There are times in this life when you must ride alone.
This is one of those times.
I ride to get better. I ride to escape. I ride to get far away. I ride to get closer.
I am on a bike path and there is a creek to the side of me and a woman sees me and she smiles, proudly. I ride on. There is a path and there are trees and I see another woman and she smiles at me, proudly. I ride on. Perhaps they smile at me because of my jersey. Perhaps they smile because I look like a cyclist. I play the part. I wipe the sweat. I wear the gloves. I have the kit. I am an imposter who is getting closer to being authentic. Perhaps they smile because these are women who are older and on bikes and enjoying the day and perhaps they are just happy to see a young woman riding as fast as she can in the sweet, sunny morning of a Monday when the cares of this world sweat off all of us.
Now, I am on a busy road and it is crowded with people and a truck passes me very closely and does not seem to care that I am just bones and muscle here. I am hardly anything at all. Not steel. Not engine. Not high off the ground and almost a lane big. I am so small compared to this blue dump truck that passes me within inches. I am just so small. I’m just a heart and a mind and legs that keep on turning these pedals, over and over and over. I am a hope and a dream. I am mostly water. Some air.
Now, I am on a road and the smell of cows crowd my nose and my legs are churning and I can feel the sweat on my back and the sun on my legs and I see all that is up ahead of me. I see straight up a road for miles to come. I am in the country and I pass a sign that say “Hay Bales For Sale” and I pass another that says “Brown Eggs $2.” Wide country and my heart is a Patsy Cline song and I just keep on riding. Open wide sky and green pastures and a crooked sign that says “Niagara Wine Trail.” I stop and take a photo. I let my breathing cool and I soak it in. This is why I don’t work full time. This is why I budget like a bandit. I need days off. I need time more than money. Any day of the week I’ll take time, oh so lovely time.
And, I am on another road. I am on the road of my mind. The solitary road of miles by myself; it’s empty, but it isn’t lonesome. It’s just me on that road right now. I’m the youngest on my team and I’ve got so much work to do. I have so many miles to log, so many miles before I sleep.
I am on the road of my mind and it’s lovely and full of memories: the smell of fresh cut grass coming through the windows of my middle school, the dream of being a filmmaker when I grew up, the lavender scent of my grandmother’s bathroom, the creak of the lines on the boat in September. All these memories are here as I ride. I ride through them. I ride with them.
And then I snap out of the flow state and I’m an adult on a bike team. I usually ride with other people. I try to ride with my team as much as I can, but there are just some times when I need to ride alone. I don’t need to be dropped. I don’t need to be in a group ride on a Tuesday night. I just need the road and my bike and my imagination and these legs. These goddamn, thick, beautiful legs that carry me from here to there and back again.
I am on my way to Lake Ontario. It’s thirty-two miles. It’s not that much, but it’s a lot to me. I’ve never ridden by myself to a destination—only in a park, on a trail, in a safe space. Here, out in this countryside of Wilson, New York, I am a traveler. I am going eighteen to twenty-three miles per hour and feeling pretty proud about that. I’m moving. The wind is right. I work on my form. I work on my mental state. I work on my breath. I am not panicking like I do when I’m training with my team or in a race. I’m not hyperventilating. I am simply an exchange of air for air, molecule for molecule, outside then inside then outside. I am a simple exchange.
And, I ride by “Linda Lou’s.” I smell the bacon cooking and two young girls yell out and wave to me. Do they think I’m something real? Do they think I know what I’m doing? I smile at them, happy for this interaction. I see they are in soccer clothes and my heart swells a little. All is not lost in this world when two young girls in soccer clothes think a thirty-one year old amateur cyclist is cool enough to say hi to. All is not lost.
I take a right by the graveyard and a left onto the road that takes me to the lake. I hear the gulls. I see the billowing sails of a boat coming into the harbor.
And I am here by myself by this lake with my bike. I am here. I have arrived.