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Barbarella: The Barbara Howe diary

Just as Barbarella bumps through the universe, comically oblivious to the dangers and threats being thrust at her, Barbara Howe has had a few misadventures of her own. After an illness-filled season in 2006, the 31 year-old Velo Bella rider is working to get her fitness back in 2007. Although 'cross is still the favorite discipline of the Marin County, California resident, Howe is returning to action by racing her mountain bike. When not training on and around Mt Tamalpais, she keeps busy cooking and sewing.

Follow the fortunes of this free-spirited individual here on Cyclingnews.

December 23, 2007

Perfect Portland weather

Racing on the 'dry' day.
Photo ©: Barb Howe
(Click for larger image)

Portland never ceases to impress me with its impeccable timing of inclement weather. I've yet to race there without some sort of giant storm or freakish cold spell. This year proved to be no exception as the worst storm in several years hit the northwest during the final weekend of Gran Prix racing.

The weekend started off in a benign enough fashion, light rain temperatures in the mid '50s. This was all just to lure the unsuspecting cyclist into a false sense of complacency then hit them with the big weather. This trip was a mix of business and racing and I had some appointments to deal with before racing.

A friend of mine from high school, Andrew, had recently taken up residence in Portland and graciously offered me the use of his car and a room in his beautiful new condo. Driving his turbo charged Subaru was one of the highlights of my weekend. I'm not a huge car person and I've never been one to seek a fast car, but having a car that accelerates like a cheetah on speed is very satisfying.

Friday's pre-ride was wet and grassy. The course was more of less the same as the 2004 Nationals but I certainly didn't remember so much grass. My memories of the 2004 Nationals were of mud and really deep gloopy puddles. Friday night I was hanging out at River City Bike shop waiting to pick up my number when I started feeling really bad. My ears got itchy, my throat felt scratchy and a deep fog crept over my brain. Crap. This was not the time to get sick.

After picking up my number I went straight back to the condo and fell asleep. Twelve hours later I woke up feeling refreshed and sparkly. It's amazing how much better you feel after solid sleep. Snow pellets were falling outside during breakfast so I filled my race bag to the bursting point with warm clothes and back up clothes and a few extra changes of clothes. You can't have too much clothing at a 'cross race!

Barbarella's supporters club:
Photo ©: Barb Howe
(Click for larger image)

The 'Bellas' were out in force at this race; we had 10 ladies in the elite race and all most all of us managed to squeeze underneath one 'ee-zee-up' on trainers. Due to the overwhelming amount of riders and very few mechanics I assembled my own all-star cast for pit crew: Gary Fisher (yes, the Gary Fisher), Sheila Moon and Grey Wedeking.

Even after hours of introspection and rumination I have no idea what happened at the start. Somehow I managed to be the very last person to hit the slippy off camber section. A few turns past that and my legs finally kicked into gear. An adrenaline surge helped with the legs but also made for a stupid first lap. I was off the bike in really dumb spots a few times and managed to crash into the fencing by the first pit and flip around into the wrong direction. Just when I though I had my stuff together I tipped over and got run over by Rachel.

The last lap went really well and I was able to maintain a gap on my nearest competitors and cruise in for a ninth place finish! A large part of this success needs to be credited to my highly enthusiastic supporters club in Portland. Andrew and a few of his friends braved the crappy weather to come out and cheer for me. To thank them I made matching 'Barbarella Supporters Club' fleece hats - check out the picture.

Post race I tried to cool down on the trainer but found no need for cooling down - I was already quite frozen. Did I already mention that I really like Andrew's car? Well I do, and it has seat heat and this helped to warm my chilly limbs. Andrew and I bailed partway through the men's race, it had started to rain and I just wanted to be somewhere warm and dry.

On the way back an overwhelming urge for pad Thai and tom kha hit so we went to a nice Thai place next to Veloshop, a nice little store owned by fellow cross racer Molly Cameron. Next stop was a driveway with a hose to pre-wash my skinsuit and other clothing so as not to destroy the washing machine.

A smiling Barb Howe.
Photo ©: Barb Howe
(Click for larger image)

Sunday was when the big storm rolled into town. Depending on whose account you read it was the worst storm to hit the northwest in three years, five years or since 1923. Either way the storm was big, bad and made for epic cross racing. Several inches of rain had fallen overnight and filled the low-lying parts of the course with large puddles. The continuing rain turned the few remaining patches of grass into slop and somehow made the slippery uphills more rideable.

During my course pre-ride I rode into a puddle (I'm not exaggerating this next part) deep enough to cover both hubs. You could have kayaked in this puddle, there was also small porpoise swimming in the puddle. Elsewhere on the course deep refreshing pools of water promised to make an interesting race. This start went much better than yesterday's but once again I was plagued by a stupid first lap. The race went along, I went along, the puddles were icy, I was soaked and finally the race ended.

Immediately upon finishing I got into Sheila's minivan, noticed a beach towel on the seat then got naked. I know from experience that you have to get all of your wet clothes off as quickly as possible to keep from getting the frozen shakes. All of my dry clothes were in the car but I figured that Sheila would come back to her van at some point. She did come back to the van to find me wrapped in the beach towel and a doggie blanket next to a nasty pile of sopping muddy bike clothes. Eventually I was dry (not clean though, the mud resisted repeated scrubbing with the beach towel) and clothed in many warm and waterproof layer and it was time to watch what was left of the men's race.

Post race was another stop at the Thai restaurant for more pad Thai with Andrew, his girlfriend Tory and teammate Anna. Too much lingering over food and we had a hurried packing and showering session to get to the airport on time.

It's off to the Nationals next!



For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here

Images by Barb Howe