Friday, July 20, 2012

Revising Fear

In her recent book, Wild (an Oprah Book Club favorite, I have come to find out), Cheryl Strayed writes eloquently about fear.  As she describes her first few moments hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, alone, and in the wilderness for the first time in her life, after a series of events that pushed her (somewhat surprisingly) to take on the lonely hike from Mexico to Washington state, she describes how she moved through debilitating fear. 

She writes, "Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell a different story... I was strong.  I was brave.  Nothing could vanguish me.  Insisting on this story was a form of mind control, but for the most part, it worked.  Every time I heard a sound of unknown origin or felt something horrible cohering in my imagination, I pushed it away.  I simply did not let myself become afraid.  Fear begets fear.  Power begets power.  I willed myself to beget power.  And it wasn't long before I actually wasn't afraid." 

I have never hiked a trail across three states on my own, let alone any trail through the woods longer than a mile.  I have never taken on the epic journeys most of us only read about in books or blogs, or see in movies.  I haven't ever done these things because of all of the regular reasons most of us have:  not enough time, no extra money, no equipment, no major desire to be alone in the woods.  More importantly, when I experience something like a long hike or camping in the woods, like a bike ride, I want to share it with someone. 

But I also fear being alone in the woods.  I think the woods are beautiful peaceful places.  And I have a huge love affair with trees.  But generally speaking, being in the woods alone trades all of the beauty for extreme fear.  (It's amazing what one's brain can concoct as dangerous and spooky from the otherwise tame woods.)

Recently, I discovered something new about my fear of being alone in the woods.  Quite accidentally.  And I've been looking for a way to write about it.  So with the help of Cheryl Strayed and a few key friends, I have finally found my way in.

As it turns out, an epic bike race called The Lumberjack 100 would be my ultimate teacher in this case.  Lumberjack is a 100-mile mountain bike race that takes place in the winding hills of Northern Michigan.  A sandy, twisty, almost dizzying 33 miles per lap, the course challenges riders of all levels, and has been known to take down even the strongest of cyclists.... Here, I'm thinking of a friend, one of the strongest riders I know, who a few years back succumbed to the trail's evil grip, suffering a dangerous case of dehydration which left him shivering in the 90-degree heat and enduring the last lap with hallucinations of strange figures in the woods.  Not. Fun. At. All. 

So, why did I attempt this race you ask?  The short story is that I registered with two friends.  That's always a motivator, yes?  But two of us registered for one friend in particular who has attempted all three laps for the past two years, but due to a number of momentary health obstacles, hasn't made it to her final lap.  Our plan was to ride together and get her, if not all of us, to complete the full 100 mile race.  It would have been a first for all of us.  Unfortunately, the motivating friend in this scenario broke her arm a month before the race while we were in Fruita, CO, bombing down the sweet singletrack of our favorite trail system

Needless to say, she couldn't race.  And even though I thought for a second about dropping out, I didn't.  I had to race.  At least I had to show up and do my best.  (And I must report that she did bravely take on the pit crew duties that day, pushing aside her understandable heartache to offer her stalwart support to a huge group of us through a very long day.)

For about a month before the race, fear became a more-than-familiar emotion every time I thought about the race.  I had no idea what I was getting in to.  I had no idea what the course, the terrain, the area, or the scene looked like.  The only hope I had was that ignorace could actually be bliss.  So yeah, I went with that....

On race day, I kitted up with about a dozen of my favorite riding buddies, and lined up on the road that lead to the course.  I had a meager-at-best plan to stay on at least one friend's wheel the whole day.  But that plan would be thwarted within the first 30 minutes, as one friend pulled away immediately on the blacktop road, just before the course entered the woods.  The other friend faithfully stayed on my wheel, cheering me up the first long climb, until my chain came off as I shifted, and I encouraged him to go around me.  (I didn't see him again until 10 hours later when the race was over.)  I was glad he raced his race -- which was an impressive story of bravery and fortitude in and of itself as he too was a first time rider, riding for our broken friend, having only purchased and ridden a mountain bike 3 short weeks prior to the race.... 

A few moments after I saw his jersey disappear behind the corner, I realized I was alone in the unfamiliar woods.  Completely alone. 

This is where fear came in.  And it came in ways I never expected.

As rider after rider passed me, I realized that I was the last one in the line up of some 400 riders.  I was the last one in the whole race.  I was the last one in the whole big vast woods.  (Or so my brain would tell me.) 

"You're dead last again.  You suck.  And guess what?  You're alone and hours away from help."  This was the story that I would tell myself. 

But I would also tell myself that pedaling was better than not pedaling, that moving forward was my only option.  There were no shortcuts.  No ways to navigate my way back to the safety of our team area except to finish the lap.  Pedaling was moving forward.  This was the only thing I knew.

And so I pedaled.  And I was alone.  I was alone with the whirring and crunching of the knobby tires on the dirt path.  I was alone with my heart beating in my chest.  I was alone with my lungs expanding to never-before-felt dimensions.  I was alone with my legs reacting to my mounting panic, wanting to stop with every pedal stroke. 

And soon I realized that I, alone, had to re-write my story (though of course I didn't think about it in these terms then).  I had to tell myself that I was safe, that in the very least, the pro cyclists would lap me soon, and if I was in real trouble, I could get help within the hour. 

All this talking and writing and pedaling and panicking and re-writing and panting and pedaling and hyperventalating and near-crying would consume me in the first 30 minutes of what would be a 9.5 hour day in the saddle.

At the top of the second hour, just as I was starting to get it that I was just alone and there was nothing I could do about it, just as sunlight peeked through the otherwise ominous grey sky of my fear.....

I was down.   

Rolling down a hill.   

Inexplicably ejected from my bike and thrown, tumbling down the side of a sandy, weedy, tree-covered (and no doubt tick-infested) hill.  When the tumbling finally stopped, I was about 15 feet from the trail, and looked up to find my bike, upside down, wedged against a tree. 


I found a way to my feet, stood up, brushed myself off, and yelled as loud as I could into the woods..... 


The lump in my throat turned to tears streaming down my face as I trudged up to my bike, which was surprisingly in perfect working order.  I threw my leg over it, grumbled to myself, and started to move forward down the trail.  With the heat of my tears now filling my face, I took three or four more pedal strokes, and....

BAM!  It happened again.  Me.  Alone.  Tumbling down the hill again.

No injuries, no scrapes, no ticks....  just me and the big woods surrounding me.  Just me.  Alone.  Tumbling.  Again. 

This time when I got up, I yelled, "F-CK!" up into the trees, this time with intention, not as the reflex it felt like before.  The trees were seemingly not listening.  I trudged back up to my bike, tears mounting, settling in my gut, moving into my throat, and out of my mouth.... "F-CK!!!!" I yelled again as I wrangled my bike back to an upright position, threw my leg over once again, and headed down the trail, somehow remembering my mantra:  keep pedaling. 

In moments, my fear turned into anger.  Anger into determination. 

And I realized.... I was lucky to be out in the woods alone.  It was an immeasurably good thing that I was alone.  That no one was there to witness not one, but two crashes that seemed to have no rhyme or reason.  I was lucky that no one was there to witness the vast range of emotions that must have washed across my entire body in the 10 minutes surrounding the crashes.  I was lucky that I could be there to just be me.  No embarrassment.  No judgement (except my own).  No one to try to help.  No one to feel sorry for me.  No one but the towering Northern Michigan trees and the sun-dappled understory tumbling mat were there to witness my fear. 

The woods, like a loyal lifelong friend, didn't budge.  The woods didn't say a word.  The woods didn't think my fear was a problem to solve.  And the woods didn't try.  And that... that came as a surprising relief.

And huh... the fear subsided.   

I pedaled on to the Aid Station, just 20 minutes from where I crashed, and continued on to finish the first lap in one piece.  A ragged, dirt-coated piece; but one piece nonetheless.  And after a long  break in the pit area, after talking with the very friend I was there for, I went out for another lap.  At this point, I had no chance to make the cut off time to do a third lap.  The second lap would be the last of my day, which meant I could take it at whatever pace I wanted.  And though I knew that it would take me at least 4 hours to complete, I headed out again, determined not to let down my friend, not to mention the rest of my team.

Though I left the pit area exhausted and nervous, I realized that the fear was gone.  Completely and totally gone.  Once I made it onto the silent single-track section, I realized that I was actually feeling kind of good.  I realized that I could do another whole lap (and complete 66 miles total for my day) and actually had a lot of fun being in the woods alone.   

20 minutes went by, and no fear.  An hour went by, and no fear.  Two hours went by and no fear.   

I suddenly had control over every movement of my bike, of my breathing, of my nutrition, of my technical skills on the now-rutty downhill sections.  The long sandy sections were no problem, and the long climbs, though I had to walk a few, didn't seem so daunting.  Despite the hour dedicated to walking my bike in the rain carrying my broken chain around my neck (yeah), I loved the second lap.  I rolled into the finish 9 hours and 30-some minutes later.  A pitiful time.  But I was upright.  Without injury or illness.  Exhausted.  Elated.  Prideful.  Relieved.  Happy. 

It turns out that Cheryl Strayed is right.  Fear is a story we tell ourselves.  Just a story.  And like it or not, sometimes we have no control over when we will come face-to-face with it.  And if we're lucky, we have the friendship of a huge quiet woods (but preferably some human friends) to help us with the revision. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Crisis of Faith Part II

As most things in life, good things come to me through my connections with others. My friend Jan was riding alongside me today in our usual Thursday morning club ride and told me how she related to my last post, that in her experience, it's the people around her that make or break her riding. Of course, she said a lot of other things, but this is the piece that relates to my next part of the story. And while I can't say that I am completely cured, I can report that, like Jan, I've been reminded and newly confident of the power of people and community in cycling.  Here's (partly) what has inspired this positive and welcome change in my spirit.

Last week, I was in NYC for work, and as luck would have it, my schedule overlapped with my dear friend's plans to be in the city too (that would be Mike, I've mentioned him before.).  So, we made a plan to meet up for a short tour of the city before I had to fly home. He was in town to take part in the inaugural Hope on 2 Wheels Ride, which was the brainchild of Scott Kasper and Mike Chadwick (of the Mid- Jersey chapter of JDRF), to raise awareness of Type 1 Diabetes. This ride was an epic tag-team ride effort from New York City to Washington DC, some 252 miles, done all in one day. Twenty four intrepid riders, two cargo vans, two 15-passenger vans, and three other support vehicles and a bunch of dedicated crew and a cameraman convened on Manhattan's Financial District at the site of the World Trade Center last Friday afternoon. Their mission?  To ride from the JDRF (Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation) Headquarters to the National Institute of Health Headquarters in Bethesda, MD, all in one day to raise awareness about Type 1 Diabetes (or T1D, as the community calls it). 

But that's just the beginning....

Once Scott found out I was in town, and since I've done some volunteering for JDRF events, I was invited to join the group for dinner that evening at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the World Trade Center memorial.  Just before I was to get in a car bound for LaGuardia, I got a message that my flight had been cancelled.  In seconds, I had three or four friends offering me places to stay and a plan to fly home when I needed to.  But it didn't take long for someone to broach the idea that I should just stay and help with the ride. Because Mike was driving back to my neck of the woods on Monday, I could hitch a ride with him, thus avoiding the whole airport shuffle and allowing me to witness (and help with) one of the most inspiring cycling events I've ever seen. The plan was set... I was totally and completely in... (and didn't care one bit that I had used up all of my clean clothing earlier in the week). I was going to help deliver Hope on 2 Wheels!

At 4:45 the next morning, the cyclists were clad in the blue and white HopeOn2Wheels kit and on the road for a 5 am start from the JDRF Headquarters. The morning was warm and damp (a storm had blown in the night before - hence, my cancelled flight), and uncharacteristically quiet.... no one was out on the streets, save a few folks crawling home from the bar. Perhaps somewhat defiantly, we filled the streets with the sounds of whirring tires on wet blacktop, the click of shifting gears, and the ever-recognizable sound of pride, of bikeface.  (Yes, when it's right on, I swear you can hear it.) Only the quiet friendly chatter in the group could be heard above the bikes' rhythmic clickings, happily the loudest noises in that part of town that morning. 

Meanwhile, I rolled along in one of the passenger vans, with a plan to help support the team with whatever they needed at each transition area.  I had my coffee in one hand, and my phone on camera mode, and I was poised and ready. 

I can't possibly tell the story of the entire day here, but let me get to a few highlights. 

The first highlight happened immediately, at the starting area.  It turns out that the ride had gotten so much press that a young boy (8 or 9 years old?), Diabetes Dude as he is known, came down from Boston to greet the team and deliver his own personal message of hope and thanks.  He and his family were there at 5 am ready to talk to the riders about how important this ride was to him and to many other children and adults with T1D. After a few congratulatory hugs and good luck wishes between Diabetes Dude and the team, they were off.  Once the clicks and whirrs and lights and cheers rounded the corner, I jumped in the van, anxious, yet eager to find out how this long day ahead was going to unfold.

 (This is a video of the start.)

The riders' first mission was to get onto the ferry to Staten Island, where they were to ride across the island, greet a police escort to take them across the bridge on the other side back in to New Jersey. I couldn't go along on this part of the ride because vehicles aren't allowed on the ferries to the island. So, Dave Chadwick (my driver friend, and brother of Hope Ride co-founder Mike and rider Andrew) and I drove to the first check point to greet the team. 

This rest stop was significant not only in that it was the first on the ride, and the first time we would have seen the team since they left Manhattan about two hours earlier, but it was also placed at mile 23. For those outside of the JDRF Ride program, mile 23 is a special mile marker, a mile of silence, (now marked on every JDRF national ride) to honor the lives we've lost to T1D. Michelle, whose son Jesse passed away from T1D on Februrary 3, which inspired JDRF to create Mile 23, was a rider that day. (I can't even imagine the significance for her, and was amazed at her strength and resolve all day.) To add to the honor of Mile 23, the riders were greeted with a bagpipe and drum duo who played as the riders arrived at the checkpoint.  

Here, Scott lead a perfect ceremonial moment to honor Jesse and the others who we were riding in honor of that day. Afterward, we got to business splitting up the team into three smaller groups, filling up water bottles, and getting organized in vans to shuttle riders to their next transition. The plan was to get all 24 riders in shifts of about 15-25 miles apiece along the route to the last transition area where they would meet up at the end of the day to ride the lat 20 miles together ending at the NIH office building in Maryland, just outside of DC. 

From here, the day becomes mostly of a swirl of details, of which I will spare you. Let's just say that the riders rode in near-90 degree heat, in short, but sometimes difficult shifts, non-stop, for nearly 20 hours. I was thrilled to be there at each transition area to help the team load bikes onto the transport vans, hand water and food, take photos, and cheer on each team as they took their turn at spinning the thread of awareness across three state lines.  

 (Scott Kasper, Ride Co-Founder)

 (Motorcycles lead the way.)

 (The team arrives at checkpoint 6, mile 90.)

Toward the end of the night, when darkness fell hard on the team, and on Maryland... but not on their spirits I must add... after 18 hours of non-stop riding, the team decided to make a major decision. Since several members of the team lost power to their lights, and were at this point not well-equipped enough to ride in the extreme darkness, even with support vehicles leading, it would be dangerous to continue with the original plan of all 24 riders finishing the last 20 miles together. Bonded tightly by now after more than a day's work, a lot of sweat and fortitude and mutual respect, the team unanimously decided to skip 18 of the last 20 miles to ride together for the last two across the finish line. (The last two would be under the city street lights, and much more safe in general.) They decided that it was far better for them to cross the finish line as a team "safe, sound, and smiling" than to have a few people try to ride the entire distance in the darkness while the others opted out. It just didn't seem right that not everyone would finish together. So we drove the team to the new transition area where we unloaded all the bikes from the vans one last time. As if to bookend the start of the day, there they were, in total darkness (save a few neighborhood house lights), lining up on a street completely unfamiliar to them, to ride again as a solid team of 24. Once again, I stood in the street while the line of blinking red lights, whirring tires, clicking pedals, and the pride of bikeface rounded the corner and out of view. Once again, I jumped in the van to escort them the rest of the way. 

What a spectacle it was! Two motorcycles lead the caravan of bikes and vehicles, with all 24 riders in a line, like a string of blinking holiday lights, moving up a winding hill, past the NIH headquarters building, and into the hotel parking lot at 11:59. 20 hours after the start. 3 flat tires and two minor medical situations after the start. 252 miles after the start. 16 rest stops after the start. Gallons of water, ounces of chamois cream, orange slices and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches after the start. Hours of team-bonding after the start. After countless handshakes and hugs and cheers from the start, all 24 riders escorted slowly through the streets of Bethesda provided the town a late-night light show of red blinkers, gleaming bikeface, and full hearts. (And that includes those of us in the vans, who never rode an inch that day on a bike... we too had bikeface.) 

So 24 riders -- almost all nearly strangers to one another at the beginning of the day -- came together to create a community moment for themselves, and no doubt for others who were watching and cheering, even online, renewed my faith in the power of the bike to heal. It should be noted that the range of cycling experience and fitness was about the same as many area club rides I've participated in. These were not all huge and accomplished riders. Some of them had never ridden more than 60 miles in one day. Only two were professional riders for Team Type 1, who took on some leadership roles on their individual teams. Most were not the hard core riders we would imagine would be required for this ride. They were all just folks, incidentally many of them with T1D as well, who were out to do something important. And their goals were unwavering. But most of all, their teamwork and camaraderie is what inspired me. Again, there are stories of how they strategized together to make the next leg of their ride even better than the last, even as the day heated up, and fatigue set in. There are stories about how they now will find each other at the next JDRF ride and know that their community has just expanded, even if only by one person. Participating in this event -- even if only by sheer luck, by being in the right place at the right time -- has shifted how I see my own opportunities as a cyclist. I now feel more compelled to help the cycling community continue to grow. I now feel more confident that that is an important role for me no matter how well I ride. I now know that that piece of what I do out there on my bike is more important than whether I finish in the top pack. Of course, I will still push myself to challenge myself on the bike, to do things I don't think I can do, but I won't be placing as much importance on them as I once did. Because I was blessed with this opportunity, my spirit has shifted somewhat, and I am now thinking of myself a little differently as a cyclist. I feel better. Thank you Hope On 2 Wheels Team. Thank you mother nature. Thank you cycling...

(See Mike Clark's take on this story here.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Small and Not Unsurmountable Crisis of Faith (part I)

I'm starting over.  And I mean that in so many senses of the word.  Today I'm starting over with writing this blog, long neglected this year.  And I'm starting over with my sense of bikeface. 

I have to admit that one of the reasons I haven't written in several months is because I've found it difficult to write about bikeface.  And that's because I have found it difficult to find bikeface.  And until this past weekend, which I'll get to in part two of this post - and which prompts me to write now - until this past weekend, I hadn't even used the word "bikeface" very often.  I've had a crisis of faith lately, to be quite honest.  And if I paid close attention to some of my earlier blog posts, I would have seen this coming down the pike.  But you know what they say about hindsight....

It seems that I've discovered a great and somewhat troubling irony about getting stronger as a cyclist: getting stronger doesn't necessarily help you to feel better about your riding. 

That probably doesn't surprise any of you readers.  Even if you aren't a cyclist, you probably will be able to tell your own version of this story.  But here's mine.  For better or worse.

Since early fall (2011) my miles have increased exponentially compared to the year before. I've taken on far more challenges. And as I have written before, I have done more races, and have been more serious about how I did than I can ever remember. 

Thing is, when you get better, your expectations change.  You start trying to hang with people who are stronger than you -- which is how you get better in the first place -- but you also start caring more about how those people talk about your riding.  You start to wonder (and care) what your general repuation is with the group. 

Okay, yes.  That sounds so egocentric... to care about what others think.  But really, folks.  Let's not kid ourselves here.  Cyclists talk. They talk about who's likely to push the pace, whose wheel to trust in a paceline (and whose not to follow), who typically falls off the back, who's making great progress, who's the surprise rider who comes out of nowhere, etc., etc., etc.  Everyone is watching.  It's like being in school again.  And whether they know what they are watching for, or have misconceptions of what is happening out there, riders, as a community, and who generally care about who's riding with them, talk.  They do.  We're human.  We like to talk about other humans.... and like it or not, we all care about what other humans think.  (Some more than others, I realize.)

But, this post is not about whether I care tremendously about this unfortunate byproduct of being in a community, it's about how that community has gotten to my head and has affected my riding, and to some extent, my heart; and, I suppose, I'm attempting to get a grip on my own role in it. 

So.... this crisis of faith....

Let's start with the irony:  I've had the wonderful fortune of being part of what I consider to be one of the most caring and welcoming biking communities I could ask for.  I think that others who ride with me (us) would agree.  Generally speaking, every ride I do with this community leaves me feeling grateful.  So here's the big crisis:  I have lost my faith in my ability to be a part of it. 

I have lost my bikeface.

Since I have gotten stronger, I meet every ride with the fear that I am the weakest rider out there, that I'll be dropped, or make people feel they have to slow the pace for me, or worse, leave the group to help me bridge back up again.  I've left my house for group rides lately anticipating that I'll have no fun, anticipating the frustration and (sometimes) anger (though self-induced, I realize) at my own failings.  And flailings.   And while I know that helping others in the paceline are normal practices among cyclists -- I would do the very same thing for any one else -- I can't help but to get really really tired of being THE ONE.  I'm tired of being the one whose riding could potentially change everyone else's ride.  (Even if that part is only in my head.)  I'm tired of being the one who people have to look out for.  I'm tired of being the slowest one.  I'm tired of doing every ride knowing that the harder I'm working, the less and less great I'll feel about myself, and about the ride, and the less likely I'll feel bikeface. 

So, I'm shifting gears (pun completely indended).  I'm going to dial it back a bit for a while.  I'm going to ride the rides I know will restore my faith in myself, and in the bike.  I'm going to be the one to hold back for others, the one to pick up others when they've fallen off the back.  Because strangely enough, I'd rather be the one who's helping than be the one who's needing the help.  I'd have more bikeface in my life if that were the case.  I'll ride the faster rides only when I'm feeling particularly strong or needing to leave it all out on the road. 

I have to also say that this all comes with a strange little caveat too.  In the past 6 months, I've also competed in 4 races (2 CX races; Barry Roubaix, and Lumberjack).  In these races, I've found a little competitor inside of me as well.  And I kind of have a love-hate relationship with her too.  I won both 'cross races I was in, and don't want to lose any others this year (although I know I will).  

Bikeface turned Cyclocross Raceface

I had a blast with my captain, Derek, riding his tandem during the Barry Roubaix, and though we did pretty well for our first time racing together, I scolded myself afterward for not pushing harder. 

Crossing the finish line with Did, apparently lacking air....

I did the Lumberjack (a 100 mile single track mountain bike race) this year.  During the first lap (33 miles, which took me more than 4 hrs to complete), which was nothing short of disaster, I almost quit.  But because I wasn't riding for myself, but for a dear friend who couldn't ride (Kaat), I just couldn't let myself NOT go out for another lap.  I knew I wouldn't make the cutoff time to do a third lap or I would have attempted that too, thus completing the 100 miles.  I HAD to do what I could to make Kaat proud of me, even if it only meant doing part of the race.   

Pre-race Lumberjack with Roy and Mike.  Does my smile hide my nerves?

So as it may seem that these races have ignited a spirit in me that I didn't know I had, an embarrassment of riches in some senses.... they also raised my expectations of myself, and sometimes have nearly paralyzed me.  I have recently gotten into the habit of downplaying how important this all is to me when I talk with others just because I don't want my own lack of confidence to be a real thing.  But guess what?  It's there anyway.  Huh....

I guess this is all to say that I have decided to just get over myself.  I've decided that being dropped from a group, while not plesant, is not the end of the world, and it doesn't really matter.  I've decided that on most occasions, I'd rather be on my bike with my friends than pretty much any other place in the world. (Except on this beautiful night, as I write, I'm missing the largest and longest group ride of the week... go figure.) I've decided that pushing myself hard in places like Moab (another blog post coming soon) means more to me than being able to sit in a group on the Tuesday Night Ride and not get dropped.

This brings me to this past weekend. Which I'll write about in part II of this post.  I don't want to keep you from riding any longer.....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Practicing a New Kind of Caring

I’ve been riding a lot lately.  I’ve been putting in more miles this year so far than I have in years past.  And along with this I have definitely had (and seen) a lot of bikeface.  I’ve had bikeface on the beach, in the woods, on the road, in the snow, in the rain, in the wind, on a single bike and on a tandem.….  all sorts of bikeface for all sorts of reasons, with all sorts of people.

But I learned something quite unexpected recently.  At lunch one afternoon, my friends and I were talking about indoor training.  I explained that indoor training has helped me see more clearly my strengths and weaknesses as a cyclist.  I talked about my tendency to overwhelmingly favor one leg over the other, how I have a hard time increasing my cadence even at low gears, and how I am trying to train this winter to be a better climber (something my riding friends know is my biggest weakness).  In my lament, one friend reminded me that I had strengths too.  He told me that I had good bike handling skills.  (Hmmm… something that we don’t practice on the indoor trainer.)  Sadly, I immediately thought, “Okay.  So I’m a good bike handler, how is that going to help me get faster than I am right now, to be able to keep up with the group in the wind, to actually not come in DFL on every 'cross race?”   

He also quickly pointed out that in these past several months I have started caring about my performance in a way I never have before. He reminded me that I have been riding over the past 12 years primarily for fun and for transportation -- which are good and important -- but, I was completely new at this kind of “caring".  I was dumbstruck.  And he's right.  I care whether I do well in ways I never have before.  

What does this have to do with bike face?  Once I was told that I “cared” differently, that I was new at this particular kind of caring, I realized that I had also begun to care about bike face differently.  For one, I started this blog.  I cared that others around me experienced bike face.  But I also have noticed lately that I haven’t thought much about my own bike face.  I don’t mean that in my efforts to become a better, more skilled, more strong, versatile cyclist that I’ve thrown away my quest for fun…. but I wonder now if it means that my own bike face has changed… that it has become less frequent… or maybe… just …. different.  Maybe I've let bike face hide in the shadow of my fear of failing.... (And suddenly, I wonder if I have forgotten the lesson I wrote about back in November...)

Suddenly, I question whether I have created a kind of joy in my own cycling that only comes when I feel I do well.  Have I moved into a type of cycling that has forgotten the pure joy of being out there?  Have I forgotten how to look across the winter-barren corn fields with “snain” (snow + rain) spitting at us for an hour and think of it as a lovely day?  Have I lost the commitment to see each ride as special in its own way, or have I become so overwhelmed with my fitness and skill that I’ve lost sight of it? 

These are the questions that my friend’s revelation has spurred in me over the past few weeks.  Luckily, I think I’ve found a new way to think about this lesson….

Nikki Giovanni explains the title of her book of love poems, Bicycles:

“Bicycles: because love requires trust and balance.”

In all honesty, I’ve been pondering this line for several months.  Though not what Giovanni intended, what does love mean in cycling?  Is bike face love?  Does bike face require love, and therefore trust and balance?  

Seems that as I’m learning to have a different kind of trust and balance in the things I love: in my own personal life and in my work as a budding scholar, I'm also learning these things as a (differently) serious cyclist.  I’m learning that yes, even bikeface requires trust and balance.  That suddenly, I’m no longer an adult learner.  When I feel trust and balance leaving my adult grip, I’m an awkward teenager again:  I grope for acceptance among my peers; I think being invited to the dance is important to my survival (the drama!); I struggle to learn the new language, to be the kid in the back of the class who’s too afraid to raise her hand and ask questions.  Yet, I want to get that varsity letter.  I wanna hang with the big kids.  And so I practice.  I practice new things each time I’m on the bike.  I practice my pedal stroke.  I practice breathing.  I practice failing.  I practice climbing.  I practice the sprint and sitting in.

And so I am learning to practice a new kind of bikeface, a new kind of caring.

I practice noticing my surroundings.  I practice being more intuitive and less cerebral.  (Yes, I see the irony here.)  I practice noticing the barely-visible sliver of bright sky under the low-hanging Michigan gray.  In my new kind of caring, I must also practice not caring so much about my performance.

I practice trusting that the two kinds of caring, in balance with each other, is best.

Even bike face requires trust and balance.  And that takes practice.