If someone had told me, six months ago, that I would not be in Champery this week, I wouldn’t have believed them. Sure, in March I was spending three hours a day literally crying on the rollers while my friends got goggletanned; sure I was nauseated by the very sight of my bike, but I still hadn’t realized at the time how badly I needed a change. I was going to the damn world championships in September.
What I found as I rode through the snow alone after Sea Otter was that the change had taken place in me whether I was ready for it or not. I couldn’t ignore the commercial, lonely, expensive, unhealthy and generally unrealistic side of racing any longer. I wanted my equilibrium back. I wanted a life.
I remember telling people the day I decided. It didn’t feel real, and part of me wondered if I was lying for shock value, if I’d eventually crawl back to the bike like an addict to the pipe. But as the weeks passed and my iron grip on my fitness weakened, other intriguing things began to creep into my consciousness. My attitude towards walking is one of them.
Walking used to be something I avoided at all costs. It’s at the head of a list of muscle-sapping activities that I’d slowly eradicated from my life over the last few years of training. Bottom line was that I could ride a lot harder and longer if I sat instead of wandering around in my off time. Sure, I got to know the feeling of having a highly specialized musculature, yet in retrospect there are lot of German and Swiss and Canadian towns I wish I’d gotten to explore more.
Now I walk for about five hours a night. I carry heavy tubs of dishes and plates of food all over the place. Occasionally I even go on hikes before work, meaning that on some days I might spend close to ten hours, just walking. At first the little panic buttons I’d set up in my brain continued to go off- what are you doing? You’re wrecking your legs! How are you going to be able to function on tomorrow’s ride??
Then I discovered- riding slow, riding when your legs feel like wood, riding badly, essentially, is ok. So is not riding, if that’s what the day calls for. This unfathomable luxury to decide continues to baffle me.
Furthermore, I’ve discovered I really like walking. I love the way a landscape can unfold gradually, how you can smell and hear and see everything around you. I also like climbing, and how you can use every muscle in your body to accomplish so absurd a goal as scaling a piece of rock. I’ve been having so much fun doing other things that I’d started to wonder if I’d ever go back to the bike.
The person I was six months ago thought she’d be racing in Switzerland today. Instead, she facilitated the start of a women’s clinic, which is her best attempt to give back a little of what this sport has given her. It’s entirely possible that I’m just struggling to swallow life as a civilian while maintaining some grip on what used to make me special- but I figure that it’s not totally selfish if I help some girls learn to change a flat en route.
Then I got an unexpected night off of work. It was a cool, golden, perfect fall afternoon and I knew in an instant what I wanted to do with it.
It felt like one of those moments when two realities overlap. If I hadn’t been snowed on after Sea Otter I might have been starting a race on the other side of the globe this afternoon. In that reality I see myself as hungry and lonely, yet considerably fitter and more sure of my purpose in the world.
In this reality I’m drifting. Out of shape. Assembling pieces of my life in a mold I’m not sure I even like yet. Yet what gave me goosebumps as I found my rhythm with the sun at my back, was that in both realities I was on my bike. There are just times when you know you’re doing what the universe wants you to be doing, regardless of where or how you’re doing it.
And I honestly think I’m pedaling through the better reality.