Sometimes, time disappears.
This happens when I turn my brain off for certain obligations (like the hour-long commute to and from work that never seems to change, aside from the audio-book I happen to be listening to.) Other times, I make time disappear: zoning out at various points during the work day when the frigid air from the AC fan blows the papers from my desk, and I'm shivering while working on a project for which I will never be recognized.
Time trials, however, magnify time.
They make life seem long and beautiful and worthwhile. Many years ago, one of my professors asked me why it was I wanted to be an elite athlete so badly. I offered up some BS answer (but, you know, I was only in my twenties, so whatever.) It was some crap about honor and wanting compete next to really stellar people. And, maybe I did really think that at the time. Who knows what and why we think when we are in our twenties?
After racing in two time trials this week, I think I finally understand why I am an athlete and why I don't mind getting up early, staying up late, the sweat, the skin conditions, the "thick thighs" that don't fit easily into "skinny jeans." For me, it's all worth it.
So, in a time trial, you're sent out there on the road by yourself to do your best against old Father Time. It's solitary work that is more inside the mind than patterned on the body.
Twice this week-- the first: climbing Geiger Grade, an (approximately) 2,500 climb from Reno, Nevada to Geiger Summit-- a stop on the way to historic Virginia City; the second: trying to speed along East Valley Road on the South End of Carson Valley despite the huge expansion cracks in the road that knock out healthy people's teeth and wind that could blow a person off the road for the second half. For both, the accumulating time revealed mistakes I'd made at the starting line.
In other words: in time trials, time is magnified.
Going out too hard (despite the perfect conditions) on the Geiger climb resulted in a drop in my ability to climb maybe 3/4 up the mountain with Reno, Washoe Valley and the Sierra Nevada panorama all spread out before me. The beauty of the early evening wasn't in my legs, lungs and guts. I noticed the contrast even as I struggled, loving the fact that I was sweating in my eyes (it's been so cold; to sweat, outside, felt like a luxury) and existing in that threshold of discomfort where it's just annoying enough to make even the most beautiful moment suck.
Two days later, once again, I feel the same sensation, but for different reasons: there were no hills to speak of. It was the weather (the wind) that made the course a challenge that day. The wind blew me around like a leaf caught in the currents of a fast-moving stream: fast one moment, stuck by the banks in another.
And yet. There I was: alone with the wind pushing me back. I duck as low as I can in the aerobars. There are cyclists in front of me. There is no hope (I tell myself) no hope that I could catch them. It is an exercise in futility; pedaling toward an aimless destination, and for a quick second I ask myself: what is worse? This race or how you feel in that cubicle at work?
I don't even blink before I know the answer.
A miracle happens:
twice this week, I reeled riders in. Twice this week, I was strong despite whatever I think about myself. I catch another particpant. I ride past. I'm out on the climb and/or in the wind again, alone.
All myself, alone. Here, I can't say I care much whether or not someone else thinks I am a failure. Here, under the sun and wind and under the watch of time: I am only and ever myself. Just me: me as-I-am. Me with the thick legs and the bad skin. Me with the 35-year old creases around my eyes. Me with the bad hair. Me with the sinus infection, the hairy legs, the not-plucked eyebrows, the odd tan lines, the fat rolls, the tummy that makes other women at work ask me if I'm pregnant.
But, I'm not anything I wanted to be. But, at least when I'm on the bike I feel like I'm myself and that I'm doing the one thing that is true and honest; that I see beauty that could make me cry. I express my-self; who I am, without words. My pedal stroke. My stride. My breath. That is, essentially, me.
Perhaps that kind of definition is always beyond words.
In my life, time is magnified or it is erased.
There is no center ground. I wonder if I have wasted my life, trying to be a writer and an athlete. What if life is like a time trial?
What if I tried too hard, too soon? The three graduate degrees, the MFA, the books I ghost wrote, the attempt at the Olympic Trials, and then the years of nothing at all? Time, then, seemed to extend. Time, now, contracts. An easy four-mile run bends me back, turning me into myself and my past as Amgen (pro female) racers crest Kingsbury Grade near Tahoe. What is the meaning of time for an athlete? Time in a race? Time to race? Time, simply, as time before we die?
Sometimes, time is circular.
Two years ago, year I moved into a house in a neighborhood where I'd been raised between the first and fourth grades. Tonight, I went for a run-- an easy run-- around this place that had, at one point, been home. It's all strange to me now. My family's home is yellow now, not blue like when I had lived there. My friend's house, just six lots and to the right-- is gone. Faded and literally deconstructed. I am not who I was when I lived here.
Instead, I am who I am.
Time bends, realigns. The narrative goes silent. It's my commute; it's those hours in my cubicle: all meaningless. I am a mediocre, middle-aged woman.
But on the bike, in the wind, up the steeps, in the saddle-- that is me. I am myself. Horrible, flawed, terrible and beautiful: words and light; wind and power. Meaningful. Tested by time.