That thing about someone asking how you’re doing and meaning it, that’s what sticks.
I missed the speed. I missed the world below and to the sides and ahead and behind passing in various intensities of blur. I missed how we, the ones who made the speed, rode inside the speed, sometimes clawing against it as if against the chest of a great beast taking its time to play with us as its mauling paws brought us to its maw, and sometimes, instead, as if we were passengers sharing a mild adventure in a shuddering rail car.
I missed the hurt, I suppose. I missed its depth—there’s a lot of stuff down there. I also missed what an amusement park the pain is, how such profound suffering can be so trivial that to make it cease all you need to do is ease off the pedals.
I missed my racing friends, who are in some part different from my riding friends, who are, at this point in my life, not all that different from my friends, which means my racing friends are the only friendly friends instead of friend friends I have; I missed being around people I like but barely know. I missed the banter. I missed the jokes about the lap cards, and I missed daring each other to have a go, and I missed asking someone how they did in the sprint a few laps ago, and I missed someone asking me how I was doing, and meaning it, which doesn’t, let’s be honest, really happen all that much in an office hallway.
I missed getting dropped, too—something about the finality of the verdict, the certainty that I had committed some ill, perhaps today but most likely in the previous weeks and months. I missed those who got dropped and knew how to accept it, and I missed how just a few cyclists who know what they’re doing—three in this case—can by simple and calm repetition organize a ragged scattering of riders into a passable paceline. I even missed that one guy who keeps accelerating away before fatiguing and fading back, then latching on and resting up, then accelerating away again, and all of it again, and all of it again and again, until eventually there is something no longer annoying in it but soothing, like knowing the tides will come in and out.
I missed being done with a race, the simple and pure elation of being done that in the summer might last so long as to become a reverie, sitting on an open tailgate and sipping a beer in a parking lot, but in March is most often a slap that leaves you blinking and senseless before a few shakes of your head bring you back to the actuality of an existence in which there is still so much to be done, so much that must be missed if you want to not miss what it means to be a bicycle racer in the spring.
Originally published in The Selection, March 7, 2014