I ride and I fall. I fall and I get up. There’s mud and it’s gross.
It’s Thursday night and the rain is wafting down gently onto all of these cyclists who are here with their long pants and their long sleeves and their hats and their lights, flickering: small lanterns lighting up a path before them.
I am riding around the course and I am going really slow because I’m scared. The course is strange tonight. It smells like grass and mud: thick with dead insects or rotten roots or little bones of little animals. There is the smell of sewage and it’s harsh and putrid in my nose. We are at Squaw Island, which reminds me of the sound crows make as they cluster in the sky. There is something strange about this place. I much prefer Delaware Park, but we cannot rip up the grass there.
In the practice race, I am far behind everyone else and there is no way I am going to catch up, but I’m not concerned. Tonight is not about going fast. Tonight is about feeling the balance of my bike in this slop.
I found the preview lap scary and I can’t believe someone actually thinks it’s a good idea to spend the next hour doing this, but oddly, it is a bit thrilling. It reminds me of rugby: moments when your mind is not thinking anything other than “don’t get hurt.”
There is this death part of the course, which is this thin part where there are high reeds that hurt when you fall into them. The mud is thick. It’s clawing at my bike and it’s making me go off balance and turn this way and that and I slam into the ground, but I get up and get back on. There is this little incline at the end of the thin trail and it’s hard to go up it and the first attempt I almost crash so the next two I walk my bike, but on the third attempt, I say, “You’ve got to do this,” so I do and I manage to ride up it and ride down and not crash and it’s this intricate balance and I hear a guy on my team who is sort of like a biking mentor say to me, “Good job” and he explains what I did right and I feel proud.
Then I do another lap, where I ride and I fall. I fall and I get up. I fall and I fall and I fall. This is practice.
There’s mud and it’s gross, but it’s also dangerously beautiful to be in such a place like this at such a moment, when the wind picks up and the breeze blows everyone’s hair and laughter billows up into the sky and we are all trying, trying, trying together.