So sure, an alien landscape can start to feel like home. That’s no surprise, really. It’s been cooler, and more drizzly, here in Dixie than is typical for this time of year, and that means a now familiar landscape has been somewhat alien. Daylight is shorter than it should be, and the tobacco should have been picked and hung to cure two weeks ago; tubulars should be glued already, but life interferes and they aren’t, predictably.
Bike races, of whatever size and shape, always feel like home. The cars in a parking lot that ought otherwise to be empty at that hour of the day/time of the week; the drift of people in varying states of race readiness—pinning numbers, eyeballing their nemeses, pumping tires, toweling off, looking relieved to have escaped the rest of life for an hour or two—coupled with a palpable potential energy, about to become kinetic: I like it in this place. I see this potential energy when I see course tape framing a lightly worn strip of grass, without a rider in sight. It’s like a freshly groomed baseball diamond, or a stage set for an orchestra, but still empty of musicians: the sense of possibility is overwhelming.
Everything in life looks different from the outside looking in, and a race is no exception. Visit a local race on a rest day sometime, or take your kids with you to spectate at a ‘cross when the spouse has to work and you can’t race anyway. It all looks like simple math, no beginning, no end, the riders all strung around the course. And from this perspective, it all looks like a series of simple choices and consequences, no high stakes, no superhuman effort required: rest here, accelerate there, punch it here, rail that corner and there’s the 10 seconds—the impossible 10 seconds—you need to catch the next group. It makes you wonder why your friends look so damn serious, and where all the pain is coming from.
Look at a racer after a race, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a weeknight training race or a national championship, the look is always the same. We find what we’re looking for out there on the course, we find out what we are that day. That’s why we look relieved, and calm, and we wonder how soon the glow will fade, the buzz will subside, and we might forget again.
Try to talk to someone—even a close friend, even someone with whom you have raced dozens of times—after a race that they rode and you watched, and you’ll discover that you have become strangers to one another, just for awhile. Our internal landscapes change, too, and often without our invitation.
There’s something in the passing of the seasons, the beautiful reminder of fall, that sharpens the edges of these landscapes, both geographic and psychic.