Cyclocross racing is sometimes referred to as "ballet on mud," and cheering spectators at Greenhorn Park in Yreka got to see why last weekend.

Cyclocross racing is sometimes referred to as "ballet on mud," and cheering spectators at Greenhorn Park in Yreka got to see why last weekend.

Saturday marked the kickoff of the annual Outlaw Cyclocross Race Series, which continues through Nov. 17 with two Saturdays of racing in Grants Pass and two Saturdays at Ashland's Emigrant Lake.

The mud-covered racers in Northern California pumped their pedals, shouldered their bikes and negotiated treacherous barriers, giving graphic meaning to another of the sport's monikers, "the steeplechase of cycling."

"It was a great course, a great turnout and a good kickoff to the series," says Scott Churchill, one of the racers who pedaled ferociously last weekend. "Cyclocross is great because, while it's a competition with other racers and yourself, it's also very low-key, and it's a great community."

The Outlaw Cyclocross Series, now in its 12th year, has grown in both participation and attendance. The series offers several different race classifications based on the age and experience level of riders.

Each race course in the series is unique, because each cyclocross course is created based on the terrain and location of the race. One constant in all cyclocross races, however, is the wild terrain and obstacles the racers encounter.

There's mud to slog through, steep hills to climb and barriers that must be negotiated, some natural and others man-made.

All five races in the Outlaw series, including last week's race in Yreka, are expected to attract 50 to 60 racers in various classes from junior men to masters. The entry fee for each race is $15, and racers compete for a series title based on overall points from each race.

Cyclocross races are not just exciting for the racers, but for spectators as well. They are full of action, with rapid dismounts and remounts, lots of mud slinging, and slipping feet and cycles.

"Being located so close to cities, it makes them something that a spectator or participant can enjoy in part of an afternoon," says Thom Kneeland, a local cyclist and course designer for the series. "They are a great place to hang out, see racers who have a great attitude about the sport, and just have fun."

Cyclocross also is an important extension of the cycling season for a lot of riders. "Traditionally cyclocross has been a fall/winter sport," Kneeland says. "Road and mountain bike racing is over by fall, so cyclocross allows racers to prolong the season or jumpstart their winter training."

The Outlaw race series, which has become a fundamental part of the regional cycling scene over the years, is more than just a fun and exciting event. It also serves a deeper purpose. All proceeds from the series go to Josephine County Search and Rescue, an organization important to Jana Jensen, owner of Cycle Analysis and a leading force behind the series.

On July 14, 2000, Jana's son, Nicholas, drowned while swimming in the Illinois River. Because of a number of factors, including a lack of search and rescue equipment, Nick's whereabouts were not known for several days, which added to the family's suffering.

The tragic experience made Jensen realize that regional search and rescue workers needed help, so she took it upon herself to help fund the organization. This year will be the eighth time that the Outlaw series has donated its proceeds to the Josephine County Search and Rescue. The Nick Jensen Memorial Fund has donated more than $130,000 in equipment and training to the group over the years.

"I feel it's important to support Search and Rescue, because outdoor activities are a part of most people's everyday lives here, and you never know what could happen," Jensen says. "I'm just a mom, trying to make a difference."