gear selection, fly-overs!?!, head up, and most importantly HAVE FUN! I accepted my place in the back of the pack, never even trying to pass other women for fear I would fumble a technical section in front of them. By the end of the race, my confidence was building and I was begging for a couple more laps of racing.

 

Day two was slightly more challenging as I started, once again, in the very back and then didn’t manage to clip in right away. So, being last into the single track and stuck behind 3 crashes in the first lap was frustrating. Luckily I had some guys I met right before the start yelling “SMILE!!” each lap. The day ended with a DNF from a mechanical but my spirit is far from broken!

 

I’m realistic. I know I need more than the four days I spent on my cyclocross bike pre-Providence to become efficient and skilled. I respect what these top competitors have done to reach their level in this sport. I have much to learn in order to make that beautiful Parlee bike proud! But, I’m not new to challenges and learning. Happiness is a not-so-secret training tool of athletes; take away the smile and you stifle progression. I love dirt! If the amount of smiles this weekend is any indication, I’ll be progressing as a cyclocrosser pretty quickly.

Danny Summerhilld, KMC Providence Cross Fest p/b Maxxis

Thanks so much to my teammates for being my mentors. Danny, Luke, and Erika, this weekend would have been impossible without you. Chris Kreidle, thanks for the hugs when I needed them most. David Sagat, thanks for all the cheers from the pits!

 

Thanks to my Boulder cyclocross community for being so encouraging. The amount of people who have helped and offered to help is unbelievable!

 

To the Ladies of the cylcocross peloton, thank you for your support and heckling. I can’t wait to mix it up with you again!!

 

One thing is for sure, jumping in head first in what was described as a very “European-type UCI race” did not discourage or scare me. I’m ready for more…more dirt, more smiles!

 

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