On September 10, Melissa Lo and I participated in our very first alley cat race, Babes in Bikeland. Alongside 252 other female and transgendered cyclists, we took on a roughly 20 mile route through NE, Downtown, Uptown, South and Phillips.
We arrived at Sisters Camelot 1 hour and 53 minutes after we started at the Soap Factory. We took 51st and 52nd place. Our ever supportive boyfriends greeted us at the finish line with a "Great Jorb" sign and Powerade. We were only 20 minutes behind the first place racer, Lee Pen (who also started chemotherapy earlier that month). A girl from Seattle finished the race on a Nice Ride after being hit by a car six blocks into the race. Overall, no one left Babes in Bikeland defeated. Collectively we finished using our strength, wits and teamwork. We were proud.
But we could do better.
With Cirque Du SoGay fast approaching, Melissa and I realized our new challenges. This wasn't a race against women who were of a similar physical set, men would be participating as well. The feminist me who rode in babes in bike land should not have been afraid bit I'm realistic about the difference between my short legs and a six-foot tall man's legs. We had only an hour to prepare our route versus the two hours Babes provided us. Our start and finish point were located in the same vicinity which meant the destinations could lead us to neighborhoods (maybe even in St. Paul) that we were not familiar with.
Our Cirque du SoGay group at the launching point (Minnesota AIDS Project), photo take by a stranger with Stephanie Hengst's camera.
Melissa and I had our eyes on placing in the top 15. Not so much that we would knock down other cyclists or grab onto the sideview mirror of a car for a free ride. We're not that intense/cool. But we took on Babes as a learning experience and kept our eyes on the fifty girls ahead of us. What were they doing that we could be doing? What lessons had we learned?
Route. While one could be the fastest cyclist on the track, not knowing the quickest route from point A to B could be your demise.
In Babes, Melissa and I played it ultra-safe. We avoided busy streets and took trails where we could. In Cirque, we took riskier roads and spent less time on trails.
We also made two large mistakes in Uptown and another big one in South Minneapolis during Babes. We had the benefit in Cirque of having six people helping us plot our manifest. I was comfortable with all of the route except for the U of M portion. Luckily, Melissa and Stephanie are both former graduate students of the campus.
Our Cirque du SoGay route (including our mistakes). The 15-mile course ended up being closer to 19.83 for us. Feel free to comment suggestions on this map here or in the comment section of this blog. Help us learn more!
Groups. Working as a duo worked very well during Babes in Bikeland.
Other than being a lone wolf, riding as a pair works the very best. If you're unsure of a route, that other person is a second pair of eyes looking for your destination. And there's a car out there, with your name invisibly written on its hood, doesn't even know it, and the trick is to make it to the finish line before that car finds you (yes, I stole this from Firefly). Your partner is your savior again (I owe my life to Melissa Lo).
Only having to look out for one other person keeps the multi-tasking limited to pedaling, the route and traffic. If you have more than that, you might find half you group caught at a red light behind you. You have to keep turning around to see if you've lost somebody.
Communication. Being vocal can save your life and your spirit.
Keep your mouth moving. Let people know your position. Let people around you know the position of cars around them. Remind your team members of your route. When you come across another group of cyclists participating in your alley cat, cheer them on. Cheer your team members on. Sing silly songs to remind everyone that this is suppose to be fun. We caught onto this while on the road during Babes and kept it going strong during Cirque.
Creativity. You're probably not going to be first, so try to win a prize for flare.
Babes in Bikeland handed out prizes for the best costume and the best answers at a stop. Cirque du SoGay was no different. We were a little worn out from making hip bags all week to construct costumes on top of it, but Melissa did receive recognition for one of her answers during a quiz in Cirque. The question was so utterly disgusting, but Melissa's answer of "air biscuit" was as appropriate as one could get without being vulgar.
Luggage. The Chrome messenger bag did not prove efficient during Babes.
We spent far too much time digging in a bag for our manifests (the list of places racers are required to stop at and have signed/stamped to prove they were there). So Melissa and I ditched our heavy packs filled with extra clothing and sunscreen and simplified. We constructed these hip bags and culled what we carried down to our manifests, maps, after party flyers, U-Locks, cell phones, keys, wallets and small tools. I also installed a water bottle holder on my bike.
We made mistakes again in Cirque, but we improved. Greatly. Jared A. May, Melissa and I finished together 13th, 11th and 12th respectively at 1 hour and 57 minutes. We made the Top 15 of the "Virgin" (or 15-mile) route. Two "Harder, Faster" (30-mile) cyclists finished before us and a third rolled in minutes after us. We were awestruck.