I woke up well before sunrise on Friday to teach a 6am/7am double at SoulCycle. I *hate* early mornings. I can barely get dressed let alone eat. I downed a glass of lemon-water followed by a Red Bull and headed out the door. Classes went on without a hitch: sprints, climbs, and a lot of jumping around to hype up the drowsy masses. By 8am, work was over. I walked down 18th street a deli egg sandwich and the goal of driving to deep PA to visit my sick grandmother. I figured I might miss the all-women's alleycat set to happen later that night, but it’s a chance I had to take.
I drove for hours on highways lined with trees bursting with Autumn listening to War On Drugs. At the hospice, family was coming together for her last days. I stayed a while to hold her hand, speaking some loving words into her morphine dreams. By 3pm it was getting crowded and I decided to head back. As I drove, I realized I might just make it to this race I'd been hearing so much about. It'd been years since any all-female races were organized in NYC and I was pretty keen on supporting this one so I pressed my foot a little harder into the gas pedal.
Miraculously I got back to Brooklyn by 7:10 and without a speeding ticket. I dropped the car, grabbed my bike and raced to the start line. Sarah Roosevelt park was packed with people. Registered racers already had manifests in hand. I stripped off my jacket, borrowed a lock from Tak, a pen from Crazy Nick and x-street/order notations from Alex and Heidi (dressed as a cuba diver) to which I made a few changes. It felt like mere seconds before we were lining up for the Le Monde start. I put my bike against a van, turned to line up, and faced a wall of women. WHOA. WHO ARE THESE GIRLS? Where did they all come from??? Never in 10 years of alleycat racing had I seen this kind of turn out for a women’s race. It was incredible. I couldn’t help take out my phone to snap one single blurry picture right before I heard “3,2,1 GO!”
I turned and ran- suddenly grateful for Nikes on my feet. I didn’t have time to change anything on my bike so I was riding my track gear and toe cages for this race…
The checkpoints were all over Manhattan and could be done in any order. This was the route I took:
1. St. Pauls Cemetary: Fulton & Bway
2. Pier 40 (at Houston)
3. Wash Sq. Park Arch
4. Marble Cemetery (2nd St b/n 1 & 2nd ave)
5. Bellevue Insane Asylum (30th + 1st)
6. Pet Cemetery (81st + East End Ave)
7. Park Central Hotel (56th & 7th Ave)
8. 666 5th Ave (@ 53rd)
9. 210 E. 46th St
10. East River Bar (Wburg/ Brooklyn)
Despite the shockingly large crowd of women and bikes running and rolling every which way, I managed to get out of the park without any pileups. I was planning to cut straight over to Broadway until I hit Centre street. Right. shit. Hester doesn’t go through. (I’d been out of the city for 2 years and forgotten a few things.) So within 30 seconds of the race I was already speeding wrong-way down Centre street in spite of my older/wiser self’s belief that wrong-way riding is a terrible idea. But then again, that self can’t keep up in an alleycat race. So Older/Wiser Self got dropped by my Nostalgic/Rebellious Self.
It’d been a long time since I’d shredded the city like that and DAMN it was fun! After a long season of crit racing and road training, I was reminded me what got me into bike racing in the first place. Street racing is FUN! I pulled up to my first checkpoint. A pack of guys took my manifest and wouldn't return it until counted every fencepost lamp on the block. I circled, counting quickly while my adrenaline-fueled dyslexic brain rearranged the numbers. "8, 9, or wait- 9...shit" Skidding back onto Broadway I shouted “10!” They laughed. “We’ll take any number since you did the lap!” One mark on my manifest and I was off.
Every checkpoint had a posse of volunteers and some activity we had to complete before moving on. A true old-school-style alleycat! Everyone was positive and cheering us on. No madness or egos. (I’m sure somewhat due to the fact that the racers were all female.) The only mistake I made was on my sixth checkpoint because I didn’t read it correctly and thought I was going to 33rd and East end. Eh… I figured it out after taking a tour of the East side Helipad shouting "CHECKPOINT!"
What I love most about alleycats is that the entire race you have no idea how you’re doing. Since the checkpoints can be done in any order, it's impossible to know who’s first, or last for that matter, until the end. The only thing you’re actually racing is the traffic and yourself. Self-motivation is necessary. I had some good music on and was truly enjoying just blasting down the avenues, so that part was easy. As I knocked out my last few checkpoints, nearing that finish line sprint, a question swirled in my mind: Car path or nah?
The finish was East River Bar, just over the Williamsburg bridge. The car route is shorter with significantly less climbing. But it’s also pretty dangerous. Four lanes of cars who aren’t expecting bikes to be there and not much of a barrier between the road and a long drop to the water. Plus, the image of one of my best friends nearly getting creamed by a car on that very bridge is forever engrained in my memory thanks to Lucas Brunelle. Older/wiser self was like “nah.” But as I sped down 2nd ave toward the bridge I noticed someone tailing me about half a black away. Turns out a guy named Wa-de had decided to follow me from the last checkpoint. Hell yeah, Safety in numbers, I thought. Besides this may be the last time you get to do this, Nostalgic/Rebellious Self reasoned. “Car Path!!” I shouted as we cut left on Delancey, merged with traffic and pedaled straight onto the bridge.
Predictably cars honked. A minivan swerved, but I just kept my cool and my music on and everything went smooth. Turning off the exit ramp toward the bar I didn’t see my shadow anymore. Assuming he was good, I finished my 2 block sprint to the bar. At the finish I was greeted by Caro wearing a massive purple gorilla suit and a bunch of flashing lights. I handed my manifest to Kenya as Wa-de rolled up from the bridge. “FIRST PLACE!” people yelled as I high-fived Wa-de and thanked him for being the extra push I needed to get on that bridge. Only seconds passed before Iliana and Becky rolled up, placing 2nd and 3rd, and only minutes until I was getting texts from friends:
Huge props to organizers Caro and Kenya. Two relatively new girls on the scene managed to organize not only one hell of a race but the BIGGEST all-female alleycat NYC has ever had. They got so much support, they were able to give away prizes to the Top 15 women! I won 1st place and 1st track and the confidence of knowing that after all these years, I still got it ;-) Nothing like a great race to make you feel alive and present in the moment- a feeling I'm ever more grateful for each day that goes by...