I rode the Berliner Mauerweg yesterday, October 3rd, also Tag der Deutschen Einheit. A non-day and the 30th anniversary. The wall opened November 9th, which should be the national holiday, except it’s also Kristallnacht, when the Nazis burned Synagogues and carried out pogroms in Germany against Jews. Germany often finds itself in a double bind like this, and often fails to resolve it.
My ride, the second full circuit of the Mauerweg was something of a personal celebration, a gift to myself, 16 weeks since surgery, as well as seeing physically (and all the rest) where I’m at after that. A need to know where I am in myself. And I live in this city, with this history, write about the place, so it seemed a good day to spend thinking about and moving through all this, all the people. The weather eased a little after the last days of constant rain, but still, 170km of wet, rainy, cold, windy of the mostly headwind type, muddy, dirty, actually quite grim and challenging, and very much at my physical and emotional limits. Mentally I seemed to be blasé, other than concerned with how close physically I was to the edge for the latter half. This, and writing apparently are my art-ing right now.
Here’s Bike, in her / their element, propped up on the bridge at Kontrollpunkt Dreilinden, another of my favourite parts of the Mauerweg, 3 kilometres of — once again — sand track through forest where the old Autobahn ran stopping dead on the south end of the bridge in a tank trap, to continue via Albrechts Teerofen along the canal like being far out in the countryside. Last time I was here was with Gala back in March, making a short film.
One of my favourite stretches along the Berliner Mauerweg. A detour through the obelisks at the south end of Drusenheimer Weg, along sandy single track and out into the fields. This would be the Inner Wall, the wall on the East German side. It’s truly beautiful and I could ride this all day. It continues for about 3 kilometres, plunges into forest, then spits out via a drainage trench into one of the most brutal cobble sections on the Mauerweg and some of the hardest in Berlin, the Petkusser Str. and Mozartstraße sections, 1200 metres of, “This is kind of a nice massage, wait, no, my hands and arse have gone numb, I have concussion.”
PB stands for ‘Peanut butter and jam sandwiches’; R for ‘Rice cakes’ (home-made, pistachio, vanilla, coconut oil, cream cheese, somewhere between Asian rice pudding and baby food); C, obviously ‘Chocolate’; A for ‘Almond, nuts, fig and date energy bars’ (also home made), also ‘Awesome’, also ‘Alhamdulillah’, ’cos I needed it. Electrolyte instead of just water because I seem to prefer it. Always bananas. End realisation: fewer of A, more PB, R, C. Also even in cold and wet, dehydration is a real, unpleasant thing. Working out where to buy water and where to piss is an ongoing thing (I do have a spot beside the lake in Brandenburg where I always find myself taking a squat). Otherwise, this is my default long ride food and drink. And, there is nothing like discovering I’d packed chocolate when I’m half-way in and feeling shoddy.
Like I said to the guy behind the counter at Rapha while we yarned about Taiwan, me with a way more alcoholic than I expected Weinschorle in me, buying the Women’s 100 jersey because it looked so good on the other riders, and I’m a sucker for certain intense colour combinations which make my eyes ping, “I feel kinda manipulated here.”
This morning, I discovered the quote in the zip pocket, which for some stupid reason touched me, even though I know fully well the “have it all, do it all, your only limit is your belief” thing is very much for and available to a certain, specific subset of people, while the rest of us have to navigate the intersections. Still, just as others have done the navigating before me, showing paths in the liminal spaces, so too do I do this with others in mind.
I also expect next year’s jersey to have 2019’s Transcontinental overall winner, Fiona Kolbinger’s dead brilliant quote in the pocket: “I could have slept less.”
“For a long time I failed to believe in my own capabilities but on a remote dirt road near the town of Krivača, close to the Bosnian border, I realised that there really was no distance I could not handle.”
— Emily Chappell
First placed woman, 2016 Transcontinental
Time taken: 13 days, 10 hours 28 minutes
And repping my trans and non-binary sisters & femmes.
Earlier in the week, I did a 60km ride. Unintentionally. I’d planned for 40–50km, to see how I would feel in the ride and after, and whether physically I could handle a few hours on the bike and 100km, having not done a long ride since before Ramadan. More importantly, whether post-surgery recovery had progressed far enough that the duration and intensity wouldn’t throw up weirdness, either during or after. Three months, or thirteen weeks, felt long enough to get away with it, even while I still can’t really push hard or do fun stuff like headstands. But having my face peeled off has been and is all a very unknown healing process.
I’d pretty much committed in July to doing the annual Women’s 100 ride, and it would have taken some pretty gruesome post-ride post-surgery fuckery to have kept me away. My other anxiety though. That kept me occupied.
I’ve seen and lived for decades how trans and intersex women get treated in the world and in sport. Most recently like Kate Weatherly, who’s smashing it in downhill mountain biking, but took so much shit for doing so. Or gender non-conforming people, including cisgender women who get judged as ‘not feminine enough’, like Caster Semenya, who had the rules changed on her to prevent her competing. And non-binary feminine people, who are pretty much entirely absent. This is my lived reality, my truth, my selfhood — along with everything else, along with my endless love of movement.
And I’ve been in Berlin long enough to know it (and Germany) is 10 to 20 years behind on this shit. So, y’know, ‘Women’. But not all women. And not all feminine people either. Cycling is also frankly bourgie. It’s a leisure activity that hoovers up thousands of euros — and yes, cyclocross is the working class Belgian national sport, it’s still mad expensive. It has a certain aesthetic, which in turn denotes who’s going to feel comfortable and see themselves in the imagery — and in skintight lycra, whose body type, whose skin colour, whose history, all this. Who’s going to feel like they can roll up on a Saturday morning and fit right in, and who’s taking a risk.
I was at least going to roll up, carrying all that not as a burden, but as something I’m coming to understand (’cos I’m a slow cunt and it takes me decades) as an honour. The people in my life, closest to me, I would not have them without this, I would not be invited into their worlds without this, I would not see and experience the world as I do without this.
And it was pretty fucking good. Sunny late summer, a very leisurely ride through parts around Potsdam and Brandenburg I’ve never been to before, and skimming along parts I know from my Berliner Mauerweg rides, ice cream at the ferry stop, doing it all in the slow, social group, plenty of very tasty bikes, plenty of very friendly women. A couple of odd moments, but y’know cis people, they don’t have much range.
And for the slow people up the back, this isn’t a criticism of Rapha (the very expensive cycling clothing brand that organised this worldwide event), who seem to genuinely be taking cycling advocacy and outreach seriously and turned on a fun day. What I’m talking about here is simply beyond the scope of what this kind of event (or straightland generally) is familiar or has experience with, which is nonetheless vital, fundamental, critical, if the intent is meaningful enfranchisement. If the intent is to sell expensive, event-themed gear, well shit, I biked home with a Women’s 100 cycling jersey. It’s dope as fuck.
Which brings it all around to me again. Who am I in this situation? Who do I want to be? How much of myself do I want seen, and how much am I prepared to compartmentalise myself? A corollary, existing before and simultaneously with this, is, what are my obligations?
I want my trans sisters and femme siblings to feel — to know — this is something they can do, that they’re not going to be the only one in straightland, to see themselves in this. Just like I want this. And I’m already there and doing it, and have been doing it for years, and I while I might have anxiety about what potential shittery cis women are going to bring, I have absolutely no fear. I’ve been doing ridiculous physicality for decades. This is who I am. Literally embodied in the word, ‘professional’. So I have an obligation to step the fuck up and be seen, and rep this.
And when I say trans sisters and femme siblings, it’s always on my mind, not only this. I’m the secret multiple immigrant multiethnic Muslim (crappy Muslim, but) with neurofuckery, who’s also trans (whatever that means and whatever else I don’t know), who uses ‘she’ and ‘her’ knowing those pronouns only make sense to me outside a binary, cis-heteronormative space, and defo not a young bitch anymore. If I’m going to do this kind of ride, put myself into that space, and fuck it’s taken a long time to feel like it could be possible, if I’m going to be in an event that says it’s for women, I need to be very damn clear about what kind of woman I am, and what kinds of women and feminine people I expect to to see there, to not only be encouraged to be there but to be actively enabled to turn up. This shit is political, and it is entirely about representation, about intersectional feminism, and about all those lived realities, all those people who do not have an easy place in the world.
Yes, I am serving Trans Femme Athletic Realness at the Rapha Women’s 100 in Berlin, and my bike’s top tube notes said, “kia kaha [-o-]”.
Das Helmi on tour, all the way out east to Lichtenberg, in the shallow parabola of northern Rummelsberg right by S-Nöldnerplatz, where the rails form a curved triangle around the old railway workshops backing onto the roundhouse and railway turntable to the east, now typically Berlin ateliers and halfway to forest of the B.L.O. Ateliers.
Festival time. Wagner festival time. Berlin is not Bayreuth. Vol. 1. Six hours of Tannhäuser spread across at least four stages, meandering through the dishevelled brick and concrete buildings and fastigiate black poplars charging thirty metres into the dark, cloudless evening sky. Peter Frost wrecking it singing dodgy Schlagermusik, Cora Frost doing the same as a Pope to ruin The Young Pope. glanz&krawell (I think) working their way through the long shouty bits with proper opera singing. Das Helmi with their always always glorious, monstrous, chaotic stagings, scaring off people who though it was going to be, y’know, opera, culture and shit, instead of what the fuck is happening here, how did I find myself on stage slapping a stranger’s arse with twelve other people doing the same I should’a left when the Pope started kissing people’s feet kinda thing.
Mad thanks to Dasniya Sommer for getting me in, reminding me of a Berlin I utterly love, deeply pagan and animist, rough as guts and no intention of ever changing.
I thought it was nine, and if I’m forgetting where I’m up to, obviously I’m well into recovery. I’ve been like a nana driving along in first wondering why I can’t go faster and it’s not because I don’t know how to drive, it’s because it’s a fucking automatic and it’s stuck in Limp Mode (that’s a thing, yes it is). Which I try to accept, but fuck me it’s trying. Some days are good — some hours are good, and then I go back to sleep, or deal with weird tension pressure tingling numbness swelling low grade discomfort that wears at a bitch. And then there’s the pimples and other skin fuckery, which I also accept as my face’s pretty natural reaction to be half pulled off. But no pretending it isn’t distressing as fuck.
And then there was today, a Friday at the end of a week that was a real struggle in keeping any energy. It was sunny, 25° and feeling hotter, which I know from the last five weeks of riding complicates things. So I kept it simple, just make it through four laps, that’s all I had to do; three even, if I felt shit. I was concentrating on keeping my elbows bent, and breathing through my nose, right back in low energy Ramadan training there.. The bent elbows thing, particularly when they approach 90° is for me a constant movement of pushing forward, down or pulling back with my hands, so my arms are supporting much of my weight, and hovering, so I’m holding my position with back and hamstrings, as well as moving forward and back on my saddle. It’s constant work. The result of this is also I am more aerodynamic, and put down more power more easily. So I ended up feeling rather good.
Rather good as in maintaining 30km/h+ for 2/3 of each lap. Very unexpected, that. And feeling solid. It’s the first ride since surgery where I actually had energy and could push a bit. Gentle pushing, but consistent and way above where I’ve been until now, and for a duration, and repeatable. Slowly getting there. Slow time all the way.