“You cannot be a cyclist without going through incredible amounts of pain.”
We were circling around and around and around. The six o’clock sun cast shadows on Larkin Square.
I saw her on the side of the road. There was blood. There was stillness. There were men giving me directions to keep going.
Three days after her crash, I ask, “What can I do for you?”
She replies, “You can help by riding your ass off for me every time you race.”
At this week’s crit practice, I am thinking about that statement and I’m also thinking about suffering. I’m thinking how I don’t push myself enough. I must dig deeper.
How can pain help me? How can suffering build me up? How do these negative things create positives?
Ironically, at crit practice, my injured teammate’s boyfriend is leading it. We are all working in a pace line. He is in front of me. We are working. We are working. We are going around a corner, tight, together, a flock of birds. We are close to one another’s wheel. A guy calls out “Closer!” when I start to drift. “Closer!” “Closer!”
And I am closer and I am closer and then I am not.
I am farther. I am dropped. I am a foot, two, three, I am done, behind.
The space widens and I yell to myself under my breath, “Put yourself in pain Lex. Put yourself in some fucking pain.”
My legs hurt though. They are seizing up like rusty mechanical things. I want to slice them from my body. Get off of me you hurt too much. Don’t you know I am a machine here. Don’t you know I am cogs in motion, moving, moving, moving. Parts working together. This isn’t scholarly. This isn’t reading. This is teeth grinding pain and I hate this. I hate this sport. I hate these ideas. I hate this not being the best. I am pure hatred.
And then the leader, my teammate’s boyfriend, drops and in his cool, matter of fact, like it is a completely normal thing to say, yells, “Look at my ass Alexis! Look at my ass!”
But my eyes keep drifting to his wheel and the space that is growing between my bike and his and his comment breaks my anger and I think how funny this is because I feel my team may have teased our teammate about her hot boyfriend and here I am choosing the dirt covered road instead of this guy’s arse. Excellent choice. Definitely choose broken nails over an athletic build. Right. Perfect sense.
But this is the case and I feel myself panicking and finally looking at his hips because I think that’s what he means. In Nickel City women world we say, “Look at my hips!” but here in industrial city riding with this gritty other team, it’s “Look at my ass!”
He keeps his wheel close to mine and I am pushing hard and I think of my teammate on the ground and how still she was and I think how scary that was for me while in the race and how it must have been four thousand times more scary for her. I must keep riding though. I must ride my heart out tonight here near these warehouses where the air smells like Cheerios and a lake laps up the shore. I must do this.
In reality, I want to stop the suffering. I want to jet off with the nearest civilized person and have a cup of Earl Grey and say, “Oh the daffodils are so lovely this time of year. I love that feather on your hat.” but instead I’m here with a sweaty face and snot pouring from my nose and onto my gloves and salt is dripping off of my skin. I just want to keel over and stop. No more suffering. Thanks a billion but I’d rather read the dictionary.
I keep going though. I go through the end of practice. I do not throw up. I do not stop. I keep going.
And let it me known. Very clearly. Look me in the eye, “I am not giving up on this. Not giving up.”
And even tonight when I break down privately to a friend who understands bikes and life and I say how frustrating this whole sick sport is and how much I hate being worst and he replies, “Breathe, Miss. Breathe.”
And so I suffer while I’m out there on my bike but I also breathe. I take a deep breath in. I can do this. Remain calm. One breath at a time. It’s all going to be okay.
Suffering while I’m out there. Breathing the whole time. One, two. In, out. And, I’m going to be just fine.