Frost was still covering the leaves, the grass and I could see each breath of mine in the air. I followed imprints from tire tracks from those out riding the day previously. I realized half way up the cross country runner I was accustomed to coming across had probably long since passed this point on the path. I lamented our usual “Good Morning” as he passed sweating, spry and full of energy coupled with my envy for how easy he makes running all over mountains seem.
Despite the chill in the air & the goosebumps running along my arms, my lungs were burning and my heart felt as though it would explode, each beat pounding in my ear like a death metal drummer. Gasping for breath my pace slowed, I gaze down noticing notice a frozen purple flower that had somehow survived in to the fall. It survived the frost, I notice how alone it looked around all the fallen yellow leaves, how it seemed a beacon of survival. “I’m lonely too” I whispered to the petals. I pulled my hydrapak tube to my lips, chomped on the end, water too cold to drink burst into my mouth, I thrust the tube away in disgust. Let out a shiver, pull my foot up to the pedal and began my slow ascent. Looking in desperation for the next turn, the next marker, dodging wet roots and freshly exposed boulders.
I heard the whispers coming.
Little demons scurrying in the brush, scrambling up nearby trees to hiss & gnash at me from the branches and between frozen blades of grass. My mind gives up, my feet fall off the pedals. I listen as my 5tens scratch the dirt. I hear the voices cackling from all around me as they feel me struggle as the mental game begins.
“Shut Up” I say aloud.
I stop. I thought I heard something. I stop and listen. I lean and strain my ears. I peer behind me looking for the telltale florescent helmet or flash of red from a jersey.
“What did I hear? Is that a bear? a deer? another cow?” I ask myself.
“Hello?” I call out.
Time passes. I can feel my heart rate calming down from its manic state, the chill set into my clothing as it discovers dampness from sweat. Again, I hear a sort of snap out in the woods and I wonder if it could be a gear changing from another rider?
I realize I am acutely attentive to my surroundings looking in hope of seeing another human. I desperately want to see someone, anyone, even for that quick hello as they pass. I want to know that even though I am alone, I am not alone out here entirely. The voices have stopped as if they too are looking with me, listening, waiting to see if the other human will appear & obliterate their existence.
No such luck.
The season traffic has slowed and, despite loving my solo rides, I thrive when I run into people and start chatting to them, eager to hear their voice & know their story. I like looking for them after I take off whether it be on the trail or as I glide through the parking lot afterwards to catch up. Other people mean that the voices of the fraud police are silenced, the little demons are tied up somewhere in my brain and I can focus on the path ahead.
I push out a breath and think “So, this is how it is going to be. I am going to have to ride with the Fraud Police today.” A chorus of them respond yes from inside my head while I imagine their smiling sharpened teeth grinning from the naked branches nearby. And so it begins, I pedal and scrambling alongside me,they start their song;
“Look at you struggle here. You are all alone. You are only 3km in on this little climb and you expect to finish a 7 day race and average 50km a day? HA! You are a stupid girl. You aren’t going to make it. Look at you. You’re giving up already. Ah! look your feet are off the pedals. ALREADY. You are going to get off and push now aren’t you? Yep. There you go, pushing your sad little being up this tiny little hill. You are pathetic. Kind of the embodiment of pathetic. Real mountain bikers are going to come riding past you as per usual and know you don’t belong here. You don’t belong in that race. You should move aside for the talent. The men. The people who have worked to be there. Everyone but you. Get off the trail. Go home. You don’t belong here.”
They continue to talk amoungst themselves while I sweat, I push, I gasp for air and all the while talk to myself in my own voice. I tell myself not to listen. Don’t give up. Keep going. I reflect on my envy & admiration of professional athletes.
The positive talk that comes from coaches, the group of people supporting them and their strong mental game. In order to preform on that elite level the quality of their thoughts resonates through their performance. I admire their work, their dedication to crafting their being. The hours athletes spend cross training and discovering ways to make their mind and body form this cohesive bond as they respond to each other and break limits. A profound synchronicity. I think on this in wide eyed admiration as my mind & body are eternally dueling in a loud battle of babble in my chaotic mind. Back on the hill I begin counting to one as each leg completes a pedal stroke. An endless counting to 1 in order quiet the Fraud Police and begin to pay attention. In a way, using a blast shield to blind myself in order to see more, much like Luke and Obi Wan during training “With the blast shield down, I can’t even see, how am I supposed to fight?”
More than once I have noticed as I prepare for the upcoming race, I think of Jedi training in parallel as I ascend/descend mountains. There is a lot of trust one has to place in themselves and their equipment in order to maneuver, slip between trees, carve switchbacks and leap over sudden jumps as if rider, bike, and trail are all fluid & moving as one. I watch others they seem to make it all look so easy whereas I panic at greasy roots and sudden drops, grinding to a halt when the Fraud Police take over.
Each time I go out, I think that my mental game is slowly improving along with my physical and technical abilities. Growth is slow and steady, requires work, practice,constant attention and it is my hope that the vice grip that the Fraud Police has over me, slowly weakens and eventually turns into whispers that I can silence at the bat of an eyelash. Much like Danny…