Macro-Brews Across Nebraska (M-BAN) and/or
Please Don’t Kid About Bob Wills and/or
Eastbound and Down with Mosco
By Chris McGee
Photos by McGee, Mosco and Barefoot Leman
In August of 2016, I sent an email to a select group of Colorado ’cross racers (the term ‘racer’ is used loosely throughout this article) to ask them to join me on a road trip of epic, even Homeric, proportions. The email went to a rogue’s gallery of middle-aged lifelong bike dorks: Beck, Mosco, Woody, The Tip, Lars, and Kilmoyer. These are guys who appreciate pure fun, the simple joy of riding a bike, the adrenaline punch of pinning yourself at the start of a ’cross race, and cracking a beer or two with friends afterwards. Racing in Colorado is definitely fantastic, but the high level of competition brings a certain intensity that can be draining. For this group, the point of racing is to enjoy the experience as much as the result. Sometimes a trip outside the normal stomping grounds can help recharge the racing batteries.
A couple years ago, Beck and I had driven to the USA Cyclocross National Championships in Austin, Texas. In addition to racing our bikes, we danced a lot of two-step and drank gallons (those are big American liters) of Lone Star beer. Last year, we had our plans in place for a similar trip to ’Cross Nats in North Carolina until the intervention of adult life, children, and piles of responsibilities. The idea for M-BAN became our chance for road trip redemption. Racing cyclocross in Iowa was just the motivation to get us out the door—the overall experience of hitting the road was the important part of the larger picture.
The fundamental premises of this road trip were peerless and without flaw:
A. This is a Journey in the spirit of Pure Awesomeness and Wide-Open Adventure. In many ways, its narrative is as important to our collective heritage as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Canterbury Tales, or The Iliad.
B. We get to race cyclocross (we’re a lot like Sven Nys, but much, much taller).
C. Beer. Macro-brews only. Anybody caught drinking a f*cking IPA will be kicked in the jubblies. I mean it. I get pretty nauseous when I hear the words ‘Double-Hopped’ or ‘Artisanal Craft Brewed’ or any other such nonsense. In addition, I have a seemingly endless supply of free Coors right now. This miraculous situation involves my ex-wife, her housemate, and a dog named Dexter. We loaded so much Coors into our car that we looked like a scene from Smokey and the Bandit, complete with tubulars, shaved legs, and skinsuits. And before you ask, yes, I’ve got Jerry Reed’s ‘Eastbound and Down’ on my iPod. [See soundtrack. -Ed.]
D. Country music. I don’t kid about Bob Wills and you shouldn’t either. [Again, see soundtrack. -Ed.]
E. The Great Wide Middle of America (no joke needed).
The trip is about 700 miles each way. For those of you who live in jolly old England and struggle with the concept of The American Expanse, 700 miles is about the same distance between London and Berlin. And we undertook this travel without the protective benefit of either the Black Sheep Squadron or the RAF. We just had a merman to keep us safe.
Friday, October 14. By the date of our departure, only Mosco and I were able to shake ourselves free of middle-aged obligations. We loaded his shiny new Man Pilot with bikes, extra wheels, a pallet of Coors, and his merman. We departed Denver at 7am for the 9- or 10-hour drive to Iowa to meet with the race directors and preview the Sunnyside Cyclocross course. The race directors also own a fantastic bar, the Flat Tire Lounge, and sponsor a cycling team of the same name. The Iowa cycling community is perhaps the greatest group of people in the world. Where else can you find guys who own bike-themed bars built into old hangars, create and direct rad ’cross races, and tow working smokers at RAGBRAI so they can eat fresh brisket each night? I’m not kidding. They do all this stuff.
We drove like mad dogs and arrived at the venue at 5pm—just in time for a couple laps around the course before it got dark. Unlike last year, when Sunnyside ’Cross was located at a winery and held on largely flat ground, the course this year was brutally hard. The surface was 100% energy-sapping grass, and featured a constant barrage of short, punchy climbs and strong winds.
Coupled with the fact that both Mosco and I are old and falling apart, and riding singlespeeds, we were in for buckets of pain. The race was held on the private property of a family who aren’t cyclists, but who are friends with the race director. Being Iowa, which is populated with incredibly kind people, after our practice laps we were invited into their home and fed homemade chili and beer.
Before we get to the race action, let’s get all the cards on the table regarding last year’s event. Yes, I won an 18-pack of Miller Lite. Yes, I drank a couple and took a nap on the host winery’s porch. Yes, people made fun of me. In my defense, however, the chairs were super-comfortable, the afternoon sun was very warm, I had just raced my bike, and the previous day I had driven ten hours with two young children. I had earned that nap.
Saturday, October 15. The race day dawned damp, windy, cool, and uber-crossy. Mosco and I raced both the Masters 45+ event and our category races. Racing in Colorado is often an exercise in humility. In the Iowa masters’ race, we were able to race near the front and make an impact on the outcome. I kept thinking, “So that’s what it looks like up here.” Years of suffering in the mid-pack were rewarded with a rare podium appearance. The racing had started well.
Then came the double-down, and to be honest, about halfway through, this second race in two hours began to seem like a bit of a mistake. The last 20 minutes were a blur of too much focus. My vision was filtered through a fine mixture of roaring blood and dripping sweat. Piss-poor handling lead to a tyre issue, and I fought a rolling tubular until the finish. I was chasing guys who wouldn’t come back, hacking through corners with numb arms, and barely surviving the uphills. It was a perfect ’cross effort and one that my body can handle only about three times each season.
With the help of gentle heckling from our comically nice Midwestern hosts, we persevered through more than an hour and a half of what can only be described as weight training on bicycles at an excessively high heart rate. At the finish, I sat/collapsed at the top of the run-up and assuaged my physical grief with Molson Ice (a macro-brewed Coors product, thank you) and homemade BBQ. Then Mosco joined me, looking none the worse for wear after all that abuse. I’m not sure how he did that.
The race director tried to convince me to race for a third time that day. I thought that he must be insane. I declined his kind offer so that Mosco and I could help a little girl to perfect her heckling. She earned double takes and roaring laughter after asking a race leader, who was bleeding out of his eyeballs, “Hey mister, can’t you go any faster?” Shortly after that, the dollar bills started to magically appear on the top of the barriers. Racers who were too focused or hypoxic to grab the money were berated for their snobbish ways.
As the day’s racing wound down, the magnitude of our upcoming return trip began to sink in. We had both raced twice, Mosco had fallen three times in the last two days, and I had rolled a rear tyre through sheer carelessness. Our bodies and bikes were lightly battered. We loaded the Man Pilot and headed west into the sounds, sights, and smells of Interstate 80 in Nebraska. We had a decision to make for Sunday. We could sit all day in Omaha to race at 4pm (and get home around midnight), or we could just head back towards the Rocky Mountains. Sometime during Saturday’s excellent Chinese dinner in Omaha, we opted for #2 and pointed ourselves home. By lunch on Sunday, we drove into a perfectly sunny autumn day in Colorado and settled into an afternoon of post-race, post-drive, and post-vacation contentment.
Looking back after a couple of weeks of recovery and reflection, the trip can only be described as a perfect cycling getaway. For three days, we were able to focus on just the bare minimum: driving, riding, eating, sleeping, laughing. We got a break from worrying about children, pets, jobs, and all the details that dominate an adult’s daily thinking. The road trip to Iowa recharged our racing batteries, and more importantly, gave us a chance to laugh like loons for a couple days. We were let loose on the middle of America and it was awesome.
What is a road trip without music? Torture. A road trip without music is torture. Here is a selection of the country, early rock, and folk music that guided us through our 20 hours of driving through the Big Middle.
- Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys – ‘Take Me Back to Tulsa’
- Patsy Cline – ‘Got a Lot of Rhythm in My Soul’
- Elvis Presley – ‘Mystery Train’
- Old 97’s – ‘Doreen’
- Halden Wofford & the Hi*Beams – ‘Swingin’ at the Skylark Lounge’
- The Pine Hill Haints – ‘Spirit of 1812’
- Dolly Parton – ‘Joshua’
- Ray LaMontagne – ‘Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s a Shame)’
- Don Gibson – ‘Oh Lonesome Me’
- Jerry Reed – ‘Eastbound and Down’
- Steve Earle – ‘Home to Houston’
- Holly Golightly – ‘Nothing You Can Say’
- Oneside – ‘The Letter’
- Buck Owens – ‘I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail’
- Jake Bugg – ‘There’s a Beast and We All Feed It’
- Cross Canadian Ragweed – ‘Brooklyn Kid’