I think I'm still shaking.
I don't know if it's from adrenaline, or the full pot of coffee I drank in a ten minute span before 7 am here in Tucson, as I uploaded Bikereg on my computer on two browsers, and on the app on my phone to get ready to sign up for the Dirty Kanza.
7:03 AM. Confirmed. And I'm in.
I don't remember the last time I rode 100 miles. I imagine it's been years. I've definitely never ridden 200. I put in 191 miles on the bike last week, alongside a few runs and strength training sessions, and that effort left me feeling strong, excited, and pretty zonked if I'm being honest.
And I just signed up to race a single speed, 200 miles across Kansas on gravel.
And I can't wait.
My Lauf Fork just arrived. It's sitting safely in a box while I triple-check specifications on a new build for 2017. I'm working with some awesome folks back home to get a bike put together and dialed in. I want to the bike to be a lot of things, but most of all, I want to have fun and I want to be able to beat it up over gravel and on singletrack. I absolutely cannot wait to get back on the dirt, and more details to come on that, soon. In the meantime, I do look longingly at the gravel roads here in Tucson, but I also recognize I'm lucky enough to be riding on some amazing roads through the foothills and venturing into the mountains. Even the bike paths here are incredible - I'm so grateful to everyone who works on biking advocacy and who puts the effort forward to help not only build the bike community but also the infrastructure to support it. (Among that list of awesome folks doing the necessary ground work are those of GABA in Tucson and WABA in DC.)
So with five months to go, and without my DK bike built up yet, I thought I would share why it is I'm signing up for this crazy thing in the first place. I race cyclocross, which means that I'm typically racing for all of fifty minutes. Before my trip out here to Tucson, I hadn't raced or really even trained on the bike for a year. Before the 2016 season, I wasn't sure that I would be racing at all.
My lack of confidence in myself, heart, head, and legs, was a consequence of or just a part of what I had been going through in the past year.
At the end of 2015, I was in the process of extricating myself from a very difficult relationship. That season I finished my cyclocross season in New England in an effort to get some geographical distance from DC and to possibly gain some perspective. I was fighting emotional as well as physical pain, limping through a few remaining December races. Determined not to quit, I traveled to Asheville in January to compete in the 2016 Cyclocross Nationals, because I had told myself that I would. Nationals had always been my goal that year, and after everything, I was determined to keep that promise. The course. Was. Incredible. It pushed me to and beyond my limits in ways that today I am so grateful for. But at the time, I suffered. I cried my way through the course on consecutive days, feeling entirely over my head and out of my element. I didn't start my race on Tuesday. I toed the line on Saturday, and shaking I lined up in the back. I crashed badly on my first lap, but I finished the race, and not in last place. But everything hurt, and even after everything I had conquered to start - much less finish - I was severely disappointed. After that race, I just felt lost. Nothing seemed to fit: me in my skinsuit, racing in my life, me on a championship course. I wasn't an elite racer. The week after Nationals, I notified my team director that I wouldn't be returning in 2016. I hung up my bike, and I packed away my kits.
After Nationals, I went back home to Maine to heal, and in a turn of events I ended up trying to do those things while helping my mom after she broke her leg in a really terrible fall on the ice. And while at the gym on the night of her emergency surgery, I was too busy listening to my thoughts to listen to my own body which was badly broken down, and I strained my right knee so badly that it hurt to walk. After the winter was over, it would take me months, of Advil, intense physical therapy, and a cross-country roadtrip to begin to regain my footing, physically and emotionally. By the time it was warm enough to ride, it didn't matter. I had all but stopped riding. The days got longer and warmer, but my bikes just hung and collected dust.
In the spring, when it was warm enough to ride, I ran instead, or did yoga. I started trail running. I didn't want to ride in case someone would see me, because I was embarrassed. "What happened to you at Nationals?" I thought they would ask. Because hadn't everyone seen the results? And I was more afraid of what I imagined they weren't saying. Because didn't everyone care? I had lost all confidence. My mindset in the spring was years in the making, but Nationals and the challenges of the previous season had left a distinctive imprint: I didn't know how to ride without being disappointed in myself for what I wasn't, or wishing that I was more. And so my bikes continued to just hang there, and continued to collect dust.
And then in July, because 2016 seems to have been a gift that kept on giving, I was the victim of an assault that took me off the bike completely for two months with significant dental injuries and a concussion. And as it sometimes happens when challenges are too big to really wrap your head around, you focus on what you can control, so I was relieved. The decision was made for me: any chance I might have had for racing cyclocross this season was gone. Not to mention that I hadn't been on my bikes since January, and I couldn't get out of my head for the few minutes it would take me to confidently dismount, much less get back on. And I was simultaneously heartbroken, because I wanted so badly to prove to myself that I was stronger than I thought I was, and at a minimum stronger than last season had shown me to be. Over the winter I had bought a stand so I could teach myself how to work on my own bikes, but that was collecting dust, too.
And then some time in August, a good friend reached out to me, and asked if I wouldn't be interested in helping women get into cyclocross: could I maybe come out to an informational happy hour? At first I wasn't even sure what I had to share, except a whole bunch of mistakes and lessons learned the hard way. But then one happy hour turned into two, and maybe doing one clinic became a biweekly event on the Mall. And I have her, her awesome vision, and all of those women to thank for everything that has happened since. The 2016 cyclocross season meant more to me than any before it.
Every week was another set of victories. There were skinny tires through mud pits, more mud, sand, dust, dirt goatees, broken bikes, broken bike parts, shared parts that got swapped last minute, shared bikes, runs to the pit, sprints to the finish, and cheers, so many cheers. Watching a whole bunch of badass ladies bury themselves to go faster, laugh because they didn't know if they'd stay upright, whoop through corners, surprise themselves because they rode what they were sure they couldn't, and celebrate each others' successes was and still is so inspiring to me that it makes my heart ache.
And among those victories we celebrated together, I had one of my own: I actually got back on my bike. I even wiped the dust off. In September, after mostly recovering from the various injuries over the summer, at a clinic several women were there to witness my very first remount since January. I hoped that they all wouldn't notice how nervous I was to attempt it since I was supposed to be demonstrating how it was done. I also hoped I wouldn't need to be explaining to my dentist why I was riding a cyclocross bike before I actually got my permanent teeth in! Thankfully, I didn't miss my saddle.
Through teaching those women, I also retaught myself. It turns out, it was just like riding a bike.
Those women gave me the perspective I needed to be able to see myself clearly. They gave me an entire season of inspiration. They reminded me why I race bikes, and why I want to race: to play along that personal edge, to find your own limits, to test them, and to grow. There's an excitement in playing along that edge that is absolutely unmatched. And to do that in the company of a whole bunch of absolutely awesome ladies who are all working to do the same, not just on the course, but in the course of their own lives --- that's why I race bikes. The energy is amazing. That energy is why, when I learned about the campaign #200women200miles, I wanted to be at the start line of the Dirty Kanza, ready and willing to rock.
And so it was with those ladies in mind, and 200 miles looming in June, that I booked a trip to Tucson in December, and recommitted to racing, and committed to trying things I'd never done before. Among them, the DK200 and also to, I hope, jumping into the UCI field in the fall.
It is "just" bike racing, but it is so much more than that. And there is so much more to come.
#findyourlimits #dirtykanza #laufforks