If you have been paying attention to cyclocross in North America for the last couple years than you have more than likely noticed Laura Winberry. Piloting a slick golden Speedvagen through the mud and dust, Laura’s magenta hair and bright blue eyes make her hard to miss, however it was the attitude and kindness she displayed during the Industry race in Asheville, N.C., two winters ago that caught my attention. On harder section of the course Winberry passed competitors young and old, men and women, and encouraged them to keep pushing all with a smile on her face. A fierce competitor, a poet, a shredder of all things Laura was kind enough to answer some questions and give us a little glimpse into her life before things get started for the season.
1. For those that may not know, where are you from originally, and where are you now?
Jersey, bitches! Born and raised. Can I curse in here? I curse a lot. But only when it’s fucking appropriate. Oh, and I’ve been living in Bend, Oregon (with my awesome husband and zero kids and zero white picket fences) since winter of 2010.
2. From snowboarding, rock climbing, skateboarding, mountain bikes, how did cyclocross become your main focus?
Well. It was love at first sight. Literally. A friend showed me Brian Vernor’s Pure Sweet Hell and I was like: Yup, I want to do that. But I would also say it took me a while to fully commit to focusing more on just cyclocross, as opposed to spreading my energy everywhere. I still snowboard and still love it so, and I’m actually far better at it than I am at riding bikes. If there’s good snow in December, I’ll even get out there before the ‘cross season is over. When I’m not ‘crossing it up so much a few years down the road, you’ll hopefully find me on a board, bopping through a stand of snowy trees, laughing.
Initially, I think the “focusing” had a lot to do with the intersection of seeing Pure Sweet Hell and racing alleycats (messenger-style racing on city streets) in New Brunswick, NJ at the time. There’s also the fact that I feed off of competition and adrenaline and the finding of new edges. Just like most humans, though, it all ends up being a competition with/exploration of the self. After many summers spent racing mountain bikes, which would blur into falls racing ‘cross, I realized I didn’t want to race 8-10 months out of the year. Racing is cool and all, but it’s not the most important point for me. I want whole, full, multifaceted experiences, of which putting my head down and going hard is only a small part.
In other words, I wanted to return to mountain biking as a way of exploring and having fun, while keeping the weird, crazy, race-specific discipline of cyclocross as just that: this weird thing I love/hate/love and do. I mean, no none’s like “yeah, I’m going to go cyclocrossing this weekend, I hear the cyclocross trails are sweet right now.” No, we go mountain biking, but we race cyclocross. It’s not cyclocross without the race component, but it’s still mountain biking when the race face is gone.
3. This season saw you travel to the midwest for a spell of racing, is that something that you would like to do more of in the future?
Fuck yeah. Getting to race in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Texas, etc. this year was special. The folks I met and who offered support along the way (from tents to trainers to pit-tending in fucking 33 degree sheets of rain) were an extension of what I get to experience here in the PNW. In a way, I felt welcomed into a certain fold where I could experience the race weekend beyond just the physical race itself. I got to share laughter and stories and food with people, racers and non-racers alike, and that just helped to create something that was much more rich and fulfilling and encompassing.
There were several cities I stayed in that brought me back to my Jersey roots. I heart gritty places and this season took me to some rather unpolished and raw locations, which is beautiful to me in its own right. I don’t want everywhere I go to look like a photocopy of a notion of a hip city. I want character and imperfection and, in a way, some kind of chaos. I also got to stay in some areas where the socioeconomic disparity was stark. I mean, night and day. And we need to see that shit, because it’s there and because we’re traveling around racing bikes, doing this thing that’s so far out of touch with the rest of the world. And because it makes us think about the erosion of the middle class, and the vast stretches sitting between the haves and the have nots, and about how we are absolutely not post-racial or post- anything really. These are the things I’m passionate about engaging with, especially when I’m in this race world and this race world is all-consuming. A foot in both worlds. Because maybe then I go home and use my own privilege to do something about the reality of our country, even if that something is just a donation or volunteering or a well-thought-out essay. So yeah, more midwest in the near future, please. Check.
4. Jeff Curtes is your teammate on Speedvagen, have the two of you ever gone snowboarding together?
OMG, no. But that would be incredible. He’s my boy! Seeing as how he and his family are moving back to the states from Down Under this winter, maybe we’ll make that happen sooner rather than later. In high school, a close friend gave me Curtes’ book Blower, and I carried it around with me everywhere. No joke. When I found out we were going to be teammates, I nearly lost my shit. I’m pretty sure I’ve told him just as much, too. Now, he’s like another brother, in addition to the awesome brother I already have. I love his family, and got to spend some time with them in Wisconsin. So… when we do get to shred snow together, I guess the circle will be complete or some shit like that.
5. If you were offered lucrative contracts in both snowboarding and cyclocross but you had to choose between one or the other which would it be?
Awwwwshit. That’s hard. Because does this lucrative contract make you feel so much pressure about what you’re doing that you end up hating it? Or does it simply allow you to explore the world and yourself via this thing you love? Shit. Y’all gonna hate but, I think I’d have to say snowboarding.
6. Having grown up riding icy East Coast mountains do you feel spoiled now living amongst giants and riding powder? How often do you slide sideways in the off-season?
YES. I do. Absolutely. I come from riding a mountain in Jersey, Mountain Creek (formerly Vernon Valley), that’s just over 1,000 vertical feet and basically one giant park. I was a park rat lapping rails with the boys (a huge reason why I got into skateboarding), doing dumb shit on ice formations, riding nonstop. Throughout undergrad, I’d pack all my classes into as few consecutive days as possible so that we could chase snowstorms up to Vermont, redraw the dates on lift tickets with Sharpies (way before lift tickets were scanned), and eat free marshmallows, saltines, and jelly packets for fuel from the condiment areas at whatever lodge we found ourselves in. Precursor to proper carb-sugar ratio for race fueling? Blah blah blah. It was an incredible time.
I also totally appreciate having learned in icier, arguably shittier, conditions. Kind of like how I learned to mountain bike on trails that look like rock and root minefields, learning to snowboard back east made me a scrappier, more versatile rider.
Off-season sliding? If snow’s blowing in December and I’m not traveling for ‘cross, I get out and slide a little, albeit in a much more toned-down and mellow manner than the rest of the winter.
7. Besides piloting your bike through mud and dust you are also a writer and poet, can you tell us about some of the projects you are currently working on?
YES! Thank you for asking I’m so excited! Writing and poet-ing are as much a way of how I move through the world as racing and riding and sliding are. Perhaps even more so. AND… this September 17th Indolent Books, a queer-owned/queer-run publisher out of Brooklyn, will be publishing my first book of poetry! It’s called bell lap and here’s how I like to talk about it:
“As a book-length work of haiku and splintered haibun, bell lap knows it’s a privilege to be a girl putting a bicycle between her legs. It knows the freedom granted by that, and then, what it means to be girly and dirty and dogged and real amidst a sea of testosterone. Much like a cyclocross race, like life, bell lap takes you to an animal place and back again. In other words: bell lap is of the earth and of sex, of cyclocross and ether, and is feminist as fuck.”
I almost can’t believe it’s happening, but it is and I couldn’t be more elated about who is publishing it, or about the how and the why leading up to that. Come mid-September, bell lap will be available for purchase through Indolent Books. Right now, I’m in the midst of seeing which bike, coffee, and book shops throughout the U.S. (or beyond?) would like to carry it, as well as scheduling readings.
8. How can people get involved with the Stay Project?
The Stay Project is an online platform/space started by myself and two other Oregon poets in response to the election of DT. Getting involved is quite easy and highly encouraged. All you need to do is check out the monthly prompts we put up on The Stay Project, respond in whatever way makes sense to you (written word, visual art, music, photography, what the fuck ever), submit it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and then wait for us to post your shit. And if you don’t feel like responding to the prompts, simply posting a link to The Stay Project and sharing it with others is much appreciated.
9. Who are writers that have influenced you or that you really enjoy reading?
Oh, man. So many. I LOVE READING. But maybe I can be brief for once in this interview, eh? Maybe. There are some incredible writers doing some incredible things, past and present. I’m really enjoying David Foster Wallace right now. Big time. I had no idea I’d be into him, but I am. Junot Diaz, another one I thought I wouldn’t be into, but adore. Doesn’t hurt that he’s from Jersey either (soft spot). Two talented poets I’m currently reading new work from are Morgan Parker and Khadijah Queen. From the past, James Baldwin for sure. And MLK. You ever read Letter from a Birmingham Jail? That shit’s dope. There’s a nonfiction book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, whose content continues to have a tremendous influence on me. I guess you could say I’m not really into “light reading.” Arielle Greenberg is a friend of mine, and another talented poet and essayist whom I enjoy reading. She was a huge part of bringing bell lap to where it is now. Whew, I could go on…
10. Half of bike racing is being in a car, van or plane to get to races, what is your soundtrack for travels and pre-race jitters?
Yeah, it always seems like 90% of bike racing is not bike racing. Regardless, 50-90% of the time I am on that hip hop buzz. Jay Z has been with me from the beginning. And now I got Mr. Lamar teaching me things. Same goes for Queen Bey, Chance, Kanye, Junglepussy, the Wu, RTJ, Tribe, KRS1, a lot of 90s shit. I’m into a lot beyond hip hop, too. Benjamin Clementine, Young Fathers, Death Frights, Growlers. Same as reading, I could go ON. When it comes down to it, though: give me a beat / turn it up / make it bounce. And if not, better be Black Sabbath.
11. I like to leave the last question open to you if there is any thing you would like to discuss, people you would like to thank, the floor is yours.
I’d like to thank the Academy and Julia Roberts for her supporting role in my…
Nah but for real, The Vanilla Workshop gets a HUGE sweaty hug for enabling me to ‘cross it up out there. They’re like family. And damn my mom is the best. And I love you, James Williams. And thank YOU for asking me some non-runnathemill questions. I’m out.