In 2001, two planes had crashed into New York City, both of us lost our jobs, we had to sell one of our cars, move into a cheap duplex where the heat was intermittent, and the Christmas lights we hung in the hallway looked more like barbed wire than bright bubbles of hope. Into this dark winter strutted a grey tabby who wanted nothing more than to have his head and chin tussled and rubbed. OK, maybe he wanted a little tuna, too.

Clem shows up in 2001

Clem shows up in 2001

He was a stray, and our fraidy cat Oz seemed to get along well with him. It was supposed to be a very cold winter, so we started keeping him inside. He was a super cuddly fuzzball. Any cat this social must belong to some nearby kid, so we put a collar on him with a note saying, “Is this your cat? If so, call us because we’re going to keep him if we don’t hear from you.” Maybe some family left him behind, maybe he had just arrived on a barge from South America, or maybe I left the phone off the hook. History rhymes with mystery, and all that matters is he stayed with us.

Clem is a gentle giant. I remember how Oz could jump to the top of our 8-foot fence in one bound, while Clem could only make it 6 feet, and claw himself up like a rock climber the last bit. Strong cat, he was. He didn’t get fixed until he was 2 or 3, so all that testosterone led to a big ol’ head that he loved to slide onto your lap and under your hand. You’d be reading a book and realize you’d been scratching his ears for 30 pages.

He never shied away from kids, letting them pet him and tug his tail and carry him around like a sack of potatoes. Dress up? Why yes, he’d love to!

While Oz was the first one to run at the site of a dog, a kid, a shadow, a puff of wind, whatever, Clem defended his turf. How good he was at defending it is up for debate considering how good I got at irrigating infected wounds.

I think that pets mark phases in our lives. Oz marked the time when we left Los Angeles and came home to Oregon, when we were married and started being grown-ups with jobs and furniture and groceries for the whole week. Clem will forever be the tabby who joined us when the world turned upside down, and we found a way to push through. New job, grad school, second career, first house, first baby. He was there for all of it, sneaking into our laps on cold evenings for a few minutes of warmth.

But in the past year, Clem’s hair has started falling out in clumps. His back legs seem like they’re barely supporting him. He eats less — nothing at all today — and while his head and heart are as big as ever, his body has slipped away to baggy skin over his ribs and back. It’s time to let him go.

We’ll miss you, buddy. We love you.

Kruger’s Crossing CX

Last race of the CX season, and as usual, Kruger's Crossing was a beautiful send-off. #obra #cyclocross #oregon

A photo posted by Thom Schoenborn (@thomschoenborn) on

Kruger’s Crossing continues to be one of my best races every year. It’s likely because everyone else is cooked and mailing it in, or maybe it just fits me. Either way, it’s always tremendous fun.

As the video shows, I hopped into the lead right after the first turn, then led over the barriers and through the team tents. And then we hit the slight uphill, and you see my teammate Brad go blazing by. I don’t think anyone saw him the rest of the day.

Down goes Thom!

Down goes Thom!

About 1/3 up the little hill, there’s a turn through some really sloppy mud. Me and another guy — a BeerMonger, natch — converged and I ended up overlapping wheels. I tried to correct for it, but went down with a splash in the deepest, muddiest bog on the course. I hopped up and chased, but hooo boy, I was COLD! The weather was frosty over night, and that water was probably 35 degrees.

Just gotta throw it in a big gear and push!

Just gotta throw it in a big gear and push!

There was a little reprieve with two short sections up the hill that were soft but easy to ride, and then we turned up a hill that was just chewed-up clay mud, super greasy and rutted. Only 25-50 yards, but a leg sapper. Plus you still had a slight uphill for another quarter mile or so once you got through the worst of it!

After that, there was a downhill road into a fast corner and another road. I should’ve bunny hopped and slammed more mud off my bike in those sections — by the end of the race I had 10 lbs of mud on my bike. Then we turned into the blueberry and raspberry fields. I made a great move there with two to go, passing a bunch of people. I had a great line in the grass that everyone else seemed to never take. “Green is good, brown is bad.”

From there, there were two greasy round-abouts around trees, and two long stretches of grassy paths. Once you passed the finish line, there was a haybale barrier that was smashed down and thus rideable, but the real hard part was the 6″ deep mud past it. I figured out quickly that keeping my weight back and staying to the left was the best tactic. Also a good place to pass people.

Mashing it up the hill. Photo, as always, by Sandy Goodson.

Mashing it up the hill.
Photo, as always, by Sandy Goodson.

In general, what I found was that I was better than most on the technical sections and the muddy hill, but I wasn’t willing to suffer as much on the open “climbs” as other people. I did bury myself there on the last two laps, but I let too many people go there earlier in the race. In a race, there’s a certain amount of power conservation that’s necessary to avoid blowing up. But if 2015 has taught me anything, it’s that I have more matches than I believe I do.

Brad, who won, was WAY the hell up the road, and then some other guy apparently nearly caught him (which seems very impressive). The group of folks who were 3-10th were all in a big group for most of the race, and I did pretty good to stay with them.

Anyway, the last two laps I kept telling myself “It’s the last laps of 2015. You did so much work this year, don’t give up! Keep fighting! You’re strong, you can do this!” And I mostly did. I think 4th place would’ve been a stretch — the guy from Shower’s Pass put in a MONSTER last lap — but I was pretty damn close to 5th and 6th. It was sheer politeness and not wanting to duke it out going into the barn and pavement. I was happy with 7th.

After the race, Terry from BeerMongers came up to apologize for the crash. I told him no big deal. It happens. It was as much my fault as his, and I’m very glad he didn’t crash.

"Swing wide where the traction is good and THE BEER IS EVEN BETTER!" Many thanks AGAIN to Sandy Goodson for taking so many fun shots for the team all season. She's just THE BEST!

“Swing wide where the traction is good and THE BEER IS EVEN BETTER!”
Many thanks AGAIN to Sandy Goodson for taking so many fun shots for the team all season. She’s just THE BEST!

After I washed off the bike, hung out with Amanda and Lolo, changed into some clean clothes, I had a beer or three. I also started offering beer hand-ups to the women’s race, which was loads of fun.

Easily one of the best things about CX this season was getting to race with Brad, if only because his wife Sandy is an amazing photographer. So many pictures to use in the holiday card this year! I’m so lucky to be on Team Oregon. I hope I can give back more and be more present for races next year — it’s a hoot to be out there with all these talented and fun people.

I hope someone can put on a few more late-season races next year because Oregon is beautiful all year round. #cyclocross #obra

A photo posted by Thom Schoenborn (@thomschoenborn) on

Cross Crusade PIR, Days 1 & 2

25th on Saturday, 62nd on Sunday. And just an absolutely fantastic weekend. I LOVE this photo — leaves, mud, bike.

25th on Saturday, 62nd on Sunday. And just an absolutely fantastic weekend. I LOVE this photo — leaves, mud, bike.

Was hoping for a total slop fest this weekend after missing epic races the weekend prior. Alas, we got kind of wet and tacky on Saturday, and greasy, shear-off-your-derailleur on Sunday. So it was semi-epic, but not the write-home-to-mama race I’d hoped for. Plus I got staged at the back on Sunday. Which was meant, yay!, six-pack of beer from Deschutes! But also that the best I could hope for was to get into the top half. Here’s what I wrote after the race:

Day 2

“Was at THE VERY BACK today, and managed 62nd or so. Had a very bad, stupid lap today. Might’ve gotten 50th otherwise, so it’s not like I set the world on fire other than the bad lap. Actually, I take that back, I had two bad laps. My first lap sucked too. And my second lap too.”

“OK, let me start over: Today I managed one single glorious lap and still managed not to get last place.”

“I mean, I had the trees, roots, and corners dialed the whole race, but other parts… It took a few laps to get it right, you know? The off-camber made me crash once (at least). The little ditches along the back section freaked me out in the first lap and I ended up running them too much.”

“I didn’t pre-ride because I had Lolo with me. I wish I had. Just knowing the course makes a huge difference in terms of confidence. The hardest section — the part I scouted before the race with Lolo in tow — I figured it out early: just run it! But as soon as I caught Cesar, I took a different (read: stupid and wrong!) tactic in what turned out to be my last lap. Ah well.”

Afterwards, I got a nice email from Cesar, who said “you made up some killer time after the spills.” And I did. I nearly caught him. So that was nice. But I really put myself behind the 8-ball by not pre-riding. Even if I had pre-ridden, I would’ve had to’ve had a perfect race to get into the 40s. I mean, we were so far behind by the first time we got onto the pavement. The front of the race was already going through the finish line like a 1/4 mile away. Oh well. It was still fun to get really muddy.

(I think my favorite part of the video is the first lap after I’ve been running for what seems like forever (it’s a minute), and I finally remount. And you can actually hear me yell, “HOLY SHIT!” That was a lot of running on what felt like an ice rink tilted sideways and then greased.)

Day 1

Saturday, however, was rad. SO RAD. I staged about 2/3s of the way back. I’d pre-ridden the course several times, as well as right beforehand. And… I dunno. It hurt like hell but I just kept chasing people down. I ended up with my best Crusade finish of the year, 25th.

Another great picture by Sandy Goodson. We're lucky to have her out documenting the race for us.

Another great picture by Sandy Goodson. We’re lucky to have her out documenting the race for us.

I don’t think my bike handling was particularly great, but it seemed better than other people’s. And I just knew I could get by most everyone at some point. But oh, it hurt! I just decided that I’d keep making it hurt, and if my body gave up during the race, so be it.

YOU'RE DOING IT WRONG!! You can see the BeerMonger/KimMonger rider there who stayed upright.

You can see the BeerMonger/KimMonger rider there who stayed upright.

Among the more amusing parts of the course was this greasy short run-up that was rideable if you took it with speed. Which I did. But everyone seemed to aim for the same spot at the top. On the 2nd or 3rd lap, I banged into a bigger fella at that spot, and he put me into a tree. Not in a bad way, but I had to unclip. And later, I found my handlebars were cockeyed. I debated stopping to adjust them, but I was having such a good race that it seemed silly to do so.

Blind Date 5 + Cross Crusade: Cascade Locks

The Last Blind Date
On Wednesday, I did my fourth race at Alpenrose in seven days. So I could’ve ridden the course with my eyes closed — and as dark as it was, I kinda did! I staged practically in the back and had a passive first lap. I made a few passes, but nothing too big, and just tried to get a feel for the race. Starting sometime in the second lap, I started jumping lots of people and bridging up to folks. There were lots of little places that were tighter and more technical than in races before, and I railed a lot of them. It helped that it seemed there were no HUGE gaps to cross. Whenever I’d pass someone, there’d be someone else right there.

But I didn’t have any concept of where I was in the race. I didn’t know how big our field was (29, it turns out. Small.). So I just kept going and going. Eventually I caught up to my nemesis, Troy. Former nemesis, I will now call him. I caught him. I think it’s the second time in as many weeks at Blind Date. And passed him. And then there was a little crash that caught up a bunch of people, but I didn’t lose any spots in it. And I threw it down after that to distance myself from everyone.

Going into the last lap, I battled with a guy, then passed him and two others in this 180 uphill corner that I elected to run instead of ride. I sprinted like crazy, hopped on the bike and just stomped the hell out of the pedals and crushed it for 15 seconds, negotiated a turn, then crushed it again. That effort shook two of them loose, but the guy I’d been battling with was still with me. So I just kept crushing it all the way through the infield and sprinted for the line. He sat up coming out of the last corner, but it was my first race of the year where I finished feeling like I’d hurl. Usually the places are set and it’s just about cruising home. Anyway, my last lap was like 20 seconds faster than any other laps, and that’s pretty rad. So I can, when needed, really turn up the volume.

So 7th out of 29. Pretty darn happy with that.

Bumpbumpbumpbumpbumpbumpbump. Ouch. Hard day out at Cascade Locks. Photo by Sandy Goodson

Bumpbumpbumpbumpbumpbumpbump. Ouch. Hard day out at Cascade Locks.
Photo by Sandy Goodson

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Alpenrose 2015, Day 2

The Cross Crusades have a staging system where you are called up according to the last digit in your race number. Each race, they randomly draw numbers. The last number called up has basically no shot at winning, so they give them a six-pack of Deschutes beer. Which, as far as consolation prizes go, is perfect for crying into.

Thus, the worst number to get is the second-to-last number called up. You still have basically no shot at winning, and you don’t even get beer.

So that’s where I started Day 2 at Alpenrose.

Me (left) and Rob negotiating the off-camber drop to the back of the course. I hollered at Rob to take the low line, but he said the crowd said take the high line. The crowd just wants blood, Rob!

Me (left) and Rob negotiating the off-camber drop to the back of the course. I hollered at Rob to take the low line, but he said the crowd said take the high line. The crowd just wants blood, Rob!

The upside of starting at the back of a field of 100 riders? There’s no rush to start because the holeshot will get bottled up as people dab and crash and run into each other. There’s no pressure, either, because getting into the top half of the field is pretty damn hard. So I just tried to sit back and enjoy the race.

And what a race it was! Downpours the prior day and night left the course slick in some places and tacky in others. There were some really fun off-camber bits, downhill bits, and uphill parts. The trick was just to keep pedaling! There’s one spot just before the dive into the velodrome that I did wrong EVERY SINGLE LAP.

There was a long grind up the backside of the venue that nearly broke me the last lap. There were two fun off-camber downhills where I passed people nearly every lap. I held my own on the muddy infield. And it felt like I passed a lot of people.

Rob dishing out the pain on the long climb up the back side of the course. Oh man, I have NO IDEA how I stayed with him. I was hallucinating near the top each time.

Rob dishing out the pain on the long climb up the back side of the course. Oh man, I have NO IDEA how I stayed with him. I was hallucinating near the top each time.

So it was fun. Really fun. I got to chase my teammate Rob Anderson around — he was killing me up the long grind up the back and it HURT to stay with him — and I nearly caught my friend Cesar but for a dropped chain. I ended up 60th out of 100-ish riders, and got pulled a lap early (they sent the 50+ and 60+ riders out first).

Many thanks to Sandy Goodson from Team Oregon for the photos! ILOT!

Alpenrose 2015, Day 1

The video below says more than I ever could. It was bad staging and a hard course. The course really wore me out — anytime I tried to recover, I’d lose spots. Which also says a lot about the B’s. There aren’t a lot of scrubs in the B’s. You rest, you lose spots. You dab, you lose spots.

It rained all night, so today should be a VERY different race.

Heiser Farms

Heiser Farm was rad. Bumpy as hell through grass and rooty, just-cleared brush. I have blisters. I’ve never had blisters on my hand from racing. Crazy.

I had bad staging and a *terrible* start, then got pinched as people dabbed in the very first corner. I’d been having a good run in the Master B’s, and 10 seconds into the race, I figured that run was over. But I put my head down and got to work. If you’ve not raced it, Heiser can be tough to make passes because it has a lot of wooded single track and difficult double track. It’s a very twisty race, too. Because of that, I was really happy to earn 10th.

I'm going to buy ALL the photos of me this year as I'll probably never be this skinny again.

I’m going to buy ALL the photos of me this year as I’ll probably never be this skinny again.

In hindsight, I used those twisty and “technical” sections to pass a lot. It’s not that I have good bike-handling skills — anyone who came out to Powell Butte can attest to that — but I was willing to jump people out of corners or ride unusual lines right next to them. I also tried my new technique of drilling it into a corner, then slamming on the brakes and skidding like a mountain biker. Mixed results on that particular maneuver, but I didn’t die.

Anyway, what I found was that it’s not about being aggro or bumping people, it’s just about finding your own line and knowing you can hold it. Or putting your front wheel right next to their rear wheel so you only need a few good stomps to overtake them out of the corner. When I put myself in positions like that, other people seemed to assume I knew what I was doing, and so they’d yield. One guy even whispered, “Damn. Nice pass.”

The amazing Matt Haughey looking thrilled that, for once, he didn't have to drive 2 hours to race.

The amazing Matt Haughey looking thrilled that, for once, he didn’t have to drive 2 hours to race.

Today, three of the top guys in my field got upgraded. It looks like my plan to fail my way to the top is already working!

Looking Back at 2014, and Ahead to 2015

Sure, it’s been a year since I posted. WHAT ABOUT IT? I’ve been busy and disillusioned, then I found the light and am having a lot more fun with a lot less pressure racing. This is a long post — apologies in advance.

2014: The Move to the B’s SUCKED

After I moved up to Cat B last year, racing got a lot less fun. There is, as Paul has pointed out, very little chaff in with the wheat in Cat B. Fast, strong and smart are table stakes. To be competitive now, you have to be faster, stronger, smarter, and have good bike handling skills.

I suffered through some really bad races in the B’s last year:

  • Ninkrossi: 40/50
  • Heiser Farms: 47/57
  • Blind Date: 23/35 and 23/31
  • Cross Crusade: 108/120, 77/111, 103/116
Heiser Farms — I might've done better except for a really hard crash.

Heiser Farms — I might’ve done better except for a really hard crash.

My best finish in the Crusade B's? 77th place. Wow. This SUCKS.

My best finish in the Crusade B’s? 77th place. Wow. This SUCKS.

Happy 40th! Ugh.

The worst of that was… Well, honestly, it was all really shitty. Huge, hard crash at Heiser Farms that required a new helmet and a few days off the bike. I had a mechanical at Alpenrose. Blind Date was my first time really racing in the dark and it was terrifying. But the Cross Crusade at Bend was the worst. I was sick. I had laryngitis. It was my 40th birthday weekend. And I had a decent start to the race, and then on the last two laps just went absolutely backwards. I didn’t race the second day. The stupid Halloween party was lame because I couldn’t talk, which is a really, really anti-climactic way to spend your 40th birthday. I didn’t race again after Bend.

Maybe This Biking Thing Just Isn’t For You

In December or January, I went to go see a teammate who is a cycling coach. We talked about the program he offers, and I told him the time I had to commit. “You can’t get better with that program,” he said. Basically, my plan to just train at lunch was a non-starter.

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Goodbye, Thundering Herd

Last night I had a pretty good race: won the prime, ended up fourth. But as I collapsed over my bars after the race, I was mad. Disappointed. Frustrated.

I started last night’s race just two points shy of upgrading. That meant anything better than 8th place would put me into the B’s. Naturally, I wanted to go out with a win. I have never won a bike race.

First lap: decided to jump out front to have clear lines. It was the first muddy race of the season, and people were nervous. We were catching the tail of the C’s quickly, so I figure it was safer. Got the coffee prime. Exciting.

The next several laps saw me chasing a guy in an Adobe kit. He was better than me at running, and was opening gaps in the technical sections. (Aside: I can’t decide how my technical skills rate. On one hand, clearly some guys were better than me. On the other, I have no idea how people behind me are doing.)

I talked to myself more in last night’s race than ever before. Spurred myself to close the gaps when I really wanted to recover. Bathed myself in acid, as I have taken to saying. Kept telling myself, “He could crash, he could flat, a lapped rider could take him out. Race race race!”

But the last lap, he opened a gap I knew I wasn’t going to close barring a disaster. But I didn’t know where the third place guy was, so I kept pushing. I would choose lapped riders and force myself to catch them. I’m reasonably proud of my mindset during that last lap. Giving up is easy. Hell, it’s literally a relief. But to keep pushing, really putting the pedals down? That’s hard.

But on the run-up, two guys on mountain bikes were able to ride it, and they caught me. No idea where they came from (Idaho, it turns out.). I hammered to stay ahead up the next hill past the velodrome and over the barriers, but couldn’t clip in after the barriers. Pedals and cleats jammed with mud. One guy pulled in front, and I chased him down. But in the little maze of switchbacks and barriers, I couldn’t pass without crashing us both. Then, crossing the line, the other guy out sprinted me. On a mountain bike. Embarrassing.

And now we’re back to the start. Frustrated. A little angry that I let those guys catch me. Dammit.

And then, a black, crushing realization that I may never win a bike race.

I am flattened that the best I’ll have ever done is a second, third, and fourth place in the fat, unwashed thundering herd of the Master C’s in the upper lefthand corner of the country. My best was never actually good enough. In the B’s? Oh lord, those guys are fast.

The guy who pipped me came over and talked. Super nice guy, but I couldn’t tell you a single thing about our conversation because I was still mired in my own disappointment. I kept looking past him at the amazing sunset. Pinks and oranges perfectly offset by the blues and greys. Gorgeous. Something about different pedals, I think the guy is saying. Yeah, that might’ve helped. Great job riding that hill though, man.

I’ve been racing for the past few years with the idea of getting out of the C’s, because I think that’s all I will be able to do. When I’ve done well, people have joked about sand-bagging. But I’ll tell you, I’ve thought for a long time that the best I can hope for is to get out of the C’s. Like, that’s as far as my talent, desire and ability to train will take me. And now that I’m here? It’s the same thing, just standing around talking corners and equipment with someone whose name I’ve already forgotten. No parade. No back-patting or acknowledgement. It’s not going to be in the newspaper. What’s the line from the Gettysburg Address? “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” No one will ever forget what I did here because no one knew in the first place.

Sobering. I feel terribly old. Tonight might as well be my funeral, just a couple of people standing around muttering about the conditions and the course and what a lovely eulogy. What else is there? Now what?

We shake hands — James, he repeats his name, and I’m Thom — and we go our separate ways. The earth is still under my shoes. I’m going to put on my warm jacket, pick up my coffee prize, load my gear back into my car, then go meet some friends for a beer. My beautiful blonde daughter is at home, curled up with my wife, and she has just texted me congrats for upgrading. Fourth place! She wishes she could come out and celebrate with me.

Celebrate. There’s a concept.

As I drive out, I begin to wonder what I’ll do next. Do I keep training hard in the desperate hope that maybe I’m not total pack-fodder in the B’s? Focus on winning the little battles for 40th place? Eat more salad and less cheese, maybe hire a coach next year to claw my way up another mountain? I’m not sure.

I climb into the car, turn on my lights, and take one last look. The sun is still burning orange and purple behind those rain clouds. Racers coming around the corner in the B race and the A race. My race next week.

Rapha Trophy Cup Inaugural Race

Allow me to start by saying any race with The People’s Pig food cart is a good race. Beer from Gigantic Brewing, too? We’re approaching cyclocross nirvana.

So anyhoo, this was the first of a new weeknight race series out at PIR near where the Short Track MTB races are held. It’s flat and grassy with a berm and a motocross track for the promoter to work with.

I had low expectations, figuring it would be a bit of a grass crit. And it was. Very, very fast course for Week 1. Wide switchbacks where you didn’t need to brake much, if at all.

This is my kind of race.

I got the hole shot, then led for the first five of nine laps. Continue reading