Exposure Therapy

Regular readers already know that I am a vocal advocate of masturbation. I speak out in an effort to destigmatize this natural element of human sexuality. I tell myself that promulgating a pro-woman, sex-positive cultural paradigm is a powerful means of activism. And that preaching the truth that it’s not only the men who get to be self-directed sex-enjoyers will eventually shape a more egalitarian society. 

In my opinion, cycling is the perfect metaphor for masturbation. Consider the parallels of unapologetic self-pleasure. Stress relief. Mindfulness and self-awareness. Myriad similar physical and mental health benefits. The underrepresentation of women. Even the lexicon of cycling leads naturally to fantastic innuendo. As an example, calling a Rule #5 (harden the fuck up) is surprisingly effective at distracting my Trophy Husband from productive work.

Although cycling doesn't actually bring me to orgasm, I take unseemly pleasure in countless distinct physical sensations. As I warm up and my muscles lengthen, I notice the contrasting stiffness of the steel frame. I breathe with intention, flooding my muscles with oxygen, loosening the bonds of gravity. My hands on the hoods perceive the grip of the tires, and my body reacts. I make constant, instinctive micro-adjustments. I revel in the raw power of my surging legs, the breadth of my lungs. I savor the sting of winter burning my nostrils, the chill of wind-wrought tears cooling at my temples, and the taste of salt drying on my lips. Utter joy sharpens my vision, and I drink in fleeting wild glimpses of raptors, coyotes and the ever-changing colors of the prairie grasses.

When I float the bike over snow and ice, I am both titillated and terrified.

When climbing, my heart pounds. Blood rushes everywhere as I summit, and I go faster. Until I eventually slow to unzip, shedding clouds of steam and laughing.

Every ride is different, even when it’s the same route. The light and the seasons, the terrain, and the wildlife all bring new beauty each time. Riding for me is never ordinary. My body responds to the bike, hovering in perfect harmony over undulating ground, and I am bliss.

In these moments, I wonder how time dilation works and whether or not I can somehow stretch this temporary perfect rapture.

In my imagination I’m relaxed and graceful. Strong. Fast. Gorgeous and completely badass. It feels so amazing that I almost believe it’s true.

As a mostly solitary cyclist, I’m nervous and awkward around strange riders. I feel as if I've been caught exposed. Like I need to calm down and compose myself. My grace evaporates and I get a little twitchy. Especially when the strangers are intimidating, unsmiling men raging through my personal space. These are the flashy pretend-pro dudes who grunt a lot and force the stroke, showing off for each other as they encroach on me. They seem angry somehow even though they’re on bikes, and I find this completely counter-intuitive.

The rare outliers who return my giddy grin recognize my euphoria. They’re the ones who are relaxed and euphoric too. And fast. So. Fucking. Fast.

I watched one of these friendly outliers from a distance  one day, hoping to learn from his ease. I saw him rise from the saddle on a climb at the exact spot where I start to bog. He summited, turned left, and then slowed, looking back over his left shoulder. Waiting for something. The next instant a small wave of other relaxed, graceful, uber-fast riders rounded a corner and washed over him from behind. I blinked as they absorbed him and disappeared. It was breathtaking.

Maybe riding with Others does have some redeeming qualities. I checked out a new-to-me LBS the other day, and the friendly owner made me coffee. Then he let me fondle the drivetrain of a fucktillion-dollar bike and invited me to join the shop’s group ride. He was so welcoming that I almost believed it really would be okay if I couldn’t keep up. I may actually work up the courage to go. It will be like exposure therapy, decreasing the likelihood that I will fling myself to the ground around roadies in the wild. It will also probably be really fun.