It starts.

Cyclocross

IMG_1508It 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.

INTERMISSION.

IMG_0465Where 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.

IMG_1514I’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.”

IMG_1518I’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.    IMG_0464

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A Lighter World: Racing Cyclocross for Fun

Cyclocross

(video by Matt Dunning at Campus Wheelworks)

Hey.

It’s been a while.

But, I’m back again.

Why am I back on this site about biking when I don’t bike nearly as much as I used to?  Why am I continuing this?  Why haven’t I just moved on and done something that doesn’t make me feel scared and tired and hungry?

Because one part of one’s life feeds another.  That’s why.

Ready for some bragging?

Here we go:

My other blog, Le Poisson Nage (about French), recently got chosen by this lovely WordPress Editor and now I have 281 followers.  A day ago, I had about 30 followers.  This is amazing.  I get updates of who is reading this blog and my favorite part is seeing that it’s in all these countries: from France to Ireland to New Zealand to Brazil.   I also noticed that some of these people who found my French blog, now have found my bike blog (hi there!).  Anyway, I started to feel like, you know what, maybe people are actually reading this?  Maybe I should actually keep writing.

And, so here I am, writing.  But the thing about writing is you have to live your life or else you have nothing to write about.

So, I’ve also been biking casually.  I have this women’s cycling club in Buffalo called Athena Cycle and while I was riding and talking to someone who I think is an extremely can-do type of person (she fixes bikes; she races bikes; she tries new things all the time–for example, she is starting flying lessons soon), I said, “I don’t know about biking.  I just think there is this moment when you have to realize what you are actually good at.”

And she said something to the effect of, “Racing for a year and not doing as well as you’d like doesn’t actually mean you are not good at that.”

She essentially said, “Why are you forming this judgment of yourself now?”

And, I thought about that.  I thought about that a lot.  And, ultimately I thought: I like biking.  I like going to races because I like the element of “this isn’t really work; this is us playing around.”  I like this about bikes.  When people get on bikes, they tend to joke around.  The world lightens when I am on a bike.

IMG_0206So, I have registered for a race on Sunday.  The first cyclocross race of the year.  For me, this race is not, as always, about winning.  It is about trying.  This has been a constant theme for me.  It’s also about finding my relationship with this sport.  I like it but I find it hard.  I love that feeling when I am impressing myself, when I feel like–wow, a few years ago I didn’t even own a road bike.  Damn, man.

This relationship is about finding calmness.  It’s about breathing in a relaxed way.  It’s also about pushing my body on a Sunday morning just as the summer is going to sleep and fall is awakening.

Ultimately, this Sunday’s race is about me playing.  I’ve been working really hard.  I’m in an MFA program and it’s demanding.  I’m reading and writing and analyzing all the time, but I realized, I’m not playing.  And. I. Want. To. Play.  Cut loose.  Get on a bike and see how fast I can go without falling over.  This is essentially the main point.

So, Sunday morning, I’m driving out to a beautiful part of New York and I’m going to watch the men’s races and the Cat 1-3 women’s race.  I’m going to take photos because that’s fun too and I am going to race.  I want to exist in a world that feels just a little bit lighter, with people who support and challenge me–who when I fall over, when I am the last one, will give me a high five because I’m there.  I’ve showed up.

Finally, I’ve included at the top of this blog, a video from the talented (filmmaker, cyclist and I’ve heard musician) Matt Dunning who works for Campus Wheelworks (the shop that got me into this crazy sport).  I like this video because it’s like bike ballet.  It shows a bunch of adults playing.  And, sometimes, that’s what it’s all about.

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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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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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The Unbearable Lightness of Biking

Winter Training

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And I’m pushing my feet and I’m going nowhere.  I am literally going nowhere: hundreds of miles into nowhere.  And this nowhere is some kind of home to me. This is what it means to train in a room with one other woman and we’re both sweating and we’re both hurting and we’re checking the numbers on the screen and we’re checking our legs and it feels like connection.  From myself to my self.

Yesterday, I went to hear some classical music at Kleinhans.  It’s this quartet and they are playing this music, but they aren’t just playing the music.  They are becoming the music.  Their bodies are moving; their faces are pain and anguish and delight and joy.  To see a concert violinist play her instrument is to see something profound.  It’s such a true experience.  So, this quartet is pulling the music out from themselves and offering it into our ears and it’s just so beautiful I could cry.  And that’s how I feel on my bike, when I’m really in love with my bike; I’m just on this thing that I’m propelling.  I’m making this experience worthwhile because of something deep within me.

Today on my bike, I’m seeing my numbers and I’m maintaining and I’m churning.  Churning. Churning.  When I train with my team, they say “Race face, Lex” because I have this habit of dropping my head down from how much it hurts, but today I keep my head up and I’m thinking about how light I feel at this moment and I’m also questioning some things.

Why do I ride my bike inside in the winter?  Why do I ride on this machine that takes me nowhere?  Why do I come here three or four times a week when I could be doing something else?  Why do I put myself in this state of being?

And the answer comes like tulips in spring.

It’s the beauty of the moment.  That feeling of power, of force.  It’s because I am going somewhere.  I am going somewhere inside myself.  I am finding a way into my truest self.  I am biking because I believe that I can do this.  I am training because I want to get better.  I am on here through the snow and the slush and the cold and the ice because I know that when I race, it will be these moments that I go to.  When I race this summer, it will be these moments behind me.

I don’t really like racing.  That’s the weird part.  I don’t like doing something I’m not amazing at.  This has been the hardest challenge.  I like winning.  I like being the best.   I like compliments.  I like people admiring me.  This is what I like.

I don’t like being last.

So, I get on this bike now and I say in my mind, “I refuse.”

I refuse to accept my current state.  I refuse to feel bad.  I refuse to be the worst.  I refuse this.

This isn’t to say I’m not to come in last.  It is very likely that I will come in last, but if I keep telling myself this then one day, one race, one moment, I will feel victorious.  This is the drive.  This is the condition.  This is the state of being.

The unbearable lightness of biking is that it feels like nothingness sometimes.  It feels existential.  It feels like it makes no sense; there are no definite reasons for doing this.  It feels pointless and without hope.  There have been races when I have been so alone out there.  There have been races when I am racing around in circles.

This is why some people say they don’t race crits.  This is the argument I was using before.  I didn’t race crits at first because I thought it’s pointless to race around in circles being last, bad, the worst.

However, this argument is flawed and invalid.  Life is circles.  Is it pointless to drive to work, do the work, drive home, get up the next day and drive to work, do the work, drive home?  No.  It is not pointless.  It is not pointless when it is meaning and it is meaningful because these experiences aren’t linear lines: they are moments, bloated, messy, pushing together, moments.  Endings are a man made concept.  It is all a blur.  We never turn distinctly from child to adult, from adult to elderly.  We are all the same.  It is all the same.  It is moments.  We are always all these things.  I am always still a child and an adult.  I am the moments before me and the moments I will have to come.

Training  is appreciating these moments.  Training is taking these moments by your hand and saying, “I want to experience these moments in this way.  I want to sweat during these moments.  I want to push my body in these moments.  I want to feel pain and suffering and then I want to feel reward in these moments.”

I find training to be an intensely meaningful experience because it tells me who I am.  It shows me how much I can do.  It makes me work and focus and feel joy.  It questions me each and every time, “Can you hold up?”
And I answer, I can.

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Midnight in my Heart

Winter Training

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It is midnight in my heart.  The streets are dark and the shops have all closed long ago.  I am alone and I can taste salt in my mouth. Salt from my own sweat.  The taste of copper pennies are on my tongue.  I am on the corner of two streets: Vomit or Pass Out.  Neither one is an option that suits me.  I am in the middle of a functional threshold test.

I want to be still.  I want to stop.  I see my number and it is dropping.  The point is to increase the number.  The point is to get a high number, but my legs are heavy.  It is the sixteenth minute.  The sixteenth minute is the hanging hour.  It is the time when hope dies.  When hope is taken out back and shot in the head.  This is brutal writing, but it’s how I felt.

The functional threshold test is a twenty minute test on the trainer to see how much energy, or watts you can put out.  Twenty minutes seems like nothing, but in the test, time is greedy and bloats.  It seems to consume more seconds than sixty.  It is the dinner guest who stays too long–the one who eats the last piece of warm bread, who stays well past dessert, requesting a glass of wine and then belches, eyes drooping.  Time in the functional threshold is a slow form of torture.

So, I do the test.  I get my score.  It is a low score.  You are not surprised.  I am not surprised, but for a glittering moment, I thought that I wouldn’t have to work for it.  That I just might be naturally good.  In this sport, I am never naturally good, but that’s why I’m in a love affair with hard work.  So, I think, “I’m going to improve that score.”  I text some of my Nickel City teammates.  They text back encouragement.  One of them says, “Don’t put a frowning face!” (referring to me texting my score with a 😦 face) They reference that I am doing better than anyone on the couch.  They say I’m trying.  They say I had way too high of expectations for my initial number.  They are right.

Take a speeding train to later in the week when I am at Campus Wheelworks’ back room and I am sweating on my bike with my teammates and some others next to me.  I am more than glowing with sweat: I am melting butter.  I am doing fast feet and one leg spins and I am watching my teammates legs next to me.  She’s flying.  She’s all energy and she’s talking some of the time.  Talking.  It’s insane.  She’s joking with me.  I am having fun.  Fun.  Training and having fun.   We are laughing and we are training and I feel strong.  I can feel it in my muscles that I am improving.  I can feel it in the molecules of my body that I am getting better.  I am pushing harder than I’ve ever pushed: reaching deep inside to the beautiful dark abysss of Emily Dickinson hope and Mia Hamm inspiration.  It is an abyss that I draw from every day of my life because to live without hope is not a meaningful existence for me.
And this is what it means.  This darkness and this lightness is what it means to do a sport.  It means tear and repair.  It means suffering and reward.  It means good days and bad days.  It means looking over and seeing that you are surrounded by a room full of women–on my team or on their own teams and we are all working toward something.  We come here on a cold and snowy night to train in this back garage.  We do this because this is what it means to be a woman cyclist.  It means to care about your body in a way where you must push it harder.  It means coming to something and sweating.  We are not on bloody stair masters.  We are not jazzercising.  We are cyclists who are training to compete with each other.  At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: we want that smooth, sweet, brie and wine, cocoa and raspberries taste of victory.  We come here because we are training for something bigger than ourselves.  We come here for collective and individual victory.  We are united in our adoration for this race of legs, heart, gut, mind, wheels.  We are riding so hard we’re nearly flying.

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Belong.

Winter Training

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I belong to a nation of roads to be ridden.

I belong to a tribe of wild-hearted women.

I belong to the motion of legs moving.

I belong to the sound of my breath in the morning, panting in the gym.

I belong to the deep pull, the cycle through, the calm rotation through ten and up past six.

I belong to around and around and around.

I belong to my heart beating.

I belong to the sweat dripping.

I belong to the seven a.m. alarm and up and out, bike in hand.

I belong to peanut butter and bananas.

I belong to quenching not only thirst, but a desire to satiate dreams.

I belong to equality.

I belong to openness of ideas.

I belong to improvement.

I belong to failure as a way to victory.

Most weeks, I train three times a week and next week, I’ll start at four.  I get up.  I make a coffee, yogurt, granola.  I put on my bike clothes and I drive to the training facility.  I sit on a bike and for an hour or an hour and a half, I spin my legs, over and over and over again.  Why do I do this?  Why do I insist on this monotony of motion?

Because I belong in this sport.

The other night, I sat at a table with my team.  Glasses of wine, pens and paper, and calendars were out in front of us.  We were having our first team meeting of the 2015 season.  As I was sitting there, I realized how much I belong here.  The funny thing is it is not because of talent.  It is not because of innate skill.  It is because of my own belief in myself and my desire to work hard.  Each of these women is a powerhouse of force.  We laugh.  We joke.  We talk some rot about beating other teams (with the affection that comes with competition of course).  We want to do well.  We want to compete.

This past season I did not do well in terms of skill and ability.  I lost most races.  There was a moment in the fall when I thought that I would stop all this.  Why do this?  I’m a writer, not a racer.  However, after talking with a teammate and having some internal reflection on a train to Montreal, I realized how much I need this sport in my life.  I thought about how much I wanted to work in this training facility this winter.  How much I want to race at Larkin Crits in the summer.  How much I wanted to do the Buffalo Omnium again.  It is not because of glory.  I won’t come in first for a long time, if ever, but maybe I’m already winning something else.  Maybe I’ve won the spot to belong.

So, I go to the training facility and I work my heart out.  I sweat and I feel tired and I push and push and go deep inside and pull out strength and effort.  I pull out fast feet and strong legs and cruel minutes ticking by.  I train.  This is my victory.   I have already improved my watts and my miles per hour.  This is my victory.  I have already improved my endurance.  I was training next to my teammate and she looked at me and said, “You’re going to be strong this season.”  I won’t keep up with the top pack, I know, but I’m trying for the middle this season.  I’m trying to be a competitor.  I want to do well in the second race that will happen in some of these races (the race will sort out–the top cyclists will take off in their own race and then the other cyclists will fight for the “second” race).

I can feel it in my bones.  I can feel it on the soles of my feet, in my legs, my calves, the irises of my eyes: I am getting stronger.

I belong to the self that sees possibility in all things.  I belong to the notion that if one wants to try and work hard, she can do well.  I belong to hope.  I belong to effort.  I belong.

Enter a New State of Mind

Winter Training

“When you go through the door of pain, you enter another state of mind.”–Marina Abramovic (from the film, “The Artist is Present”)IMG_0410

I have gone through the doors of pain.  I have pushed through a season of sadness, of hurt, of being dropped, of disappointment, of defeat after defeat after defeat and I have arrived to another state of mind.  I have entered into the room of hope, of power, of muscles moving, of legs remembering, of me this moment now, transcending all of the before.

This is what winter training is for me.  I am a new person.  This often happens in my life, where I arrive again, but I feel it here with bicycling.

I have found a winter training facility that I love and I go there and I practice.  I don’t just practice cadence and going at least 90; I practice my breath; I practice calmness; I practice strength.  My muscles are beginning to remember what it means to go fast, to dig deep into the well that is inside me and to pull from it the essence of myself: optimism.

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I know I can do this.  I can train hard.  When I am on that bike at the training facility, I am not only in that room, I am in those moments.  I am kinetic energy.  I am there happening.  My mind is clear and focused.  I see the television and I see the bike riders in France and I am there occupying my body.  I have trained three times this week and I hope to continue at least this much throughout these cold winter months.

This morning I trained at my teammate’s house and I got to be around my team; I felt energized and inspired.  I felt ready.  We are all in this together at all levels.  I didn’t know if I would be invited back on the team again this year, but I was, amazingly.

IMG_0412I realize on the bike that I am creating my story and I am the narrator of my story.  This is a story of getting up at 7 am on a Sunday to go ride on a trainer in a basement and sweat through my hat and my shirt and my pants and to feel the muscles in my body burn.  This is the story of connection: of mind to muscle.  This is me on a bike.  This is me redefining thirty.  This is me one pedal stroke at a time.  This is me training for something bigger than myself.  This is a story of triumph.

Failing can be Winning

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For my art class, I had to make a postcard from my current self to my future self.  I chose to write to myself in March of next year.  This is when I will begin racing again and when I will get my custom bike from Nickel City Cycles, my team.  I am naming this bike “Athena” and for my art project, I used a photocopy of an owl I have from Athena’s temple in Greece.  The funny thing is that when I wrote the date on the postcard I actually wrote March of last year, so without consciously being away of it, I was sending this postcard to my past self.  I realized I am already the future self I intended to be.

This blog is supposed to be about failing.  Well, that’s the thing.  It’s supposed to be about failing, but I’ve come to realize: it’s not about failing at all.  It’s about winning.  It’s about succeeding.  It’s about doing what I can do and pushing myself out of my moments of comfort.  It’s about being the person I want to be.  It’s about biking, but it’s about so much more than biking.

Since I have started this biking blog, I have lost over and over again.  I have never set foot on a podium.

But.

Since, I have won a fiction award, I have gotten into a fiction and poetry MFA program and I have gotten to write for a professional cyclist’s website.  This, to me, is not failing.

Since I have started this biking blog, I have been hit by a car but continued to bike.  I have joined Nickel City Cycles.  I have competed in road, criterium and circuit races.  Since starting this blog, I have gone mountain biking.  I have ridden at night in the dark.  I have climbed hills at cyclofemme.  I have biked from Amherst to Wilson, NY by myself.  This, to me, is not failing.

I am writing to you to tell you to risk something.  I’m writing to you to tell you to try something that you think you’re going to fail.   I’m writing to tell you that you will fail.  In so many ways, you will fail but there will come a time, when you will realize, you have gotten something so tremendously wonderful out of this experience and this will nearly make you want to cry and in this way, you will know, that there is very little you cannot do in this world.

I don’t know what I think of the blog as a form of art.  I think in some ways it is kind of strange, but in other ways, it is so perfect.  It is me writing to you and you writing to me.  In the course of this journey, people have actually started following this blog.  I have gotten all sorts of comments from people.  From a professional cyclist in France to a woman whose son has Autism to many people who seemed to be interested in motivation and hope.   I have also received numerous comments from my own community here in Buffalo, New York.  These comments are, quite honestly, what have kept me going.

My friend the other day told me, “You haven’t written for a post in a while.”  This seems to be the biggest motivation of all: someone is actually reading what I am writing.  They actually seem to want to read more of it.

My next step in the next few months will be to chronicle my winter training ups and downs.  There was a moment in this last month which I thought I might stop this project, but I have decided to keep going.  I need this in my life.  I need to document this experience.

As a writer, I mostly write alone and send out my work and then wait for the rejection letter.  This, it seems, is part of a creative lifestyle.  This blog to me has immediate response and encouragement.  It is completely different than all other writing in my life.

So, to anyone reading this now, thank you.   Thank you for taking the time out of your day to read these thoughts.  When I hear from you, I feel that the world is a little closer, a little more comfortable.  There is order.

Thank you for reading.  I am so excited to continue to write this journey.