Why I came out, why I race bikes

This morning, PT told me that I couldn’t race the rest of the season, and I shouldn’t think about racing for another 5 months at the earliest. That’s next April. At first I was very bummed out. I was angry at my shoulder and spent the entire bike ride back to my office being upset and feeling sorry for myself. I thought to myself, nothing is working, I’m injured, I can’t race, work is hard, life sucks. Then I thought more about it and decided, I can continue to feel sorry for myself, or I can move on and turn this into a beautiful, positive thing.

So I decided to move on and turn this injury into a beautiful, positive thing.

I’m still allowed to ride my bike. In fact, that’s better than doing nothing because giving my shoulder a little bit of work means that it’ll strengthen. I just can’t do anything that exposes it to the risk of sudden trauma. Like crashing. So I’m gonna ride. Like REALLY ride. I’m gonna rip it UP in every ride (until December…when I’ll still rip it up, just at endurance pace). I already pre-paid for a zipcar membership that’s $250 per month for cross races, but now I can’t use it for races. So instead I’m gonna drive to a beautiful new part of New England EVERY single Saturday and Sunday, and kill it. I’m gonna get so strong this winter. I’m gonna see new roads, beautiful new routes, ride places that most people never get to ride because they’re stuck in Boston. I’m gonna get fucking INSPIRED every single weekend. This is gonna be my YEAR, this is gonna be the year that I make massive improvements in my riding and get one step closer to my goals with cycling. I’m gonna bring my cycling friends with me and we’re gonna ride together and it’s gonna be fucking great.

So take THAT, stupid shoulder. I’ll make lemonade and key lime pie and lemon gumdrops that you can just SUCK on, and whatever the heck else you can make with lemons outta you! When I’m done with you, you won’t even be recognizable as a lemon! 

I went home early to get in a ride after work. Except it was so dark outside that the only safe place to ride was the bike path. But the bike path was unlit so I couldn’t see anything except for what the light on my bike illuminated, which wasn’t much. I never ride the bike path so I had no idea where I was going. At some point, I was suddenly no longer even on the bike path and had no idea when I’d ridden off. Finally gave up and turned back home. There was just too much debris leftover from the hurricane and too many pedestrians on the path whom I could barely see. I didn’t kill any joggers so I consider that an accomplishment.

There was a moment, as I was riding, that I all of a sudden thought of Australia. The bike path reminded me so much of two summers ago, when I spent May to July in Brisbane, the city where I’d grown up. Every weekend I’d get up at 4:30am to eat turkish bread and nutella in my grandma’s kitchen. If you haven’t tried turkish bread before, then you need to try it. Toast it. Don’t toast it. It doesn’t matter. It’s crack.

I’d always put on my heart rate monitor the night before because it was so dang chilly in the morning, and putting a cold plastic strap on your chest feels like being slapped by a walrus. So I’d put on the heart rate monitor in the shower the night before. Then I’d get dressed, fully. Red jacket. Paul from the Brisbane bike shop had sold me this red Sugoi jacket that I still wear all winter long. Go into the kitchen, eat my Turkish cocaine. Make some drink mix and put one bottle in each cage. Gatorade from an orange plastic canister. Then I’d flip on my lights and head out to the Brisbane River meeting spot. There was a long hill that I’d have to climb a block away from the house and I remember how long and hard that hill always seemed. Nowadays I think I’d crush it no problem. It’d be pitch black out with very few cars… but never zero cars. Always be at least a dozen cars rolling around. There was a nightclub at the top of the hill and there’d always be people still inside, and I’d think about how if I didn’t ride bikes then I probably would have gone to that club by now. 

The first time I headed out, I had directions written on a sheet of paper but I still got lost. The second time, I thought for sure that I had the directions down but I still got lost. The third time I nailed it, uh, finally. Rode along the Brisbane river, darkness except for the stars and moon shining on the water. There’d always already be people running that early in the morning. 5am! Dew, my breath white on the air. Down down down the bike path. Through the dark brick pavement that was really bumpy, past that onto smooth pavement. Up an incline, through a tunnel. Then to the front of the restaurant where everyone met. Everyone looked so Pro, so Fast with a capital F, and I didn’t feel pro or fast. I felt red and slow with a lowercase s. Everyone knew each other. It was like the first day of first grade, where everyone kept yelling, “She’s MY friend. No he’s MY friend!” and I just thought, “I don’t know nunna y’all” and stood in the corner, staring. 

Then we’d head out as the sun began to rise, this big group of 40 riders. Back out along the river, watch as the sun peaked its pink and orange fingers over the horizon. I’d grown up here but this Brisbane was a new Brisbane I’d never seen as a kid. We’d race. I’d get my ass SERIOUSLY whipped. These triathletes who’d been riding for 5 years, or mountain bikers who’d been riding for 6, or semi-pro trackies who’d been riding since the dawn of time, just tearing my ass into shreds. It seemed like no one in Australia had been on the bike for anything less than 5 years. It was like everyone was just born fast, with riding experience. Like they’d come out of the womb pedaling no hands down a mountain. Like they’d teethed chewing on bar tape. I’d come last, dead last, every single time. Every crit was a time trial.

Never in my life had I lost so completely, so consistently, sucked so badly. And that’s why I loved it more than anything else I’d ever done.

God did I love it. Afterwards, some dude would give me pointers on how to race and conserve energy, and the girls on the team would come up to me and say hi. I knew nothing about being a bike racer. Jeez, I knew nothing about being an athlete, period. I wasn’t an athlete. I was just someone sitting on a bike. But that never occurred to me. All I knew was that I really loved riding my bike, and that I was trying as hard as I could to learn as fast as I could. And then we’d all get coffee and I’d meet everyone. The first time I didn’t have enough money so someone else paid for my cappuccino and turkish bread brunch. It was the best coffee anyone had ever bought for me. And it was that summer in Australia that I learned to love a good cappuccino. Around noon or so I’d roll back home, a massive grin on my face. My grandpa’d be gardening in the front yard and he’d look up and say, “did you win?” and I’d say, “not today grandpa” and he’d laugh and tap my helmet.

I did that every weekend for about 2 months. I can’t imagine anything that would’ve made me happier that summer. 

Cycling really turned my life around, and I think in the end what did it were the cyclists I’ve met as much as cycling itself. Almost every single major event in my life for the past two years has been directly related to cycling. Nothing in my life has shaped me as much or as thoroughly. Cycling absolutely saved me, undoubtedly saved my life. I was so depressed for 8 months, from September 2009 to April 2010. Those were some seriously dark, dark months. It’s not something I talk about with anyone, but I wonder sometimes if that’s such a good thing. I wonder why we hide this stuff. Why we pretend that depression doesn’t exist, or pretend that it’ll self-resolve, when so many times it doesn’t. I think about how lucky I was to have found cycling, how so many people never do find their own Cycling, never see a lifesaver. 

Because cycling was the lifesaver that pulled me out of all of it, launched me to a new place in my life. Anna McLoon, my first coach, was such a huge part of that, May 2010 to September 2010. That’s why coming out in October 2010 was so natural, followed so perfectly. Cycling gave me strength that nothing else could have given me, enough that I finally was able to reconcile the single massive, unbearable lie and contradiction and source of self-torment, shame, and fear in my life. And I wonder about that, too. I wonder why we hide this stuff. Why we pretend that homosexuality doesn’t exist, or pretend that it’ll self-resolve, when I know that it doesn’t.

I don’t have the answer to these things. All I know is that I never felt more at peace than when I rode in Australia that summer. Up mountains, down, in the rain, in the burning heat, racing, losing, again and again and again. That peace, that profound, pure peace, undid and rebuilt me, and gave me all the answers I needed.