She and I

Crits

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I want to tell you I am humble.  I want to persuade you that coming in last makes me more humble.  I want to hide my arrogance, my false belief, my ego, but, I cannot.  It steps out into the light to reveal her bombastic voice, loudly claiming, “I can do this alone.”

In Greek myths and in Shakespeare, lead characters often suffer from hubris.  Hubris is the character’s arrogance that leads to their ultimate demise.

I frame last Thursday’s race in that context for a reason.  It will be revealed from behind this curtain at the end.  Hold tight.

The first race of the Larkin Crit series that I did was fun.  However, a familiar voice came up from behind me while I was racing.

“Alexis!  I’m right behind you.”

And that’s when I didn’t quite know what to do.

Racing last year has always been me alone.  I never am able to hold on to anyone’s wheel.  I stay on at the beginning and then I am left in the emptiness of the race.  I am solo.

However, this voice, was asking me to ride with her, to work together.  This voice belonged to my friend, from the other team.  The team I was trying to beat.  The team I was having a hard time beating.

This voice belonged to the woman who when I first got into cycling told me about yoga and meditation.  We talked for an entire group ride about meditation and yoga.  It was lovely.  I love meditation.

However, now, in this context, I found this voice to be very startling.  She wanted to work together?  How can we do this?  Of course, I have seen different teams work together.  This is not so strange to me, but when we were actually racing.  It was strange.  I could feel my ego clearing her throat.  I could feel my inner voice say, “Okay, time to drop her.  Time to pass her.  You can beat her!”

However, I started to work together with her.  We alternated taking each other’s wheel.

But then, having what I thought was two laps left, I openly declared, “Okay.  I’m going to try and beat you now.  You do the same!”

I, then sprinted to the finish, in front of her, not realizing that I was ahead of the leaders (after they had lapped me numerous times) and so I crossed the finish line before the race was ended, thus putting me on the score chart behind the voice.

The second race that I did, I had a different strategy: stay far away from the voice.  Go solo.  My ego created this plan.  She thought we could do it.  She thought, “We don’t need anyone!  We are amazing!  We might win this thing!”  It should be noted when I say “win,” I mean, come in fourteenth–which would be winning for me.

So, I go pretty fast in the beginning.  I’m holding at twenty miles per hour (at one point, twenty-three!), but then I loose the pack.  I loose the wheel and I am mentally defeated.  And from behind me comes the voice.

“Alexis!  I’m right behind you!  It took a while but I caught up!”

Great.

This is where I want to tell you that I am a humble person.  This is where I want to tell you that I am this incredibly sensible person who would of course then take that wheel.  However, what do I do?  I take her wheel for a lap and a half and then I try to lose her.  I try to shake her off.

But, I can’t.

Because she’s got endurance.

And, I do not.

But, I.  Am. Working. On.  It.

Therefore, she amazingly, offers me her wheel again and I try to grab it but then the leaders come up and we all have to move to the right and it’s jumbled and I’m passing someone who came to her first race and I lose the wheel.

And, passing this person makes me feel encouraged.  It makes me feel hopeful.  It makes me feel like I am in a 5k and I love 5ks.  I love them because more people do them.  There are people both slightly better and slightly worse than me.  Instead of in this sport, where mostly everyone is just completely better than I am.

Except, the voice.  She is just a bit better than I am.

And, it is then, that I realize, I have been given a gift.

I end the race.  I do terribly.  This is no surprise.  However, I have a good time and I get a glass of wine and it tastes amazing.  Wine tastes amazing after bike riding.  My friend from the other team comes up to me.

“Hey!  How are you?  Were you feeling okay out there?”

She is the gift.

She is welcoming and warm.  She is willing to offer me her wheel.  She is calm and good natured.  She is welcoming to my fiancé.  She is excited for me.  She wants to practice together.  We shake hands.  I say, “I had the wrong strategy, but now I get it.”

And, I do get it.  I get that when life gives you someone like this, some lovely person who is racing because she wants to learn, just like me, then that is the time when you work together.  This is true not just for bike racing, but for life.  We aren’t opponents with each other.  We are there to support one another.  It is not a competition of who buys a house or gets a high paying job or whatever societal coinage you want to compare.  It is not about these things.  It is about appreciating each other and seeing one another as gifts.  I see this lovely woman as a gift in my racing world.

For me, I have found one other person who can help me and I can help her and race with her.  Race against her.  Draft off her and then she can draft of me.

We can race in the best sense of the word.  We can still sprint at the end.  We can still use technique, but we can help each other.

I was given a gift to help me be less arrogant–to prevent my hubristic nature. And, maybe this is why I continue this sport.  I could be doing things I am better at, but I choose to do this because it is so rich with value for me.  There is tremendous value in defeat.

There is so much to learn from this woman, this sport, myself in this context.

And we start tonight.  Our own practice: intervals and probably some talk about meditation.  4pm.  She and I.


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The Race Isn’t the Race (or racing after I said I wasn’t racing)

Crits

Use your eyes to read or use your ears to hear, here!

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In the womb, in our tiny selves, at 22 days, a single cell starts to beat and all the other cells around it start to beat in rhythm too.  Soon, this divides and become our heart.  31 years later, I can feel this organ in my body: beating. One, two, one, two.

 

A heart that is lined with stories–a room wallpapered in joy and grief and fear and jealousy and desire.  Desire.

 

I have this jersey folded up in my dresser.  It’s white and blue.  It’s got “Nickel City Cycles” written across it.  I haven’t worn it in a while–a couple months.  I quit the team a month or so ago.  Then, my life was spilling over like a kid pouring milk and I just needed to stop.

 

Then, I found myself in my local bike shop telling my old coach that I’d come watch the race this week.
“Watch?  If you’re gonna watch, why not race?” he said.

 

Why.  Not.  Race.

 

My heart began to beat again.  One, two, one, two.

 

The thing is that so many things in this world and so many stories we tell ourselves try to simplify this existence.  We try to say, “We go from point A to point B and then to point C and then it’s over.”

 

But, I don’t agree.

 

I don’t think that’s how it works at all.  I think we mix A and B and C together and we chop some stuff off and we tie the line together and we snip away a little here and then we tie in a flower and that old handkerchief from our grandmother when she went to England, and the whole thing accidentally falls in the sink with the coffee grinds from this morning and that’s the narrative of life.  It’s messy and complicated and I find myself reading my journal and I see that I’ve written, “I am a thousand things.  I am a thousand things.”  Even when I try to eliminate parts of my life, to make myself simpler, they call back to me; I am a thousand things.

 

And, then I am clicking yes to the bike race sign up and then my credit card is charged $30 and I’m racing in three hours and I’m getting ready to get that blue and white jersey out of the drawer and put it on.

 

We tell ourselves so many stories.  We create so many narratives to get us through our lives.  And, I don’t know.  My story isn’t so simple.  It’s not woman meets bike, woman works hard, woman wins race.  It’s different.  It’s up and down.  It’s more than a story and I realize the best stories are myths and what’s the difference between myth and story.  Well, myth is divine and it’s got a lesson.

 

And this story of me and my bike.  Well, this here, this is a myth.

It’s a myth because it’s a bit divine.  There was some kind of universal intervention.  There was some alignment of molecules of space, of planets, of moons, of galaxies and then I was on this journey and I feel closer to the divinity within myself.  I feel closer to the divine parts of my being.  How can I tell that it’s divine?  I just feel it: in my heart.

 

And it’s got a lesson.  The lesson is yours for the taking.  I’m not telling you what to learn from this, but the lesson for me right now is that I thought I could stop.  I thought I could just end this journey.  I thought I could just quit because I had a lot going on and I thought that the end is the end, and I thought there were rules.  And, there are rules.
And the rule is that once you quit, you quit.

And the other rule is that you can do anything you want.

 

So, here is me writing again.

 

And, I’m not sure where this road goes, but I know that my life has changed in a lot of ways due to some intense winter training, due to me falling in love with someone really important to me and getting engaged which I never really thought would happen and the interior of me has changed and that wallpaper of my heart, that’s changed too.    It’s full of acceptance and transcendence and still this desire.  This desire to keep tying this narrative together.  One, two, one, two.  My heart keeps on beating.

 

I know that I’m not nearly as afraid anymore.  I’ve taken that wall down.  And, I’ve transcended place and podium.  I’ve transcended even waiting to write about the race until after the race.  The race is not the race.  The race is the signing up.  The race is the going to the race.  The race is the sweat on your brow.  That’s the race.

 

Since I quit cycling, I’ve been running a lot.  I ran in a charity 4 mile run and I came across that finish line feeling like a middle school sprinter version of myself and I realize that I like running races because there is more people and maybe with cycling, I’m just looking for my competition.  I’m just looking for those people who are as good as me and simultaneously as novice as I am.  I’m looking for people to race against and this year, there are so many more people to race against.  I looked at the list and I was bloody shocked.

 

What I do know is that I missed this team.  I missed these tour de forces of women who I ride with.  These women are role models.  They’re my friends, but they’re my role models.

 

And so for me today, this race is a kind of new beginning.   I hesitated to put this under Red Lantern, but this is Red Lantern.  This is me glowing in the dark.  This is a narrative that doesn’t quite make sense and that’s okay.

 

This is my heart beating.  This is what my heart beats for.

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