(final post for Red Lantern Cyclist)
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.