When Mike Kirby and I heard that Kyle Wiberg was auctioning off the chance to ride his sweet Specialized tandem mountain bike in the Afterglow, a cross race in Humboldt Park, we started fundraising in earnest. Little did we know the momentum our campaign would gain: by Friday, we’d raised somewhere north of $1200 for World Bicycle Relief and West Town Bikes. A good chunk of that donation was $500 from a lawyer friend of Kirby’s who said she’d cough up $500 if he’d race in a Speedo.
I’d ridden in the women’s 1/2/3 earlier in the day, and I was nervous. It was my first race in the snow, and it was hard. Really hard. I wiped out multiple times; during the most dramatic crash I took a brake hood to the sternum. But when Kirby and I got the tandem at noon we took a practice lap, allaying a lot of my fears. The bike was so heavy that we had great traction on the slippery spots, and our eight-foot-long wheelbase gave us a stability in the snowy-sandy goop that individual riders lacked. Kirby pointed the bike and it just went.
We lined up, the swim-suited, embrocation-covered Kirby reeking like a Kool cigarette. When the whistle shrieked we exploded from the line, blasting ahead of the two tandem teams who were our competition. But as we hit the hole shot, our pedals spun ineffectively. “Is the chain off?” Kirby yelled. I looked down, trying to figure out where on the enormous drive train the problem was coming from. “No! No! I don’t know what’s going on!”
It took us a good 15 seconds to realize that we’d dropped the chain onto the granny gear. Kirby shifted up and we were off, but the other two teams were well ahead. They underestimated us, though. We had fire in our bellies--and Kirby was cold. We took the right before the trees, then a hard left on the singletrack that skirted the swamp. I dismounted, and up the hill we ran, where the second-place tandem team was struggling. We ran past them. Kirby guided the bike, and I detoured to the left where the traction was better, crashing through the snowy brush to catch up with him. Kirby remounted, and then I jumped on, and we were off with the first-place tandem team in sight.
At the beginning of the second lap, Windy City Rollers referee extraordinaire Dr. Vroom handed Kirby a beer. He took a slug. “Hey, pass that back here.” I took a big swig. I spied a guy standing by the tape. “Hey! Hey!” I screamed. “Hold my beer!” I passed it off.
A little later on the second lap, we caught the first-place team. We spent the rest of the race building our lead.
We surged toward the barriers. “Ten seconds!” my husband screamed. “You look great! Especially you, Kirby!” Unconstrained by any need to hang onto the bars, I sat up, turned around, and flipped him off. Not very sportsmanlike, but he had it coming.
On the third lap, our lead was 35 seconds. Once we crested the final run-up and remounted, I knew all we had to do was ride cleanly.
We rounded the far edge of the park before the last sandy section. “I'm gonna take the post-up, Kirby.”
“It’s all yours,” he said.
Nearing the final turn, we saw Katie Tomarelli from Half Acre ahead. “Slow up,” Kirby said. “No one else in the picture.”
We eased up, letting Katie go ahead. We rounded the final turn. We crossed the finish line, Kirby guiding the bike, me pumping my arms in the air. VIctory!