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 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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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.

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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Mud and Blood: The Courage of Cross

Cyclocross

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(before I got hurt)

Right now, I’m drinking Typhoo tea, eating rice pudding, watching a TED talk about vulnerability in relationships and all I can think about is my relationship with cyclocross.

The presenter, Brené Brown, is talking about courage. She is saying that it is different from bravery in that it is about telling the whole story of who you are with your heart. It is about telling your imperfections; these imperfections are part of who you are.

Now, two days later and I’m riding on grass. I’m “one, two, three” jumping onto my bike. Do it. Jump. Lift off.

But, I can’t. I’m stunted motion. Before cyclocross practice, I’m talking with a friend and we are listing our goals of the season. Mine: to mount my bike in the proper cross fashion. It is a kind of delicate hop. When done properly, it is beauty on a bike. It is smooth, fluid motion. It is that delicious crème of espresso. It shows you know what the hell you’re doing out there on the course.

For me, cyclocross is transitions. It is literally being on the bike and then hopping off of it. It is transition from summer to fall. It is road to indoor training. I know others who cyclocross is the whole burrito. It’s the reason they bike, but for me, it’s more like a little dessert at the end of a hard, trying, but ultimately satisfying road season.

Cross is also about vulnerability. It is five o’clock on a Thursday coming to a tree filled field by a lake. It is about going there without much ego. It is putting myself out there. It is getting on the bike and just trying. It also falling, getting hurt; it is often, mud and blood.

At this Thursday’s practice, there is this moment when I am in the peanut (a small course set up to practice turns) and I am pure reaction. I am finding the apex, finding the right line. I am trying to go fast and turning and not being scared. I have transcended the fear of last year’s season. After this much riding in the summer, I am more comfortable on my bike and with these new wheels and tires, I have so much control and my fitness level has improved. I can turn and be alright. I realize I am just one big smile across my face because I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job.

Then, the group of us, maybe fifty people, line up in a mass start. It’s the mock race around the park. I am one of these fifty: one tiny star in a galaxy. I don’t mind. I come here to learn. I don’t come here to win. Not yet anyway. We are off and it is tight at first. We are nearly knocking into one another’s wheels.

I am trying to pass my teammate. It’s funny to ride like this. Usually I’m trying to be on her wheel, not overtake her. I want to beat her though. I really want to beat her. That’s what I like about this teammate, we can compete with or against each other and at the end of the day, we’re still going to have that beer together. I’m behind her and I pass her and I see my other friend speed up on the inside and I’m trying to create some room. I feel good on the rollers. I’m moving along. Then, I get to the stairs and I know she’s going to beat me here. I’m fine with the dismount and the run up the six steps, but then getting back on, I’m molasses and she beats me here. Then I’m on and hop over the brick, and I think I can beat her on the descent. I nearly crash on her back wheel, but I don’t and I’m okay and then I pass her on the turn and we joke because on the straight away she flies by me. Then we get to the barriers and this thing happens. I get scared. I’m coming in fast and I’ve unclipped one leg but then I feel my center break and I’m falling onto my bike. I’m descending down, smashing into. I’m gears into leg, chain ripping through skin.

I get up and hear my breathing as I pick up my bike. It’s asthmatic. It’s choppy. I wonder if I’m okay. I look down and I see blood and grease and the outline off a chain in my thigh. I am not okay and then it’s blood and tears on my gloves and the consoling words of my fellow cyclists.

And now, it’s the next morning and I’m at work wearing a skirt with this massive bruise and a two inch line of scabbing blood showing. I still have grease stains on my legs. I couldn’t wipe them off this morning, so I go into the college looking like a hooligan. I wonder if people think street fighting is my outside of academics hobby. It’s not a bad look, but not the most professional.

Cyclocross is hard. It’s brutal at times, at least for me. However, to crash sometimes is to show your vulnerability. I am human and I fall. To be courageous is to dare to try to be the person you admire, your best self. Cyclocross is scary and rough, but I am learning. This fall I want to ride cross and to live my life, quite proudly, with the notion that I must try and not give up. This is and has always been the story of my heart.

 

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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/

DFL

Uncategorized

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Dead fucking last never felt so nice.

I can feel bad that I was so far behind. I can feel bad that each time I went up the hill, I slowed to 10 mph. I can feel embarrassed. I can feel self-pity. I can feel like I’m not actually cut out for this. I’m not actually a bike racer, not an elite or endurance or super competitive athlete. I’m not an extreme cyclist. I’m not this. Not them. Not me. I can feel all those things, but I choose not to.

I choose something different.

I choose the perfume of the budding trees coming up the hill. I choose the little boy who yelled, “Hi” to me. I choose the man who came up to me after the race, a smile as wide as a four-lane highway and said, “You did it!” I choose those guys from The Bike Shop who let me hang on their wheel for a bit. I choose the smile I felt from biking in the Niagara wine trail. I choose sunlight. Freedom. Good, strong breath. Joy. This is what I choose.

Today I raced 30.75 miles at Freedom Run Winery. I pulled my car up to a bunch of men and a few women and the guys from The Buffalo Bicycle Club waved at me in some sort of gentle welcoming—a slight movement that said, “Yes. Come. You are welcome here.”

I got on my bike and it was so loud. It clicked and clicked and I took a lot of grief from my fellow cyclists, and the clicking kind of drove me insane, but in another way, it was kind of okay because it was sort of funny.

I went for a short warm up ride with my teammate. Two women. Two bikes. Nickel City Cycles kits. I said, “My goal is to stay on the pack as long as I can, and then once I’m dropped, just ride it out and keep up my cadence.” My teammate said her goal was to work on her mental game. Then we talked about our lives and whispered secrets that only women know and we laughed and we turned around and stood in the line of category five racers.

“Alright. You do one lap together and then you get to that cone and then you launch.”

I looked over at my other teammate, “Launch!”

“Launch!” She said back to me through a laugh and a friendly smile and a great attitude and I didn’t know it then and neither did she (except in some hidden room of her self perhaps), but she would actually win the race.

Then, we were off and I fell back and the practice lap was hard and I took a Campus guy’s wheel because Campus men are nice and cool and are pretty much always going to help you. He got us back to the pack and I was fine after that.

When we got to the cone, everyone did “launch” but I just kind of “kept going the same.” I got dropped at the hill and I was a bit disappointed I didn’t stay on longer, but I didn’t and then it was about finishing the race.

And, I did. I bloody well did. And now I choose to be quite proud of that fact.

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