Increasing My Velocity

Velocity for me isn't only about speed. It's also about riding fast gracefully. It's true that I'm getting faster, but I'm also learning new skills like staying aboard around other riders.

I'm learning to calm myself down even when I'm VERY EXCITED about being out on my bike.

Which, to be honest, is every single time I ride.

I'm learning to relax and ride smoothly even when I'm afraid. Of the descent. Or the climb. Or the speed. Or the corner. Or that angry dude. Or the car coming too fast and too close behind me.

I'm also learning to ride gracefully through darkness, where I have to relax my body enough to float the bike over hazards I don't see. It demands stillness and ease, which I want to cultivate both on and off the bike. 

Nearly every day I leave the cocoon of my bed, the steady warmth and rhythmic breathing of my husband, and the joyful peace of my dreaming children to go chase my bliss in cold shadows. 

Forty minutes before sunrise I pushed my bike through the gate and quietly closed it behind me. Lingering moisture from the night's thunderstorms dampened the sound of my shoes clicking into my pedals, and I jumped off my curb into the street. I listened to my tires leave the asphalt and change pitch as they rolled onto the concrete bike path. Clouds hid the moon. Streetlights punctuated the darkness, deepening the shadows, and I started grinning.

I glided under the quiet interstate, under the silent commuter rail, and turned west toward the state park. I paused at a gap in the fence to study the darkness below. No street lights. No headlights yet. Just ambient light reflecting off the water. Inhaling the faint scent of wet sagebrush, I dropped through the gap down into darker, colder air and headed south. 

My eyes adjusted and I rode faster. Mildly nervous, I reminded myself that the deer that wander out in front of my bike at dawn were still bedded down. As was the guy in that torn sleeping bag tucked up under the bridge. 

I ramped off the concrete onto asphalt and angled west again. Slightly chilled, I rode faster and waited for the rising sun to find me. Once or twice I glanced east, seeking the warmth that slowly strokes my shoulder blades then suddenly washes down my back and spreads over my thighs. A blanket of clouds denied me the physical pleasures of sunrise that morning, and I chided myself for being such a hedonist. 

Far south of the grey daybreak, I reached my turnaround ahead of schedule. The effort of warming myself up had hastened my pace. I took the long way home, loitering on the saddle and savoring the cool morning air.

Back inside the state park, I reveled in the sensory rapture of my ride. I thought about self-pleasure and self-indulgence and whether or not I needed some respectable excuse to go so often. I have one, at least temporarily, in a charity ride for the American Diabetes Association. I have a lot to learn about velocity, but calling my rides "training" might give me a socially acceptable excuse to indulge even more often.

After a warm sunrise the following morning, I had the absolute thrill of trying (and mostly failing) to keep up with friendly, uber-fast cyclists who actually know how to ride with grace. After just barely hanging in with them for the first segment, I watched them disappear around the corner ahead of me. Later on I felt them sweep over me from behind, gathering me into their stream again. A calm rider next to me quietly talked me through how to hold my hands in the drops and move up though the middle with him to take our turn at the front. I fought hard, ungracefully, to hold on with him as long as I could before the pack surged through and I dropped again. Shaky and spent, and already a better cyclist.