Meet the Mellow Velo
(Excerpted from my story published in Women’s Cycling Magazine)
I became a “real” cyclist in the summer of 2008 after riding my bike 3,300 miles across the country. In retrospect, that sequence of events seems a bit backward, but I had an old road bike and a lifelong goal: do as my father did in 1976 and pedal coast to coast. When I signed up for the eight-week, California to Georgia trip straight out of college, I was trusting the bike – which I hadn’t ridden in five years – to teach me what I needed to know on the way. I didn’t have time to train. I just boxed up my old Cannondale and flew from my parents’ home in San Antonio, Tex., to San Diego, Calif., and hoped for the best.
For the first three weeks, as the team crossed the Rocky Mountains and I found myself in the SAG wagon more than once, I began to lose hope. Never mind that my legs and lungs were begging for oxygen and a rest day; I could not endear my mind to the task. Frequently I rode without paying attention to the bike – the thought that I was a real cyclist was far back in my brain, at the end of a long list of exhausted frustrations and serious doubts.
I planned how I could quit the trip and catch a flight home from the next big city. But time and again, the bike urged me forward. Big cities came and went. The day we crossed three mountain passes in one morning, our weary muscles were rewarded with twenty miles of downhill. I hit 40 mph, and as icy tears streamed out from under my sunglasses, I roared with a kind of primal joy. At that very moment, I fell in love with cycling. I knew the next five weeks were going to be fine.
Frenchman Paul Fournel wrote in his 2003 book, Need for the Bike, “The bike in itself is a form of doping … It’s the tool of natural speed; it’s the shortest path to the doubling of yourself. Twice as fast, two times less tired, twice as much wind in your face.”
To say that I doubled myself is precise. It was not just my thighs that grew exponentially that summer; so, too, did my perceptions of the world around me, of my place in it and of who I am with a bicycle underneath me: more focused, more determined, stronger. I learned that cycling is so much more than just getting on a bike. Some days, it’s a passion, an identity and a drug. Other days, it can be a tool.
I returned home after the trip with renewed vigor, bought myself a nicer bike and was determined to keep up the habit. I took advantage of my newly-acquired endurance and rode several, long charity rides throughout the cycling season, enjoying once again the view of the open, endless road stretching before me and hours of breathing fresh air. Eventually I decided that I wanted to go faster, to remember the exhilaration (and stupidity) of descending a mountain at 40 mph and to recall the satisfaction of finishing a long day exhausted, spent and joyful from the effort. I declared that 2010 would be the year I started racing. My target would be criteriums.
But I am not really an “athlete.” Though I’ve always been active, I have never been fast nor strong and I’m extremely undisciplined. I don’t train. I don’t do well with numbers. When it comes to recreation, I don’t like planning; I just like playing. I quickly discovered that normal life is not the same as waking up every day with the sole purpose of riding 80 miles.
But I’m trying. With a kick-ass bike, a lot of hutzpah and the self-deprecation required to rack up a series of last-place finishes, I will proudly go into the racing season, ready or not, to ride fast, live dangerously and hopefully live to tell about it.
Questions, comments, jokes, etc.: MellowVelo1@gmail.com