It starts with the dreams.
They come flooding to me two nights before. Ghosts in my head. I’m all panic. In these nightmares, I’m at the race. Everyone is dressed up as historical actors. They are reenacting colonial times. They are colonial cyclocross bike racers. I don’t have the proper clothes. I don’t have the short pants and the tall hat. I’ve come without the right stuff.
It starts with the fear.
The night before and I’m hoping I break my leg. I’m hoping I drink bad milk. I’m hoping I start throwing up and can’t stop until the race is over. Anything so I don’t have to go.
It starts at three a.m.
With the clock on the side of my bed and how many more hours do I have before I go do this thing? I have four more hours of peace. Tuck me into these covers and let me exist in this quiet darkness.
It starts with seven a.m. and not finding my jersey.
My teammate said I should specifically wear the jersey and now I don’t have it. I haven’t worn it in so long. I’m not really part of the team. I never race. I’m so far behind. I’ll be the worst one. I saw the list. I saw those names. I am not those names. I find the jersey. It’s tucked behind the drawer when I take it out—hiding.
It starts with East Aurora.
And, getting to the race and not having any milk in my coffee and there being a damn car show near my favorite coffee shop where I want the coffee and why did I put this honey in this homemade coffee? This tastes terrible. Nothing like Chow Chocolat. I just want to be at Chow Chocolat and instagramming my coffee because that’s about all the stress I can handle right now.
It starts with the practice lap.
It starts with that first dismount and I feel it. Me and my bike. I feel the smooth transition. I can’t do the mount, yet, but I feel good about my dismount. It’s easy and quick and I hop hop and I’m over the white boards and I stutter for a while but then I’m back on.
It starts with these turns.
These turns which are strategies in themselves, little puzzles that I decode: out in out and I’m around. It’s a quick descent and then a fast left turn near some hay and I’m okay and I’m in the forest and my breath feels good.
It starts with the off camber turn and it’s hard but not impossible and I can do this. I dismount and run up a bit and I’m back on and hey, okay. Hey, okay. This is alright.
Where I sit by a tree I talk to a fellow rider and it’s calm and it’s good and I hydrate and eat a goo and it’s coffee flavored. The espresso flavor spreads in my mouth and if I’m eighty and eating this goo, I’ll remember these years. I’ll remember my bike. Memory tied to food as intricately woven as your aunt’s homemade quilt. I’ll remember the taste of espresso mixed with nerves.
It starts with me saying to my non-cyclist fiance (who I play squash with and train at the gym with), “What’s your advice?”
And he says, “Don’t negotiate with yourself. When you’re out there. Don’t negotiate. You don’t negotiate to stop and you don’t think.”
And, it makes sense.
So, I’m at the starting line and I’m laughing and I’m joking and my lungs are as calm as a baby pool in May and then there are the official words and the count down and the horn and we’re off.
I’m in the back. I’m in the middle of two people and I ride through and my entire goal is to finish this race and to not come in last. That is my entire goal.
No. That’s wrong. My entire goal is to find this self. I want to find this person who knows she can do this. I want to find this self that goes to a race on a Sunday morning and enjoys it. My goal is to work hard, but that’s too abstract. My goal is to ride. My goal is to ride this race with this new self, always renewing myself, always becoming a better version of myself. A better me through bikes. A better me through self-inquiry.
And, I’m passing some people and I’m maintaining my line and my breath is still good and from the outside and I look like a woman on a bike but inside, I’m a concerto. I’m an orchestra tuning and I’m riding and making this music in my mind because it’s all coming together on this race and I am controlled speed and I’m quick at moments and I’m, like, saying in my mind, “You are doing great.” And, honestly, I’ve never said that before. Usually I say, “Why aren’t you better?” But, I’ve taken that voice outside to the curb, kicked her in the throat and put a big sign that says, “Free.”
I’m in this race and it’s fun and it’s hard and it’s so hard. It’s always hard and my throat is so dry. Dry as Utah’s Badlands. And, I even take a hand up of some beer at one point, just to have something to slosh around in my mouth and then I’m so thankful for the pit who calls my name and hands me a water bottle which tastes like cool morning breezes off the Atlantic.
(On one lap, I did throw the water bottle nearly into another rider who was a good sport about it, but I felt pretty bad, but it was also kind of hilarious.)
I’m turning and I’m turning and I’m turning and of course I get passed but it’s okay. I transcend it. I’m here and I’m racing this and I’m not last.
And, then there’s one more lap, I think and I ask another rider and she says, “Yes” and I go down the steep turn and I almost make it up, but I dismount.
And, so I finish the race, with a choking, “Am I done?” and the BBC men are so nice and “yes!” they yell and so it starts.
So, these moments start of me replaying the race in my head and this one moment where I am all alone in the Knox Farm field and I see the yellow course tape, flapping, just flapping in the wind and it almost sounds like its clapping for me.
If I listen just right, I can hear its applause.