The End is the Beginning

Buffalo

(final post for Red Lantern Cyclist)

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I want to tell you this ends with me having some sort of enormous victory.  I want to tell you this ends with a race and a podium and a lifelong commitment to racing.  I want to assure you that the world always makes sense, that B always follow A, that triumph follows defeat, that things that are messy get cleaned up: fresh, new.

However, this is not the case.  I have decided to stop racing.

After taking my final Functional Threshold Power test and improving five percent (miraculous for me!), I have realized that I love training, but do not love racing.  I started to feel a sense of dread in thinking about all the races I would have to do this season.  I know this disappoints my team because it was lovely to be united.  I know it disappoints my coach because he has specifically made a sweet bike for me that I could have used for racing, but will now use for simply riding.  I know that with this decision comes a sense of “quitting.”

However,  I have realized that I am not good at racing.  I have been writing this project for over a year and a half now and it has always been important to me to encourage readers to do what they are not naturally good at.  I do believe this.  I believe this to be true, but I also believe something else.

I read my class a poem by Edward Dougherty.  It is about how a young persona quits football and expects his father to be mad; however, the father says, you have many gifts to offer this world and football may not be one of them.  This is how I feel about bike racing.  I do believe I have many gifts to offer this world.  I’d like to take the time to concentrate on some other writing projects I am doing for my MFA program.  For this, I have signed up for a printmaking class.  If I raced this summer, I would not be able to take the class.  When I read this poem to my class, one student responded that she didn’t believe in “quitting” but rather “rearranging.”  I completely agree.  I have rearranged my life to concentrate on the true gifts I have to offer the world.
Racing has absolutely given me gifts however.  I write this from Intelligensia Coffee in Chicago.  I have a new ring on my finger and I sit next to Vincent, who has a new ring on his finger too.  I asked him to marry me on the plane ride here, the rings, with the longitude and latitude of where we were born, stowed in my pocket.  I may not be a courageous racer, but I feel I am a courageous human being.  When I asked him to spend his life with me, my heart raced.  I started to cry, but I managed.

Cycling has empowered me in so many ways.  Two years ago I stood in the pub talking to Ethan, the owner of Campus Wheelworks.  I started to cry while speaking to him.  I said, “I’m not married and I haven’t published a book.”   He assured me that it didn’t really matter.  He conveyed that I was doing a good job, just as we all are.

He and the entire Buffalo bike community proceeded to envelope me into their arms and make me feel that this truly is my home.

After that conversation, and much reflection, I realize, we are all simply doing the best that we can and no one basically knows exactly what they are doing.  We are all lost salmon in the river, finding our way back home.  We are all always changing, always becoming new, always searching for our truer selves.

I have found my way back home in this cycling community in Buffalo, but I have also found something else.  I have found a strength inside myself.  I may have given up races.  I may have lost so many times in those races, but life itself is essentially not a race.  It is a messy, lovely, drunken, misstepped dance.  It is not a competition of who is better than who, but rather a celebration of you for you and me for me.

I may have given up racing, but through Red Lantern, through cycling, through racing, I have found something quite significant: I have found my voice.  I have used this voice in many ways, but the most recently being to ask someone to believe in me enough to spend his life with me.

I will continue to use my voice and the courage I have gained from simply riding a bike down paths, up hills, around and around and through.  I will continue to ride, to discover, to test my ability and my strength and to claim this courage that I have fought so hard for.  There has been much beauty in being the Red Lantern Cyclist and I have appreciated every moment of it.

Thank you for your readership and your continual encouragement in this entire project.

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This Land of Strange

Buffalo, Cyclocross, Race report

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In this land of strange, the gifts are small.

This land.  This land.  This woman clipped into her bike.  This woman falling into the mud.  The unclipping of the chain.  All is lost.  All is lost.

I am a thousand dreams at the starting line.  I am picking my lines.  I am clear eyes and clear thoughts.  I am in my first cyclocross race of the year and my heart is beating strong.  My legs feel good.  My stomach, heart, mind: full.

And then the count down and we are off and I am there.  I am so there.  You should have seen it.  You really should have seen it.

I’m up the hill and I’m picking a line and I can feel how powerful I am.  I am not anything but power at this moment, out here, in this strange land of trails and tape and sport and beer.

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And, I am up past my teammate.  I am past her.  She is the line I was planning to follow.  I was going to catch her the whole time, but now I am past her and it’s so odd to be ahead.  And I am following the lead woman, maybe one or two behind, but I am there.  And, I keep thinking, “Maintain this.  Maintain this.”

But, I do not maintain.  My breath gets the better of me.  I feel it, like a child on the verge of a tantrum, it will gut me of my poise.  I hear it heavy in my throat and I am in the forest of the race and I’m also in the forest of my thoughts.   Smell the wood.  Smell this day.  The spirit and vigor of racing has left me, “This is just too hard.  This is just too hard.”

And I am passed by my teammate and I feel it: a tidal wave that pulls at my feet.  The women start to pass me and I am up and around and down and over, hop, over, hop, over the barriers and then down, left and up and back through the forest around.  Then I am up the curve and there it is.  There it really is.

I have fallen.

I am in the mud and my chain is off.

And the chain of my mind, the gentle click, click, clicking of my thoughts has released as well.

My cycling heroine tells me to keep your head above water.  She says, “You must redefine winning.  You must leave this race with your legs trembling and if they are trembling, then you have won.”

Carry on, you legs.  You have a foolish, no good captain, but carry on your work.  My dentist friend from the cycling community slips my chain back on and I am dazed, but so happy he has helped me.  He has crossed under the tape to do this.  I am back in the race, but I can feel the wind of these women passing me.  They are cheering for me and I am smiling at them, trying to, but I don’t feel like smiling.  I feel like keeling over.  My fitness level is stronger, but not strong enough.  I was in it for the first lap, but now my breath has been taken.  I am a stranger in this strange land.  I am racing against myself now.  I pick someone and think: she just passed you and now you must pass her.

And, I do, but I can feel that my place has slipped quite considerably and I fall twice more.  I feel it on my hip in the ground.  It is soft though and is not any real pain.  It is what I expect when I ride my bike in the middle of a field at 10 a.m. on a Sunday morning with this wild lot of cyclists in this wild plot of land.

I hear my name being called from the sidelines.  A man dressed as a beer can tries to hand me a beer, but I don’t want it.  I can’t risk it and I don’t want it.  I don’t even realize until later who he is: one of the owners of Nickel City Cycles, the team for which I race.

I have no idea how many laps this race will be, I think, “Six more?”  Then I see the lap counter and it delightfully, smiles “Two.”  I am happy.  I can do it.

I gain some momentum, but someone calls out, “Your bike is broken.”  I can feel it.  A spoke maybe.  The derailleur.  Something.  Don’t give in to defeat.  “You’re finishing this race.  Do not DNF.  Do not do it.”  Keep on.  Keep on.

If I shift this way, it is alright.  If I shift that way, it is not.  Shift this way, then.

Half a lap left and I am third to last.  I started third to first and I have sunk like a quarter in a pond.

Push you goddamn legs.

And, I do.  I push and I push and I hear my heavy breath and feel my sinking heart and once again propel myself one rotation after another.

This is what it is.  This is what it means.  One must always push on.  In third place or in third to last, it is about the carrying on.  Even if your gift is small, a tiny morsel, crumb of a thing: you finished and you didn’t finish last.  It is a small gift, but it is something. This is what it means to be human.  This is what it means to be in a bike race.  We finish the race.  We receive the small gift.  We bow our heads, say our thanks.  We have carried through.
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Collective Concern

Buffalo

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A funny thing happened. I used to belong to the world of the self. I used to look out just for myself. I used to expect only my family to help me.

And, then, I joined this funny, sort of punkish, sort of tattooed, sort of gritty, sort of not me group called The Campus Cycling Collective.

And, then I rode bikes for about a year. And, I started noticing something.

First, it started with a guy fixing my bike for free on a ride, and a PBR and some hummus after, no cost. Then it was a free pair of shoes from a woman. Then, I gave these people some presents. I gave some brussel sprouts to the guy and some coffee, pencils and chocolate to the woman and her family.

Then, I rode and I rode and then. Then, I got hit by a car walking across the street and I started having nightmares of snakes in my room. I’d wake up yelling.

Then, my knee hurt because of the car. Then, I talked to a few friends and they mentioned a guy.

Then I went to that guy and I’m going to use his name even though I never use people’s names. I went to see Craig Labadie at Buffalo Alternative Therapies and I walked in and he started asking me questions and I told him about all my problems. My knee. My stomach. The stress.

Then he took me into this quiet room with people resting. Resting. My family has to remind me to rest. I was actually going into a room to rest. Then I took off my shoes and he put these ever so gentle pins into my knee, my ankles, my collarbone, and my forehead.

And I sat there. I stayed pretty still.

And then, he came back and he took them out and then when I went to pay I paid on a price scale. I paid what I could afford. I can’t afford getting acupuncture at a high price often, but at Craig’s price I could. So, I paid and it was an exchange of money for service and I said goodbye. I left feeling really positive.

And then about three months later, I wanted to get this movie to come to Buffalo called “Half the Road.” I needed eighty people to buy tickets to get it to happen. It was going well. People were buying tickets but it was getting closer and I wasn’t sure it would happen. I was preparing for it not to happen, until one day a friend sent me a text and said, check your Facebook and I did and I saw that Craig was offering to buy fifteen tickets and then give these tickets away as prizes at bike races.

I was floored.

So, I messaged Craig and it was a great way for me to have another acupuncture visit so I said I’ll talk to you when I come in.

And he said that he really wanted to make this happen. He and his wife, Neilie, were huge supporters of women’s cycling and they really wanted to help me with this.

So, I went in with an armful of sunflowers because I couldn’t quite express my happiness and sincere appreciation in any other way than flowers. And on my way out, he said, “I know you’re really close to getting the eighty, but if you still need help, let me know.” I couldn’t believe his concern. It made me feel like a just watered plant.

And, then people seemed inspired and my lovely friend bought two and then Campus Wheelworks popped up and bought five tickets and it got me to the goal.

So. I’ve been studying. I’ve been studying Sweden because I want to bike there next spring, but something I’ve been really interested in are individualistic societies and collective societies. In individualistic societies people look after themselves and their direct families. In collective societies, people belong to a social set that will take care of them in exchange for their loyalty to that society.

I have many aspects of my life: writing, reading, art, running, soccer, yoga, Zen, filmmaking, sailing, et cetera, et cetera. But cycling holds a special place in my life.   I like looking at all these cyclists when I’m out having a drink with them or reading their comments on Facebook or watching how they respond to each other and I like studying how they act.

Craig Labadie, a cyclist, has a business model of acupuncture on a scale. He is offering something incredibly unique. To me, it is progressive. It is therapeutic. It is a kind, careful product that you exchange money for but it is based on you and your lifestyle.

I live in Buffalo so I can do exactly what I’m doing right now. It’s 10:40am and I am drinking espresso and writing. I live here because it’s cheap. I live here and I’m not trying to make a million dollars. I’m trying to have time. I really appreciate it when someone helps me and doesn’t take too much from me or gives to me and allows me to give back to them in some way.

My next step of the morning: I’m just about to make an end of the year massage appointment with Neilie, Craig’s wife who has worked with professional cyclists (the women of Saturn Cycling Team included among others). I want this massage as a treat for a hard, but fun, racing season. My body hurts. I need to go back into Buffalo Alternative Therapies, into that space, and soothe myself.

I feel the cycling movement in Buffalo is many things, but one of it is collective concern. It is concern for each person as another human being in the world, wanting to help her, protect her, soothe her and allow her to have her own voice.

 

Check it out: http://buffaloalternativetherapies.com/