Last of my favourite races until the cyclocross starts again. Giro Rosa, 10 days of riding in northern Italy, and Our Girls smashed it. Annamiek van Vleuten winning the GC, points, and mountains classifications as well as 2 stages; Amanda Spratt 3rd overall, Lucy Kennedy almost winning stage 3, and Mitchelton-SCOTT all-round the most enjoyable team to watch. Elsewhere Marianne Vos utterly shredding it with 4 stage wins and showing mad cyclocross skills, Kasia Niewiadoma almost on the podium at the end (and team with best-looking bikes), Anna van der Breggen, Elisa Longo Borghini and others just showing brilliant riding. More of this, please and thanks.
I started writing this May 11th, a few days into Ramadan, wrote a bit more on the 13th, left it all until June 2nd, a couple of days before Eid, or Zuckerfest as it gets called around here, when I thrashed at it in the 30° summer Sunday.
I wanted to leave writing this until the end of the month, in case I write something contingent on a month of fasting and then blow it by eating for three of those weeks. And I wanted to write from the perspective of having had a month of training while fasting. But both are, well, I’ve been through both before, and the last two years I’ve trained for the whole month while enjoying the warmth of summer and the days passing through solstice. And I obviously have to make it plain my Suhur isn’t before 2:45am or any other time except after dawn. I do what I can, as early as I can, if for no other reason than to remember my family, my dad, my babanna Aişe. I think it’s Ramadan, and if others want to say it’s not, or say it’s bid’ah, then it’s not, and it’s bid’ah. I know what 14 and more hours of fasting feels like, after 30 days in Berlin summer, when the sun sets at 9:30 and the sky never really gets dark.
So, training. In Ramadan.
Back when I was a student, I was living with a climber and wanted in on that. He gave me a book to read, prefacing it by saying, “This isn’t about technique or strength, it’s more about the psychology, but I think that’s more useful for you.” I was a little disappointed, I wanted the mainline route from reading to climbing mad hard. But he was right. There was a line in that book which stuck with me, it’s one of the more important things I learned about climbing or any other physical activity, or being an artist, or dedicating one’s self to the discipline of doing a thing – or, as we currently say, living our Truth: “Ask yourself what you’re prepared to give up. Because if you want to do this well, you’re going to have to give something up.” This was written — at the latest — in the early-’90s, when climbing was still a weird and grotty life choice, so far from the heteronormative bouldering hall lifestyle in every suburb we’re at now. Climbing was not a sensible career move.
I find something liberating in accepting I have to give something up to be able to do particular things, that after so many years, are not merely things I do, but who I am, have shaped me from bones to synapses, are selfhood. And I like resisting the seductive fantasy of, “You can have it all,” — it’s important to. “Have it all” is only a possibility for those who already have it all; for the rest of us, to varying amounts and degrees, to ‘have’ a thing is this question of what we’re prepared to give up — on top of what we already don’t have.
The author continued, “… you’re going to have to give something up. Whether it’s job or financial security, a social life, or time with your family.” Obviously he was writing for an imagined white, cisgender and heterosexual male, for whom ‘giving up’ these things is both something he can do (having them in the first place), and an acceptable compromise, in that someone(s) else will pick up the slack. Nonetheless, the question of what I’m prepared to give up, and what I have given up, in order to dance and live in a physical, momentum-driven selfhood, in order to be truthful to my selfhood, is a primary question of my life.
Back to training in Ramadan, then.
My regular training, for pushing twenty years now, has been a mix of ballet, contemporary dance, yoga, climbing, and cycling. Currently it’s four times a week on my bike for 90 minutes, and about the same amount of time in yoga, stretching, bits of pilates, strength, and stability training, piles of junk I’ve accumulated and continue to accumulate over decades, which seem to work for me. Like brushing my teeth twice a day. Around 10–12 hours a week then; sometimes more, sometimes less, and not including pre- and post-training time, rest and recovery, all the minutes that add up.
Ramadan for me becomes a reduced routine. Getting up, eating and drinking is separated by the long daylight hours until dusk. Then more eating and drinking, eating late, drinking late — and I diverge here to say how utterly divine that first water tastes, and how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy it, it’s sensual as fuck — playing catch-up on the hydration, and not enough sleep before it begins again. Early evening naps become a thing. Sunset until dawn becomes compressed, full of self’s obligations of eating, drinking, sleeping. Time slows, sometimes it’s enduring the waiting, sometimes it’s getting lost in the sky dimming, sunset on the trees outside, the endless conversations of birds. It isn’t a time to do nothing though. The days continue, and so must training.
And what happens to training? It’s slower, less intense, more careful. If I decided to go full-out, yes, I could, but the rest of the day (or more) would be shot, so I balance intensity with knowing there’s the day still remaining. It also trashes most of my cycling routine, which is heavily biased towards intervals and other hard sessions. I like suffering. I like suffering, and going hard and pushing and shoving until the very end. I like emptying myself even though the self I meet there I often have a difficult relationship with. It’s a habit, and habits Ramadan illuminates like nothing else. 30 days to be with one’s self and one’s habits.
I spent a lot of this month training just breathing. Breathing under stress as my heart rate increases and practicing how to keep the air going in and out through my nose, when I want nothing more than to open my maw and suck in some big gulps of air. Breathing when I’m at the end of an hour dropped into an aero position. Breathing and realising I probably breathe a little too fast and shallow when I’m training. A habit from where? New habits from a month of attention to self. Swapping out the habits of going hard for the habits of breathing and position.
I don’t think I have anything momentous to say about training during this month. It’s a lot like the month itself. Yeah, it’s uncomfortable and a bit of an effort to not even drink water through the day, but it’s not especially gruelling or outside the capacity to tolerate or endure, and if it ever got fucking horrific, I’d bail. It becomes pretty matter of fact after a while, even while that first glass of water in the evening never fails to be fucking glorious and rejuvenating. It requires patience and calmness, and attention to the aesthetics of living — or, for training, moving, which for me is living. The point of training in the month isn’t to stunt like I’m some aggressively competitive badass bitch doing it all (I am aggressively competitive, just I pick my time for it). As much as the month is about contemplative attention to and reflection on self, it’s not about retreat from the world, and just like everyone on Sonnenallee maintaining their obligations to life and work, so do I, as best I can. They keep the supermarkets and restaurants running, I keep … what? A physical life of art? Something? Whatever it is, there’s twenty years of it.
Seen so often on Flughafenstraße, then vanished for a few weeks. I almost made a gallery of “Orange things on Flughafenstr. that are not a Jägermeister DTM orange E30 Bimmer”, photos of orange rubbish cans, orange bikes, orange dumpsters, guys in orange safety overalls, no orange Bimmer. Back again today. I stopped my bike ride to at least get this photo. Emile says, “Boxy tight! Nice!” The best looking whip in Neukölln: 1991 BMW E30 325i M Technic Sport in Jägermeister DTM orange. “See man driving a German whip.”
So very tourist. Riding through town via a non-standard (and very bus-y) route, and, being spring, tourists are beginning to swarm. I made like a tourist with camera.
Gala came over for a spontaneous equinox visit this week, and spontaneous plans to make a short film. Me and my endlessly riding the Berliner Mauer, calling it art, discovering Tilda did it first (and twice), not caring ’cos it’s not the same, having the Gala with a bike who needs a short “About Me” film for her agency, and me loving the Dreilinden stretch of the former Berlin Wall (plus it’s one of the sections where the Mauer diverges and spreads from the Mauerweg route, and I’m still piecing it together). A Wednesday plan, a Thursday morning prep, a bike via Brandenburger Tor and Hauptbahnhof, S-Bahn to Griebnitzsee, or rather Wannsee ’cos there’s track work, and yes, you can take your bike on the Ersatzverkehr Bus, then biking the bourgie Potsdam side to Glienicke Brücke, and biking back on the forest-y northern side, past Jagdschloss Glienicke and all the bonkers Baroque architecture, around one of the East German exclaves of Klein Glienicke (More cobbles! Hills and cobbles! 2nd worst cobbles I’ve ridden in Berlin, 4/5 Paris-Roubaix stars of terrible joy.) past Steinstücken, along Teltowkanal as the sun came out, and scooting onto the old Autobahn bridge. Then following the sandy tracks where the Autobahn used to run until we went parallel with the A115 and arrived at the bridge by Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden.
After the division of Germany, the West Berlin neighbourhood of Albrechts Teerofen jutted into East Germany like a peninsula. From 1952 onwards, it was cut off to the north, south and east by the East German border fortifications. The Autobahn towards Helmstedt/Hannover passed through the eastern end of the district. This was where the “Border Checkpoint Nowawes” [Babelsberg] was set up. It was later to be called “Drewitz Border Crossing”. When the Autobahn was rerouted on 1969 to pass by the south of Albrechts Teerofen along what is now the A115, the East German government had the Drewitz Border Crossing moved as well. In the summer of 1965, the 42-year-old West Berlin resident Hermann Döbler was shot dead near the old border crossing when his sports boat entered the East German border waters in the Teltowkanal. His female companion was badly wounded and permanently disabled. Although the boat had already turned back. the East German border guards deliberately fired aimed shots at its occupants. In 1981 after lengthy negotiations, the East German government opened traffic along the Teltowkanal near Albrechts Teerofen to freight shipping towards West Berlin. This shortened the barges’ journey by about two days.
Out riding last Thursday with Gala, following the Berliner Mauer from Glienicker Brücke anticlockwise back to Dreilinden in a small, partial remarking on Cycling the Frame, a film I didn’t even know about until after I’d begun orbiting Berlin as an art-ing process. More new bits of the Mauer mapped into me as Wege. More new stretches of cobbles. It’s all about being pounded by the cobbles.
There was a map of West Berlin and the Berlin Wall I saw at the Stasimuseum Berlin, which showed exclaves of West Berlin, as well as some deviations from the path the Berliner Mauerweg takes. Being ‘winter’, and a while since my last proper ride, I thought it was time to go exploring along my regular big ride route again.
I’ve passed through Drelinden along Königsweg a couple of times already, past Checkpoint Bravo, which you drive through shortly after Grünewald if you’re heading south out of Berlin. The path of the wall is a little south also of Königsweg, which you can see on a satellite map as a light sandy scar in the dark forest, curving down to Teltowkanalbrücke and Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden, and over the canal curves again westwards towards Steinstücken, the exclave now split by the S-Bahn and very much not on the signposted Mauerweg. This turned out to be around 7km of sandy, slippery riding getting increasingly rougher on the south side with tree routes and trails broken by horse riding — proper cyclocross fun. Followed by getting lost around Steinstücken. And later realising I’d missed the whole weird Wall Border in Klein Glienicke.
A shitload of fun on a 107km ride on a glorious winter’s day that made me forget all about white cis sportswomen shitting on trans and intersex people.
It was going to be something like “enjoy suffering”, for what turned out to be a muddy, sandy, forest-y, riotous fun 107km ride. Decided for something a little more fitting with a 14° sunny mid-February day.
- drink & eat every 15–20 min
- stretch back & neck
- change saddle & hand position
- over & under-gearing
- stand up
- calm & joy