A-okay.

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I’m taking a writing challenge this week. It’s to write a list, so I thought I’d make a bike list.

List of reasons why I am good at this sport

  1. Even saying this feels wrong because I am not good at this sport.
  2. I am trying to be good at this sport.  That counts for something, yes? Yes.
  3. I went to two races.
  4. My coach one time said I had good bike skills.
  5. Man, I wish bike skills counted for more.
  6. I am good at this sport in my heart because I am passionate about it. I may not be so good in the legs, but I’m good in the heart.
  7. I can keep up really easily on the B sweaty Tuesday Night Rides. After I do those twenty miles, I feel like I could easily do ten more.
  8. People sometimes say, “You’re doing great.”
  9. I have drive.
  10. I am motivated.
  11. I’m not going to fucking quit.
  12. I smile when I ride.
  13. I have my bike clothes on right now for a ride that will happen at 4 and it’s only 2:18. I’m that excited to go today.
  14. I am good at working hard in my writing, at my job, why can I not work a little harder while on the bike? I never feel like I work hard enough.      
  15. I put so much pressure on myself sometimes I feel like I’m going to implode.
  16. Do not implode. I finished both races.
  17. I did cyclocross even though I really was terrible, terrible and I thought that was fun and hard.
  18. There are some things people do that they are good at and naturals at and some things people do that require a lot of work. My friend told me I’m really good at reading (Thanks BP).
  19. I have increased how fast I can go.
  20. I have increased how far I can go.
  21. I am good at this. I am just not really good at this. I am beginner good.
  22. I am athletic, maybe not an elite athlete, but I’m doing alright.
  23. An earlier self wouldn’t even try this because it’s intimidating. I am trying it.
  24. I am doing okay.
  25. I feel a lot better.
  26. Thank you list.

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http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_writing_challenge/list-lesson/

DFL

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Dead fucking last never felt so nice.

I can feel bad that I was so far behind. I can feel bad that each time I went up the hill, I slowed to 10 mph. I can feel embarrassed. I can feel self-pity. I can feel like I’m not actually cut out for this. I’m not actually a bike racer, not an elite or endurance or super competitive athlete. I’m not an extreme cyclist. I’m not this. Not them. Not me. I can feel all those things, but I choose not to.

I choose something different.

I choose the perfume of the budding trees coming up the hill. I choose the little boy who yelled, “Hi” to me. I choose the man who came up to me after the race, a smile as wide as a four-lane highway and said, “You did it!” I choose those guys from The Bike Shop who let me hang on their wheel for a bit. I choose the smile I felt from biking in the Niagara wine trail. I choose sunlight. Freedom. Good, strong breath. Joy. This is what I choose.

Today I raced 30.75 miles at Freedom Run Winery. I pulled my car up to a bunch of men and a few women and the guys from The Buffalo Bicycle Club waved at me in some sort of gentle welcoming—a slight movement that said, “Yes. Come. You are welcome here.”

I got on my bike and it was so loud. It clicked and clicked and I took a lot of grief from my fellow cyclists, and the clicking kind of drove me insane, but in another way, it was kind of okay because it was sort of funny.

I went for a short warm up ride with my teammate. Two women. Two bikes. Nickel City Cycles kits. I said, “My goal is to stay on the pack as long as I can, and then once I’m dropped, just ride it out and keep up my cadence.” My teammate said her goal was to work on her mental game. Then we talked about our lives and whispered secrets that only women know and we laughed and we turned around and stood in the line of category five racers.

“Alright. You do one lap together and then you get to that cone and then you launch.”

I looked over at my other teammate, “Launch!”

“Launch!” She said back to me through a laugh and a friendly smile and a great attitude and I didn’t know it then and neither did she (except in some hidden room of her self perhaps), but she would actually win the race.

Then, we were off and I fell back and the practice lap was hard and I took a Campus guy’s wheel because Campus men are nice and cool and are pretty much always going to help you. He got us back to the pack and I was fine after that.

When we got to the cone, everyone did “launch” but I just kind of “kept going the same.” I got dropped at the hill and I was a bit disappointed I didn’t stay on longer, but I didn’t and then it was about finishing the race.

And, I did. I bloody well did. And now I choose to be quite proud of that fact.

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A Woman Riding Along

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Through the forest and by the lake, it smelled of pine. It was up and up and up and then down, so glorious, down. Thirty-three miles per hour of pure freedom, of flying down the hill, of this is why I do this, of I am in love with the world.

I was a bit nervous to go to the Cyclofemme ride in East Aurora. I didn’t know anyone who was going. I had chatted over messages to the coordinator, but I had yet to meet her. It was important to me to go though. I like that this is an international event. I like that it is for a purpose: to celebrate women’s cycling. However, I was still nervous as I have been having some trouble with my food intake and I didn’t know how I’d do on twenty-five miles of hills. Twenty-miles of flats the other day at Grand Island was terribly hard because I didn’t have enough food in me.

This day though it was all sunshine and smooth East Aurora roads and I was doing way better than I thought. I was keeping up in the front no problem. Then, we went up the first hill and my spirit broke: how am I going to do this? The hill wasn’t what I’m used to on Tuesday night rides in Buffalo or out in Lancaster for training. This was an actual hill. It was up and around a bend and up and around a bend and up and around a bend and keep going and my breathing is heavy and people are passing me and I’m thinking, “How are you doing this so easily?” Then the coordinator comes up to the side and she is sunshine in human form. She is light and bright and easy going and gives me some tips and I understand more about gearing and I say, “Are we last?” And she says, “No! There are people behind you. Everyone’s going their own pace. You’re doing great!” So, my heart is lifted and I respond well to positive feedback and I feel motivated and I kick my legs into working order and I get my breathing back and this is when I do the scenery trick.

The scenery trick is as follows. Instead of thinking I’m a pro cyclist who is in the Tour de France and there is this insurmountable pressure on me, I think of myself as my grandmother riding her bike in wartime England. My grandmother tells me about this quite often. She tells me how she used to ride in high heels and a dress from Birmingham to Stratford on Avon and back again. She actually met my grandfather riding a bike. I love this idea. In my head, I become the woman in high heels just riding along, enjoying the scenery. I am not competition or frustration or self-doubt; I am simply a woman riding along.

So, I play the scenery trick and I see the peeling paint barns and the grey barking dog and smell the wood fireplaces and I see the smooth roads winding and winding upward and I just think: what will I see next? There is so much to see out here in this beautiful place of the arts and craft movement. There is so much to see in this world when one is traveling by bike.

I get through each hill and sometimes it is still hard and one time I take a drink of some water and drop my water bottle and have to circle back and I become almost the last one, but then I catch up and I’m back in the ride and I’m chatting with the other women and it’s fun. My legs are warm and my heart is full from being outdoors in the sun and the breeze.

And, I am simply a woman riding along.

 

 

You Gotta Pick Your Line

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          I’m sitting on the sidewalk and a peleton of men are flying by me, and I notice them, I do. I admire them. I kind of like them, but I’m starring up at my teammate who is marshalling and I’m thinking, “I am so lucky that this woman is on my team.” She is the strongest member of my team, I think everyone would agree, and she could be in a higher category but she’s not, she’s sticking around in cat four so she can be on a team; she’s sticking around so she can be on our team.

            The men fly around the corner. It is the cat 1,2,3 race and to be quite honest, it is a good looking group of men. They are speed; they are balance; they are cool. Perfectly timed, fireworks literally explode in the background behind them. They are some kind of celebrities out there. They are wild and rugged and masculine. It’s appealing. I’m not going to say it’s not.

            However, I still find this conversation more interesting because my teammate is a kind of mentor. She’s older than me and I’m fascinated how she can be so balanced. I try to find women in my community who I can look up to. I love my mom more than the night loves its stars, but I need women who are not my mom to help guide me too. I look for mentors and I ask them a million questions. This is what I do.

            So, I’m sitting there, literally and figuratively looking up to her. I’m asking her “What do you think about when you’re on a ride? What do you eat when you’re not riding?” She tells me. She’s generous of spirit. She’s happy to share what she used to think as a beginning cyclist and now as a more experienced cyclist.

            In my own training, I am having a hard time figuring out why sometimes I do well and sometimes I don’t. I think it’s related to food. I think it’s related to intimidation, to how many days I’ve trained beforehand, whether or not I feel nervous or sick or scared. I’m working it out though.

            This past week I went to criterion practice and it was fantastic. It was hard and good and fun. I got dropped. My other teammate dropped back to lend me her wheel and another couple of cycling friends did the same. It feels good to be in this learning community. I learned how to turn. I learned to ride close to other riders, not just pacelining but actually going around a corner with them: close, side by side. I was scared but I was trying not to break. I was scared, but I was going with the flow. I was scared, but I was working, working, working around those corners.

            Something in my mind has changed. I’m happier than I have been: in my biking life and in my regular life. The pressure is off. I know that in some secret corner of my heart, this is all going to be okay. Everything. It’s going to be okay. When I was flying around the corner, the leader, my original biking mentor, told us we had to pick our line. I realized that’s all it is. It’s just picking a line going into the turn, over and over again for each turn. That’s what life is. You just gotta pick your line.

The Quiet Place

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Tell me something positive about yourself. Really. Do it. I’ll wait. I’ll drink a sip of this tea, while I wait for you to speak your words to me.

Got it? Whisper it to me. Tell me across the miles and as you do, listen to what you say. Say it to me; say it to yourself.

This is what I did on Monday’s practice. I silently said to myself in the first few miles of the ride, “I am strong.” I breathed in. I breathed out, “I am strong.”

My legs churned. I didn’t hyperventilate. I was breathing out all the carbon dioxide and taking in all that sweet morning oxygen that was around me.  

“Try to get to get past the point where they dropped you last time,” both my coach and my cyclist brother-in-law said to me. I saw that point in the map of my mind: right after the railroad tracks. This was where I first got dropped. When we came to that place, I breathed in. I breathed out, “I am strong.” It helped we were going a bit slower this ride, but there was something else too. I knew I could do it. I wasn’t afraid. Even if I got dropped, I knew I’d be okay.

Then, the wind started to come up. I know wind. I’ve sailed all my life (although I’m no expert). I do, however, understand wind. Our wind had changed from a headwind into a crosswind. My teammate changed her bike position. I followed so I was at her side, instead of behind her, as in a pace line. She yelled out what to do, “We need to echelon! You need to find the quiet place!” I understood it immediately.  I needed to find the place where I could be protected from the wind by my teammate’s wind resistance so that I could find the most speed myself.  I, in turn, provided wind resistance for my teammate to the left of me, so she could find her speed.

I got into the echelon and we sailed on the road. I knew exactly what she meant about finding the quiet place and I was there on my bike in this beautiful flock-of-birds-echelon of four women and one man and I thought, I love the quiet place. I can exist in the quiet place for right now.

Not just in my biking life, but in my regular life I am in the quiet place. I am a little lost. After being in an seven and a half-year relationship, marriage eludes me. My job is fulfilling and fantastic, but I am not a full time professor. I am a writer with awards, but not actually published. Therefore, this spring I’ve decided to take a step back from all of it and just concentrate on finding a way to my ideals, finding a way to not perhaps a white fence lifestyle, but maybe a bamboo fence lifestyle: living in a city I love, finding healthy relationships of all kinds, eating good and nourishing foods, having children a bit later, publishing my young adult novels, obtaining a healthy stomach: overall healing my body, my mind, my heart. In this way, I am in the quiet place.

I am here in the echelon of my life as the crosswinds are coming across. I am here in this quiet place and I am riding faster and stronger than I ever have before.

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