There are spaces of nothing between bursts of something. This is where my mind gets busy, and I scheme feats of mid-life athletic amazement. This is where possibility takes root…along with its gnarly second cousin: fear.
Such was the case with the fondo a few weeks ago.
The fondo was my first experience riding in a big group. It was a pretty big group – several thousand cyclists. It had occupied my thoughts for weeks. The idea – the newness of it – thrilled me. But I was also worried. Not about the distance. I was doing the quarter and had covered the distance easily in training. As a typically solo rider, I was worried about maneuvering in a crowd of other cyclists. A crash. The dramatic highway pile-up. You know, skin grafts and such.
I like that about triathlons…you’re not allowed to ride near each other.
Well, I don’t know what went on at the front of the pack, but there was no sardine-packed peleton where I was. No inch-apart wheels. No tempting of fate with each twitch of the brakes. It was simply a bunch of folk of similar pace riding and keeping an eye on each other. And on the spaces in between.
Big groups are always like that really: just lots of you’s and me’s showing up until something aggregate takes shape.
The group thing, though – this posse of strangers moving together through air on wheels – brought out something new in me. As I found the slipstream of other cyclists, I could feel the rhythm of the collective. The air moved around me faster. The odometer ticked faster. Even when I found myself alone. Like during the last 10 km, as I whipped along the lakefront into the wind and barreled down the streets of Penticton. I could see my average speed was notably higher than I’d predicted. I began an instinctive race against my bike computer and the “point-9” at the end of my average speed. I tucked in and hunched down. My breath took on an unfamiliar tone. I pushed, pushed, pushed through the empty streets. I flew across the finish line – leaning in like Peter Sagan inching out a rival for the stage win. Yeah, I was exactly like Peter Sagan.
And the only crash was the one that came when I was going precisely 0 km/h and that was related to precisely zero other riders. At the rest stop, I couldn’t un-clip from my pedals fast enough. I toppled over on my left side right, bike still between my legs, in front a line of riders outside the port-a-potties. It was dramatic in its own special way.
In the end, there was plenty of space in between. The mental space required to imagine the fondo transformed into just the right amount of physical space to complete it. It reminded me that in the act of doing – distinct from thinking about doing – there is no fear. Just presence. Fear is a precursor of the mind. But it can’t exist in the bright light of action. The minute I clipped in and pushed down my first pedal, fear burned off like summer’s early morning haze.