7 Nights in Beijing: An Essay on Chinese Cyclocross Racing in Seven Edible Parts
Thinking about it now, it almost makes me mist up a little. Not that misting up is out of the ordinary for me. But still. Looking through the photos taken by Campbell and myself, thinking about the rare specimens who convened in Beijing for seven humid nights, it makes something well in my chest. Which is to say: fuck, that was something special.
With one race left in our domestic cyclocross season, Nationals in Reno this coming Sunday, I find myself arriving at a similar sentiment. Different than the last, and then different again than the time before last, this year’s ‘cross season was something special. They kind of always are in their own weird, indirect, unexpected ways. This year, though, starting with getting to race ‘cross in Beijing, I began to feel a greater connection to and through the women with whom I toe the line. Locally, I’m fortunate enough to have a pack of ladies that I’ve grown close with over the years of riding in circles together. My wolf pack. Fuck, I’ve even written an entire book of poetry that, more or less, stems from this wolf pack, these women of ‘cross, and my animal experience as a human female racing bikes. It’s being published this March.
But I digress, because what I’m getting at is this: though the women’s UCI ‘cross scene is a larger stage and, in my own introverted experience, a rather challenging one to initially find meaningful connection in and on… once you do, it’s fucking incredible. And it just keeps unfolding into something you never expected. Until you’re like, holy shit, I GET to go balls out with this dynamic group of babes almost every other weekend. And you realize that it’s about what it was always about, or at least what some of the most fulfilling things are rooted in—human connection.
all good things take time. I hate this cliché. Mostly because I hate clichés, however much truth we find in them, and because people ruin them by making dumb posters and GIFs and bookmarks out of them. It’s true, though, on the UCI ‘cross stage, the connecting took time. It took time to let one another in. Time to let ourselves be let in. Time to perform in these very public spaces and also be human and real with one another, regardless of the outcome. As for the stage of our Beijing summer camp for adults? The time factor in the equation was sped up. Friendships were stumbled upon, made, and cemented, all in a matter of days.
I remember the first night well. Beyond tired and beyond in awe and beyond ready to shower the film of airplane from my skin, I extracted two gold bikes one by one from a
massive Pika bag and rebuilt them. I was several stories up and half-naked in an upscale hotel room, and Frank Ocean was slinking from my iPhone and I was all yesss to have not been given a roommate while seemingly everyone else had. Then a knock hit the door and I was scrambling to make myself less naked while feeling a twinge of fuck, I have a roommate.
Enter Campbell Steers, the chick who took most of the dank images accompanying these essays, donning dingy red Chuck Taylors, a faded tank top, and worn shorts. The gal who several minutes later I am gushing with about the subtle intricacies of hip hop and Frank Ocean and Kendrick Lamar. The woman with whom I most recently collaborated on a photo/poetry piece for the final issue of Boneshaker. And the Rock Lobsterette with whom I can discuss art and writing and music, and not get a blank stare in return.
Enter Emily and Sammi, the women of Squid whose style precedes them. Whom I knew prior to Beijing, but got to know a little more over the course of six days of dining halls and Great Walls and hall wandering and strange evening strolls through abandoned wonders. A duo that speaks for itself, and two individuals who bring it like whoa in their own diamondesque ways.
Enter SBG, my girl from Oregon and all-around solid human. Podium-snatcher, focused warrioress, fierce light. Someone with whom I trade tattered yet very capable wings back and forth, whenever one of us needs them more than the other. A grounded presence and forever-complementary counter to my aerial ways.
Enter Sarah, the lady who first contacted me about flying across the North Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Japan and North Korea to subsequently touch ground in Beijing. The one who got me on board to race bikes and make friends and eat brined food whose translation placards bore titles like Very Beautiful Shrimp or Miscellaneous Bacterium Soup or Potatoes Burn the Flank. Yeah, for real. The gal-pal with abundant energy and kindness and without whom Beijing would have been quite different. The third unsuspecting victim, alongside Campbell and myself, in an evening massage gone very wrong. Or right, depending on how you look at.
Enter Rebecca. Bold impetus who catches you off guard in the best ways possible. Very real human and badass, no-bullshit veteran. A staunch advocate for women in racing, no matter what level. One of the ones whom I don’t know well, but that I get to see a little more into, and appreciate, at each intersection. And, straight from the source herself:
There’s a lot to be said about surrounding yourself with a group of passionate, hard charging, fierce, determined women: willing to take risks, test their abilities, and push each other’s limits each and every weekend. Bike racing is one minuscule piece of a very large puzzle, but my wish would be for everyone to experience it at least once in their lifetime. There is a world of opportunity out there that racing can help you to see, alongside a no-holds-barred open invitation to a sisterhood of strength. I would love the sport to grow for the sake of growing the sport, but even more meaningful is what [bike racing does] for the individuals who give it a try.
Enter Kate. Committed and all in, yet fully aware there’s more to life than racing bikes. A woman dwelling in the motherland of Jersey, who also happens to share the same sensitive (adventurous-food-averse) stomach as I have. The one that rejects large portions of the Chinese palate with vigor. Someone with a beam of a smile that can’t stop won't stop, and with whom I’ve shared a laugh on and off the start line more than once. Kate… Kate is great.
And there are more. Many more. Including the women OF Beijing itself. The female photographers, cyclists, and super-fans. The women hocking shit on every street corner, the ones that exist on a plane hovering somewhere above the meaning of no. The high-heeled dames pedaling through spills of traffic like what. The podium beauties and the beauties collecting the excesses of our post-race water bottle plastic. So many.
Here, these are but a few from Beijing, and a few from the whole of the ‘cross scene. But these women, they're fucking Bad Ass. Indelicate with their ferocity and unapologetic in their swagger, their vulnerability, their strength. Y’all should have your own trading cards, for real.
So… until “night five” comes through next in this seven-part photo essay, I want to leave you with some real talk from Vanilla’s one and only Jenn Levo…
"I’m proud to work for a bike company that doesn’t see women as a weaker sex that can’t “keep up” with the dudes… In fact, in a world where most brands are looking for ways to appeal to more women riders, we’ve always been super proud to feature our fast women, who don’t need a motor in their bike to drop your ass."
Yes, queen. Yes.