As I sat over my second Thanksgiving dinner – the leftovers at my sister-in-law’s parent’s house I realized that local racing and the typical Thanksgiving Day dinner are similar. Familiar to the eater, familiar to the local racer.
Although this over-the-top dinner happens only once a year and local races can be partaken in usually twice a weekend, that same anticipating giddiness is on par with another. Start with the spirits – the wine, beer, sparkling cider, and egg nog are what bring us together. It’s usually what touches our lips first when we come together for this Holiday and is what we toast with. At a ‘cross race you probably won’t see much other than beer and coffee, but beer seems to be what puts the majority of ‘cross racers on their bikes in 20 degree weather, rain or shine…all for the purpose of drinking more beer.
The appetizers are the warm-up. Here you can eat as many little crackers with creamy dip as you want, mixing with carrots or chips and salsa, or perhaps sneakily picking at something tasty behind the man (or Wo) in the kitchen. The choices are endless, eat as much or as little as you can, trying in vain to not spoil the appetite. And so you can warm up on the trainer or the rollers, on the course or a practice course (if it exists), on the road, through chasing your children around (if you are so lucky), simply saying a prayer that you will be fast, lunges or wind sprints, eating waffles and frites; again it’s just enough so you don’t blow your load before the start.
Eventually throughout the agonizingly tantalizing smells from the kitchen, or through the agonizingly painful warm-up, we say grace. We sit down at the big table with the spread of food before us and we say grace and thank whoever for whatever. It’s a ritual, can be meditative, and everyone, every family has their own way. I’d say this is equivalent to pinning the race number. Are you so peculiar about the placement or do you put a pin in and call it good or do you ask someone to ‘pin me’? Lucky pins perhaps? What do you do if you are granted number 13? It’s a time to focus on something other than your legs and lungs. It's a time to say your final thanks or your final pleading prayer.
The Turkey. The turkey is the fast bird at the race. Every race has a winner just as every ‘normal’ Thanksgiving has a turkey. For anyone that feels offended right now because maybe they didn’t have turkey on their plate…I didn’t have turkey, I had vegetable curry..not normal.
Stuffing is my absolute favorite. One reason it is so good is because it can be made in a myriad of ways and it is ALWAYS good. I’d say the stuffing is the Mom at the race. There are so many components to stuffing – cranberries, sausage, raisins, walnuts, bread, spices, you name it. And a mom at a ‘cross race has SO many things to take care of! Usually at the bottom of her list is herself. She’ll probably have a husband who thinks he is Niels Albert; so she’ll need to stand in the pits for him holding bike 2 and 3, with one infant strapped to her and one 3 year old raising hell, while her 11 year old junior is finishing his cool down and demanding a recovery shake and his podium hat. When hubby is finished he’ll expect a wet wipe for his drool-crusted face and will be requesting the same thing junior was just whining about and she will acquiesce. It is just a bit before Mom’s race but dad can’t resume child duties yet because he hasn’t finished his ritual cool down. So by the time Mom’s race is staging she’s riding past registration, snagging her number on the fly and lining up with a handful of other mothers in the same boat, some still with an infant clinging to her nipple. Yes, stuffing can be as simple or complex as you want it but without stuffing a Thanksgiving dinner cannot be.
The cranberry sauce is you competition. It’s sweet just like your best friends who you train and race with. But it’s also a bit sour like your best friends who you train and race against. But hey, ya gotta have it.
Then there are those random vegetables that show up on the plate to give it some greenery – maybe brussel sprouts or asparagus or green beans. Yes, they taste good but they're not entirely what you remember from your childhood or look forward to. At every race, and this is a good thing, just as green vegetables are a good thing, there are the random people who show up – whether riders or spectators. The men and women and kids who are just getting into the sport or are new to town, or are out-of-towners seeing what the local scene is like. Sure we’re friendly to these green vegetables and we’ll race with them or ring our cowbells beside them, but because we are not familiar with them, we do not give them a hug.
The form of potato is the course. You may know the venue just as you know a potato, but you never know what sort of course you will receive on race day. It could be a baked potato or mashed potato, potato au gratin, it could be a sweet potato or a yam, or cornflake covered potatoes, ya never know what you’re gonna get.
The pie is what brings the meal together and gives it closure to the after-effects. I think the promoter, officials, volunteers, and announcer are the pie. With pie you need the right ingredients, but as long as you have a good crust, pecan, pumpkin or apple filling with some spices and heavy cream and then some whipped cream or ice cream on top, I can almost guarantee you’ll be happy. For the race, honestly it can be a crap venue and still be good. What makes a good race is the time and energy a promoter puts into it. Having competent officials. Enough volunteers who open their hearts and schedules to the time of setting a course up, organizing registration, keeping yay-hoos clear of the current race, course tear-down, etc. An announcer who invests the time in becoming familiar with the racers and also aware of the happenings on course. It is also the vendors; because would you rather go back to your car to drink some sugary sports drink and eat a bruised banana or would you rock up to the waffle and frite stand and support the local business? There are a plethora of details in putting on a race smoothly and I know I am only touching the surface here. But if you have most of the primary ingredients, chances are it will be a good race and chances are it will satiate your sweet tooth hankering for a piece of creamy punkin pie.
The after dinner drinks tend to be coffee or tea, or a liquor which, other than port seems to taste like jet fuel. After a ‘cross race my lungs are usually burning and hoarse. If you were to down your hot beverage right after it had reached boiling point it would be a similar feeling…burnt lungs. Drinking or even sniffing my dad’s scotch gives that same charred feeling.
Then there’s the awful feeling after the feast when you feel like a beached whale and eventually the tryptophan kicks in and you turn into Napzilla. This is equivalent to ‘race gut’, when the tum goes off and you don’t know whether to pull the trigger, head to the porta-potty, or gauge yourself with food and beverage. After sorting the bad tum out, eventually I become stupefied and need a nap. That was certainly the case after chasing the 35+ men in today's race! And after the turkey feast nap or the race face nap I am hungry again. I can understand the post-race hunger, but post-stuff-myself-until-I-explode hunger? Did I stretch my stomach that much?
And so I am happy to say I had three Thanksgivings this Thanksgiving.