1211 LA, Hilversum
Watch what I do when I win!
Already, my knees are bruised and my elbows bloody. Just that afternoon, I had taken my first wobbly pedal strokes alone on a two-wheeler.
The day had been hot and sticky. My friends were all off eating popsicles and running through sprinklers. I, however, was set on my prize. If I could ride around the block, I would earn a fishing rod and a mask and snorkel and I was determined to succeed. My mum had laughed and laughed each time as she pushed me off into the unknown; every try, I would turn my legs hesitantly, roll a few metres, then come tumbling down onto the pavement, trying to hide the pain as I brushed myself off.
We were at it the whole afternoon, before, finally, I found my keel.
Alone for the first time with the hum of my tires and the rush of wind in my ears, I surfed a wave of exhilaration all the way around our little crescent. Before I knew it, I was back in the world of lawnmowers and chirping birds and passing cars, standing in a state of shock in my driveway, my goal completed. I could hardly believe what I had done. I was amazed and proud and I could not wait to show Daddy.
Recklessly, I sprint for an approaching telephone pole.
I had learned the trick from the poster downstairs; there, there was a photograph of a bike racer with his arm in the air, stars and stripes on his chest and a wild look in his eyes. Daddy said that the photo was of Greg Lemond as he won the World Championships. It had captured my imagination for as long as I could remember.
In a wave of elation, I throw my arms upwards, reaching as high as I can.
My earlier tumbles may as well have been into a feather bed compared to that landing. Lying on the road, I'm scared to see what I have done to my searing shoulder and elbow and hip. Daddy is beside me in a second, a look of concern on his face and a glint in his eye.
Riding back through the summer air, I am painfully aware of every bone in my body. I fall twice more before we arrive home, a victim of my own uncertainty. The whole next week, I hurt. Swimming at the beach, playing soccer, even lying in bed, I hurt. I even put my training wheels back on for awhile.
However, that sense of sheer freedom and exhilaration and accomplishment is unlike anything that I have ever experienced and soon I am back on my two-wheeler.
There is snow on the ground. I stare out the window into a grey cloud and shiver. In the background, the coffee maker hisses then splutters out its rich, frothy nectar.
I linger with a book over breakfast, planning a route out in my head between paragraphs. My legs ache; in recent weeks, memories of triumph and missed opportunities have rekindled my motivation.
I begin to dress, absentmindedly donning layer upon layer of lycra and polar fleece. I pack a pump, a spare tube, and a camera into my pockets and am ready to go. Quickly, I lube the chain on my old cross bike then try not to wake the neighbours as I tromp down the stairs with my bike on my shoulder.
The first pedal strokes are bitterly cold; my hands and feet are numb and the wind bites into my face. I navigate the roads unconsciously, steering by habit. Around me, the landscape alternates between lanes lined with trees and wide open polderland. I warm up and my blood begins to flow back into my extremities. I begin to sweat a little as I increase my tempo. Hours pass.
Finally, I ascend a little rise and turn off into the forest. As I adjust to the slippery surface, the sun pokes out and sends broad rays of light down through the trees. Then, there is silence. My vision sharpens and I hear nothing but the wind in my ears. I am floating over bumps and drifting around corners, pedaling faster and faster as I dodge around trees and slide around turns in the snow. I am flying, my legs burn but I don’t feel pain. I am like a kid on my bicycle, filled with that same feeling again, everything melded into the moment as I hurtle through the woods.
Soon, I will be racing again. It will be brutal and I will suffer. But, there will also be triumphs and, every once in a while, I will find myself in the middle of one of these rare “moments of excellence” and it will all be worthwhile.