Party on the Mara train

Abbott at NVGP

Abbott at NVGP (Image credit: Matthew Moses)

July 27, 2007

Pre-riding the Seven Springs road course, I explained to my teammate Amber Rais that my life currently felt analogous to a train ride. Well, I sort of said that. What I actually exclaimed was that "it's a party on the Mara train!" Despite the flippant nature of that comment, I actually meant something by it. It's just that everything is moving so fast right now. It has been a bit too rapid for me to process. Like jumping on a trampoline where every time I start to accelerate downward toward stable earth, I hit some mysterious launching force which tosses me back skyward again, the high speed bullet train of my summer is rocketing me at mind-bending speed through terrain that I thought I might see someday, but never so soon or all at once.

Like a globe circling tour of the Seven Wonders of the World complete in the equivalent of ten minutes, I couldn't necessarily catalogue the details and ramifications of that which had been viewed through the windows of my train, and all I had been able to do is close my eyes and concentrate on the sensations of the ride. And inside... it is so fun. An endless inward stream of cartwheels and celebration and surprise and delight. It's a rockin' party on the fastest train in the world.

So now I found myself at Nationals. The shock and delighted disbelief which have been ensuing from the physical reality of our national championship victory are paradoxical when compared with the great assurance and confident connection I held for the Seven Springs resort during the intervening 371 days since I had last visited the magical land.

That was the first time I saw myself as a true cyclist. That was the first time I ever really did enough to believe the people who said that I had talent as I raced the 2006 national championships under the peerless tutelage of Michael Engleman and the support of his USWCDP program.

This year driving the road from the Pittsburgh airport to the resort was like revisiting a fantasy. It was a place that I saw as too perfect to really still be in existence. Riding around the area on our off days, I could recollect every single bend of that course. Michael tells me to make sure I remember moments and appreciate experiences... yet how could I forget Seven Springs? At the time I didn't realize the force of the 2006 memories as they initially cemented in my mind, but those of 2007 I already consider to be unshakeable.

I have always believed in theories and premonitions, in good signs and in things that are meant to be. And I knew that something special had to happen this weekend because we had the most magical pre-ride I have ever experienced. Amber and I left to ride the road course on Sunday at about 11am. As we chatted and gossiped and laughed with hardly a break for breath, we didn't notice the dark clouds rolling in. And as they started to release sprinkles, we paused briefly to put on more clothing, but ultimately decided that we weren't finished with the ride yet.

We continued on, in weather warm enough that the rapidly growing (in frequency and size!) raindrops released steam from the pavement. We refused several offers of help, opting instead to ride through what now grew to be a downpour, and as we counted approximately three seconds from lightning to earth-shattering thunder claps we judged ourselves safe, and piloted our two wheeled machines of delight through rushes of water and gusts of wind.

Bernard, our mechanic and protector without equal came to find us in the minivan, but couldn't persuade us to cease from our mission. We had discussed earlier in the ride the power of choosing to do something because you truly wanted too, despite the absurdity of the decision to the outside world. Driven not by obligation but by an aptly timed example of this force, we decided to practice the final sprint into the finish line. The rain had begun to slacken, and as we powered up the last climb, 200 meters from the line, the sun came through the clouds, and the mild levels of road steam flourished into great plumes as we raced each other across the deserted line, where rickety white barriers were still erected from previous days of racing to remind us that something great could happen there.

It was such a perfect moment that it defied description. I believed with every super-rational part of myself that this experience had to mean something extraordinary would follow. And while I don't necessarily think that I had to win the race in order for this experience to be remarkable, if that is the way the premonition chose to manifest into reality? Well... I suppose that could be acceptable.

I believe that even by itself it would have been too much to ask for to demand a victory at the national championship. But somehow I not only got that, but I got it in a way that redefined my limits. I have never been a sprinter. When I called my high-school swim coach Grant to inform him of the victory I announced that I won a sprint, and he said, "What, was it against 10-year-old girls?" Despite his good-natured ribbing, he had always believed in me... and when I talked to Michael the night before the race, he told me that he thought I was capable of such a victory. Yeah... I didn't believe it.

As Kristin Armstrong, one of the most awe-inspiring and delightful competitors I have encountered, passed me into the final kicker, my mind said, "lights out! It's over". But I suppose subconsciously considered Michael's words, as he told me that "no one thinks you can sprint. But I DO." He always gets to be right. That's OK - now I am like a kid who just found a bonus Christmas present. I have something new to play with. The strength of those who believed in me was enough to beat out my own skepticism, even as I doubted myself in THAT MOMENT.

In high school I took an Outward Bound course and my instructor talked about how you can mentally transfer strength to another person, even if they are miles away. I think he was right. I didn't do this one alone. I had my team on the course, the strongest team I could imagine, our foreign riders cheering me from afar, all of these wonderful friends and my fam who wished me good luck, and some dude down in Hesperus believing in me despite every self-denial I have ever uttered. Something extraordinary just came together at the second I needed it. Ha ha - do you know what it reminds me of? Everyone slip on your magic summoning ring... it's like Captain Planet!

As I thought about my train analogy after the race, I realized that things are beginning to evolve. The last two weeks since Nature Valley have been enough of a break for experiences to begin to be filtered and made into rational pieces of my life perspective. As much as I shocked myself in winning this race, it doesn't feel like an external experience this time around. It feels like something that should have happened. I mentioned before the race that in order to win, I would "have to think like a bike racer, not like a locomotive". And I did. That's what I am learning to do. My train is decelerating slowly, and I am starting to get this bike racing thing. Hey... it's pretty fun... ! It certainly is without doubt plenty to keep the party rolling... whether on an imaginary train or not.

Or so I thought. Because the well adjusted me who could take winning the national championship in stride was really just the regular old me in disguise, waiting for the reality of this all to sink in. And that happened this afternoon, and I had to revise my journal entry. Luckily for my competitors, this could be my assured downfall, as I now I am so excited that I don't think I will ever sleep again. I hear that is not so good for the training. We'll see if I can pull it out.

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Follow the program's young female cyclists as they embark on their journey to the top of the pro ranks

The US Women's Cycling Development program was founded by former pro rider, Michael Engleman, as a way to help promising young women cyclists reach their full potential as athletes.

The dedicated and well spoken women of this program provide thoughtful, compelling and sometimes hilarious anecdotes of their experiences in this diary. For further reading about the program, visit the USWCDP website.