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.
Shortly after I took this photo, a cyclist, in that very Berlin, not really paying attention “I’m just riding, me,” way, rode up the grot covering the bike path, realised they had to jank hard right around the perversely located orange rubbish bin, then then hard left down the temporary construction ‘alternate route’, wobbled precariously as they saw the old Muslim woman they were about to run into who’d paused where footpath and bike lane merged and vanished into a cattle-race, wobbled right, found some dickhead had left a shitty ride-share e-bike in the lane, wove drunkenly to an almost halt wondering where exactly the town planners had intended them to ride, before continuing on in that also very Berlin, “Passive acceptance of basic shit this city can’t even manage to do right”. The old woman cut across the street, thus avoiding the endless wait at the pedestrian crossing.
Excluding re-readings of Iain (without the M.) Banks, Steph Swainston, Charles Stross, Alastair Reynolds, and a few others I’ve forgotten because a) too poor for new books, b) too sooky to want to read new books, and c) very much wanting the comfort food of old books, even when I discovered I was hate-reading. Turns out I hate-read. I’m surprised and shamed at my pettiness, but here we are.
New books I did read though:
Built: The Hidden Stories Behind Our Structures, by Roma Agrawal, one on the shortlist for the 2019 Jhalak Prize, which in itself is guaranteed dead solid reading every year. And Roma has a podcast now. Buildings and engineering. Nice!
Bullets and Opium: Real-Life Stories of China After the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by Liao Yiwu, who is the one Chinese political writer everyone should read, up there with Svetlana Alexievich.
Edges, by Linda Nagata, someone I’ve heard about for years and had never read. Strong reminders of Alastair Reynolds’ Revelation Space trilogy, high probability I’ll keep reading the series.
Fast Ladies: Female Racing Drivers, 1888-1970, by Jean Francois Bouzanquet. Large-format coffee-table-ish book of women hooning the shit out of fast cars. Obviously 10/10.
Geochemistry, by William M. White, which I picked up yesterday and haven’t actually started. One of my periodical forays into geology fun. This one’s packed with formula and equations, which is slightly intimidating.
The Gilded Wolves, by Roshani Chokshi, which I don’t remember much of, except it reminded me a lot of Genevieve Cogman’s Invisible Library series, whose The Mortal Word I also read. Chokshi though, didn’t work for me, despite wanting to like it.
Growing Up African in Australia, by Maxine Beneba Clarke, along with Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff’s (of the awesome gal-dem) Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children, both collections of autobiographical essays and both critical reading.
Last Days of the Mighty Mekong, by Brian Eyler, which I was expecting a lot more of, and got instead a weirdly messy history of the river like ’90s white Euro-American journalism.
The October Man: A Rivers of London Novella, by Ben Aaronovitch, this one set in Germany (or Germland as I’ve been calling it recently), and a very German take on “What if, Harry Potter, but he’s a black cop in London?” I also re-binged his entire series while in Spain at the rate of a book a day, “Yeah, seven books will be enough for 12 days …” (runs out of books.)
Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991, by Michael Azerrad, which I somehow decided was all about US hardcore. It’s not. A few bands I’ve never listened to, several bands I used to love, revisited while reading and was sad at how they didn’t touch me at all when they used to define the movement of my life. Very worth reading for a particular moment in time and place.
Permafrost. Hello, Alastair Reynolds. Not a novel, sadly, but we had the sequel to Revenger, this year, Shadow Captain, so, can’t be greedy. Basically he’s my Iain M. Banks replacement, and I love his terrifyingly dark Space Opera.
The Raven Tower, by another solid fave and Iain M. Banks replacement, Ann Leckie — probably neither would like being called ‘replacement’, but fuck it, me doing high, awkward praise. This is her venturing out of Space Opera into not-really-fantasy but no obvious spacecraft, and it’s both the best thing she’s written since the Imperial Radch trilogy, and her best stand-alone novel since her first. Very, very, very good.
The Rise of IO, by Wesley Chu, which I have almost no memory of, vague nudgings of recognition when I read the plot, but … nope, not much beyond that.
To Exist is to Resist: Black Feminism in Europe, edited by Akwugo Emejulu and Francesca Sobande, which I’m randomly picking at. Some essays, like dealing with being a black woman academic in Germany, are very head-nodding, yup, it’s all that, uh-huh, others are … Black, cisgender heterosexual (whether middle-class, academic or not) feminism that operates as though trans and queer are things that don’t need to be at all considered, are ancillary, not relevant — like white feminism of the same type — is a thing. Fucked if I know why, either. Especially because my experience of Black feminism / activism in north-west Europe is that it’s hella trans and queer. But maybe they’re not the ones in academia, getting to publish essays.
And that’s it. Potentially acquiring a stack of new books soon, potentially reading them, vague possibility I’ll blog them. It’s all a balance for me between enjoyable focus and going too far with it, pleasure becoming obligation, and all.
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-]”.