This is a three part story from Laura Winberry about the Speedvagen CX Team’s trip to Japan last fall to race, share and learn with their teammates there.
I roll to a slow stop and my right leg swings back and over the saddle. My left foot unclips and waits for its partner to follow through before touching ground. Cuffed-up dark blue jeans reveal ankles, socks, slightly pigeon-toed feet easing into soil. Not just any soil. Japanese soil so rich and churned up I want to shove it in my mouth. Dark earth as tempting and as sensuous as wet coffee grounds. Soil so fucking tangible I can feel it settling into my fingerprints, nails, imperfect teeth. I take one conscious, full breath and wiggle the toes inside my carbon-soled shoes. Pretend I’m digging them into the vast black fields of Nagano.
I rest my bike against a winter-bare tree, James Dean against a wall with a cig in his mouth. Its golden frame winks at any pretty little thing that walks by. I familiarize myself with the lay of the land: mountain folds, lines of cloud, mustang and foal. I hear the croon of a voice akin that of Dwight, Johnny, Merle, Reba. My eyes search the weathered clapboard shacks. Moist nostrils, dark eyes, hay-strewn stalls. They naively decide they are in the very center of an anomaly: a literal Asian dude ranch—amidst the ever-folding Yatsugatake mountain range, inside the speck of an ancient Minamimaki farming village, within the prefecture of Nagano, in the center of the center of Japan. The incongruity, of course, exists only in my own quietness. Japanese ranch hands, chaps, coiled rope, feathered and worn ten gallons, clinking spurs, Carhartt vests, western kicks. How small the mind can be. I am the anomaly here. I am the other. And with another full breath, the fog line waits patiently with hooves, brush, soil, while I take it all in.
Altogether it’s a slow blur. Yet it each minute pulses with the certainty that we are very alive. I look at the range and how it folds in gradients. It never ends. I have air coming in through my nose and things beating inside my chest. They will end. I feel winter’s sun and the stark contrast of her solemn shadow. I am here and I fling myself through night air and into the unknown. I shift with the seasons. We all do. We are children of the wind. Everything chaos. Everything calm.
As a result of many factors I am here, on a dude ranch in Nobeyama, wearing bicycle shoes and staring back at horses and fields staring back at me. The most prominent of factor is a gentleman named Sacha White. Damn, we are all here together, in Japan, thanks to Mr. White. And Daisuke Yano, of course. Who else would so graciously open his home to a handful of dirty ‘cross racers who consume vast amounts of food, coffee, chocolate; who can’t comprehend ‘no shoes in the house’ as a rule; and who don’t know what an onsen is and why they can’t just take their own long, hot American showers. Right. Like I said, Daisuke and his family are making it happen. Without them we wouldn’t be here either.
So here we are—fumbling Yanks, loud Aussies, the whole damn motley crew—attempting to assimilate an entire Japanese culture in two weeks flat. Not to mention race the piss out of our legs. Each of us with golden bicycles that mingle like rods of lightning: subtly, with striking grace and with the allure of all things silent and natural. Glowing frames that whisper our names in English and Katakana. Mud-dicing wheels that give a nod and a wink to the flags of two nations. A hand-crafted fleet, our torsos swathed in olive and green. Common ground, bare knees. Bare bones comprehension of a language at which we marvel. And all the while, Mr. White stands wordless in some gritty transition pit. Buddha grin, honest eyes, grease black fingers. Tranquility. The calm in the center of a staged shitstorm that is cowbells, is beer, is clogged gears, cracked housing. Is foreign super-fans, loud noises. Indeed, this is ‘cross. And indeed, these are Speedvagen Racing Machines. The bikes and the individuals who ride them. But really, this is magic. This is cyclocross and Speedvagen on a freaking dude ranch in Japan.