by Michael Bowen

If it's got two wheels and you can pedal it, Marla Emde has probably raced it. From mountain and road bikes to tandem and track racing, she's competed in nearly every discipline of bike racing one can imagine. But nothing, she says, gives her a bigger jolt than the running-while-carrying-a-perfectly-good-bike sport of cyclocross.

"I think it's the toughest one hour I've ever done. And it's probably the longest above red line, also. Just when you think you're going all out on your bike, you have to get off and run with it up this hill. It really shoots your heart rate up another 10 or 15 beats."

To picture cyclocross, think of a bike race that is equal parts mountain biking, steeplechase and obstacle course. It's conducted on mile-long loop courses chock-full of barricades and steep hills that force riders off their bikes and into bike-shouldering leaps and scrambles. The timed event is either a 45- or 60-minute race, depending on the age category, and the winner is determined by the rider who cranks out the most mileage in that period of time.

"Anyone can do it," says Emde, who also organizes the Inland Northwest Cyclocross Series. "It's not anywhere near as technical as mountain bike racing. Most of the trails have to be three meters wide so you can pass on the course. The thing that throws people the most is that transition of getting off your bike smoothly, jumping over a 14- inch barrier, remounting gracefully, and then continuing on. That's the hardest part for people to master, but it's also where you can make up most of your time. It's definitely a technique thing specific to cyclocross."

While cyclocross may look like it was concocted by some extreme gearhead on steroids, it has actually been around for the past century. It was invented by French soldiers who used bikes to keep up with mounted officers during wintertime hunts. When faced with a stretch of woods that was unrideable, they simply lifted their bikes up and ran with them. Eventually, it became a popular cold weather alternative to road racing because of its incredible aerobic benefits. And with its slower speeds, there was less exposure to the wind chill of the open road. The sport has been popular with the Euros for decades, but it's only started to catch on in the U.S. within the last seven or eight years. There are cyclocross-specific bikes, which look like a hybrid road bike with knobby tires and a higher clearance, but most people start out using a regular mountain bike.

Because cyclocross is a late-fall sport, the weather is often nasty and wet, making for a sloppy mudfest. This makes the terrain more difficult and, of course, this is good news to cyclocross racers. It's just another element that adds to the challenge of the course. "That's the beauty of cyclocross, really, all the elements," says Emde. "That's why it's in the fall and that's what makes it fun sometimes, when you get difficult weather."

Emde says anyone interested in cyclocross should come out and watch a race to get a good idea how the course is set up and how the transitions work. Then, if it looks like fun, they can just can show up on race day, pay the 20 bucks and give it a try. "Anybody can come. We do have beginner categories, and you don't have to qualify for any of these events. Because it's a lap course, there's no pressure to keep up with the pack. It turns out to be basically just a time trial. After the first lap or so, the field is so strung out, nobody knows who's in first place. It doesn't matter; people can just go at their own ability level.

"It appeals to a lot of different people," Emde continues. " And it's fun because you can have your friends out there screaming for you. You can see them every lap." The cyclocross series continues this weekend with a race on Saturday at the Downriver course and a race on Sunday at the Riverside State Park course.

Deep in the Undergrowth -- While most of us have been savoring one of the most brilliant and sun-drenched Octobers in memory, there are people who look at those same cloudless skies with fretful eyes and actually root for rain. They are the avid mushroomers. And for them, fall is not for football, fishing or Frankenstein; for them, fall is for foraging in the forest for their favorite fungi. Because they know that there is no other time of the year when mushrooms are so plentiful, varied and spectacular. The most abundant of these little autumn treasures, and the one regarded by many chefs as the finest of all mushrooms, is the chanterelle. But they also know that these delicacies are ushered in by the first fall rains, and failing rain, fungi become fairly fickle. (I'm done doing that "f" thing, I swear.)

Lori Carris is a mycologist from WSU and will be teaching a fall mushroom class on Oct. 27 at the University of Idaho's Clark Fork Field Campus. She says that even with the dry fall weather, there is still good foraging to be had.

"The lack of rain has reduced the numbers, but the chanterelles are out there. We were out last weekend and found beautiful chanterelles. However, it certainly seems to have limited the diversity of fungi." So the chances of finding the less common varieties, like boletes or matsutakes (which are going for $27 per pound at Huckleberry's right now) should be limited. But it's still not too late for a good season, says Carris.

"I've found nice mushrooms into mid-November if the weather holds. What we'd like to see is to have more rain, of course, and for the really cold temperatures to hold off. It's just a matter of the weather cooperating with us." Chanterelles can only grow in a true forest setting, and there are some lookalikes that could make you sick if eaten. Carris suggests getting a good guidebook, taking a class or going with someone who knows what they're doing. So go find a moist conifer forest, grab a good poking stick, crouch down and start looking.

Catching up with Christopher Swain -- Back in May, we ran a story about Christopher Swain, the Portland man who was planning to swim the entire 1,243-mile length of the Columbia River to heighten awareness of the pollution in the river. He started on June 4 and was hoping to complete the swim from Canal Flats in British Columbia to the Pacific Ocean in six months. I caught up with him on his cell phone the other day to get an update. As of Sunday, he was just above Kettle Falls -- 530 miles into it, with 713 miles left to go.

Swain has had a few setbacks that have caused him to alter his schedule, which now forecasts an April finish. The biggest problem was the loss of his crew chief, who got sick with a viral infection and, as Swain says, "had to retire from the expedition in order to obey his doctor's order for rest until January." This meant finding volunteers, which takes time to recruit and train. In his phrase, he's constantly having to "crew up."

Finances have also become an issue. Swain says, "I need to rebuild the mission in an effort to finish by the end of April." This means a revised winter schedule of swimming just three days a week, while spending his "off" days working part time, pursuing sponsorship and doing logistical things as well as ongoing community outreach to keep his message out there. Physically, he's holding up well. Other than some "chafing issues," he feels good. He says he's already gone through two wet suits, which are "pretty well shot." Despite the change in plans, Swain says he remains determined to finish. "No plan survives the first contest with the enemy, right?"

Asked if he could sum up his journey so far in a few words, the cell phone signal starts to break up. But I hear the words "amazing" and "sobering" before his line goes dead. To be continued...

Swap Meet -- Attention swappers! Don't forget -- you can swap 'til you drop at the 38th annual Mt. Spokane Ski Patrol Ski Swap this weekend. This year's sale will take place at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center's main exhibition building from Oct. 25-27. If you plan to sell equipment, you must register items on Friday from 3-9 pm. Sale hours are from 9 am-5 pm on Saturday and from 9 am-noon on Sunday. Admission is $3; children 12 and younger are admitted free. For more info call: 535-0102.

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About The Author

Michael Bowen is a former senior writer for The Inlander and a respected local theater critic. He also covers literature, jazz and classical music, and art, among other things.