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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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.