Yesterday I totally punked out on a training ride. To be fair, Friday was a very late, and very emotional night, and I was exhausted on Saturday. But even after working out the emotional kinks of my weekend’s beginning, I was still not satisfied with my lack of training, and went looking for something close to home to occupy my Sunday. Enter the group ride out of Mike’s Bikes Berkeley.
The ride is simple. 12 miles, out and back, to Inspiration Point, near Tilden Regional Park. The ride is not the important part here.
I realized, about halfway up, that I was really doing this. This was happening. I looked to my left, and saw a view I have only ever seen from car windows because I have only ever climbed hills like these in cars. And when I climb them, in the comfort of a passenger seat, I always think, or used to think, ‘it must be so cool to ride up this. Too bad I can’t do it’. But today, that changed.
Cycling is oddly emotional. It may not be so for everyone, some people may not even think about it, but it is for me. There is an overwhelming feeling in the knowledge that I am doing something I never, ever thought I could or would do. Riding along a ridge, looking down onto a reservoir, in the company of serious cyclists, who do this for more than just the novelty of it, I have no choice but to look around myself, and accept that I am here by anything other than accident. The world tells me, and women like me, directly or indirectly, that we cannot do this. Cycling is a boy’s club. A skinny boy’s club. There is no one else who looks like me riding those hills. The kindest thing that can be said about my body type in relationship to cycling, is that I’m built for descending. So every time I crest some giant, endless hill, I cannot help but think ‘fuck yes’. Because by everyone else’s estimation, including my own, I shouldn’t even be there.
Now that I have the chance and the strength to ride in places which are not cities (I do plenty of that as a commuter), I can truly understand riding as liberation. When I ride up mountains, or for exceptionally long periods of time, I feel strong. I feel rooted in my own body, in a way I do not normally feel. This is probably the more common experience. It gives me something back – something fundamental that I do not even realize I have lost, until I regain it, and feel better than I realize I have felt in days or weeks. That feeling is impenetrable – no matter what I come back down into. The things that normally bother me are quieter, smaller, and far less significant. This thrill, I am fairly convinced, will never go away. Hills will always be hard. And when they aren’t, I can always use a bigger gear, and then they are again. I do not always feel confident or strong, powerful or capable when I am walking around on my own two feet – but on a bike saddle (even though I am the slowest climber ever, and have to stop alot, and sometimes want to puke) I am hard pressed to believe that there is anything I cannot do.
I will always delightfully be the person who whoops on a downhill. I have no quiet dignity about it. I am not mature about it. I fucking love, unequivocally, the nerve-rattling, death defying downhill. Today, coming back down, was fun. Not just fun – ‘Big Chainring’ Fun. You can keep your serious expressions, and looks of pained concentration. I’m concentrating – really hard. But when my heart is in my throat, and there is stark beauty of a sunny day over a bay to the right of me, I am hard pressed to contain my enthusiasm. When I bomb down those hills, the only thought going through my mind is ‘son of a bitch, I climbed this goddamn thing’. And somehow, that only makes me want to go faster.