At a bare minimum, as bike riders, there is at least one thing we have in common. We all know how to pedal. Perhaps more importantly, we have an understanding of what it feels like to pedal. It is easy to take it for granted, but this physical self-awareness is far from universal--rather it is the earned privilege of the individual who has dedicated time to working in partnership with his or her body. We all know what the activation of a hamstring on the upstroke feels like, or how wind we face changes in force with our acceleration. I find it astonishingly comforting that this, at the very least, remains constant.
As humans, it is easy to find ourselves drawn to the safety of the familiar and habitual. This attraction to routine is even more common among athletes, and probably still more prevalent among the endurance crowd. Ironically, ultimately the most successful athletes are adaptable to change--they can even keep their cool when pre-race breakfast is different or a night of sleep is lost to travel. It is a disquieting paradox that as much our success feels critically linked to controlling variables, its seems that the times we exceed expectations are irritatingly linked to when we let go and remain resilient in the face of change. What is comforting is this: upstroke, downstroke, wind in your face. It is small, but it is something. So we keep pedaling.
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Argentina for the inaugural Tour de San Luis Feminin. It was my first time in both the country and the region and I absolutely fell in love. As an aside--my thrill in discovering San Luis, the place, was matched by my thrill in being able to participate in the debut of this race. I have never attended a competition so consistently publicized and supported by the host communities--and this in the event's first year.
I ended up deciding to change my flight plans to stay in Argentina a week longer. Ostensibly this was for good winter training, but in reality my primary motive was adventuring. As I stayed longer, the roads and paths became familiar. I began to find amid all the strangeness of a foreign country, the beautiful places that I felt a connection to. To be clear, this strangeness was no small thing, for very little was habitual or routine about my time in Argentina.
It was 40 degrees Celsius, not snowing. There were fertile farmlands and forests, not high mountains. I spoke Spanish. And I was eating dinner at midnight. It was enough to make me a little anxious for stability. Yet on one of my last days there, I rode up the shaded tree-divided road from El Volcan to El Trapiche. Despite my now semi-permanent dizzying sensation of feet-off-the-ground newness, I was able to find peace and familiarity. Basically everything around me was different, and absolutely none of it was under my control, but my legs somehow still felt like my legs. I felt just like I did whenever I pedaled. Their circles became meditative and I took a few deep breaths. I felt foundation, and I realized how lucky I am to have this embodied self-knowledge. I kept pedaling.
The ride and the travel taught me an important lesson, but realistically, changes in environment are the least of our worries. It is when the self that we are so sure of being faces challenge that things really go off kilter. Relationships end, jobs evaporate, homes and possessions are impermanent, and even the people we rely on shift and can disappear. We are forced to scramble to re-find our footing. It's healthy, I guess...it's growth... and it's not really a choice... but at the same time, uncertainty can be unspeakably uncomfortable and terrifying. Yet as cyclists, as athletes, we always have this privilege: our external worlds may spin away without our permission, but there is one thing we can do. We can get on our bikes and find a constant. Often, there isn't a lot we can do. But we can keep pedaling.
Part of this lesson came to me as I processed the passing of my friend Amy Dombroski this past fall. I would like to dedicate this, my first Cyclingnews journal entry, to her bravery, her spirit of adventure and her willingness to dive toward the new and different that always left me in awe.