This time last year, I got spat on by that squall moving through. I finished 2019 with a ride yesterday and began 2020 with a ride today. All strangely subdued. No snow, not for the past few years, and not like those first years in Berlin when it’d be -10° or colder. I haven’t worn winter pants for three years or more. Riding in the sun, windy enough to bring the chill below zero, but not the kind of cold I’d have to shower to heat myself up from. I kept it calm today, just doing the laps, no pushing. I came home and watched Ceylin del Carmen Alvarado smash it at Baal cyclocross.
Finishing the year and starting the year doing the work.
2018, I wore a heart rate monitor for all my training, riding, climbing, yoga, whatever. It felt a bit much. 2019, I stuck to riding only. All of which I keep notes of in a training diary in my calendar, ’cos I’m like that. So, 121 rides last year, and 150+ ‘yoga’ (core, strength, stretching, body work type, as well as actual yoga). Less riding than 2018, fewer long rides, virtually no climbing, and other year without doing a ballet or any kind of dance class in a studio, in front of a mirror.
Interesting stuff: The month of May, with almost no going into the red, and plenty of green and blue zones, that was Ramadan. The hole with nothing in it, June and July, that was me having my face peeled off in Spain. The first big ride, in October, was the Women’s 100, and the second was riding the Berliner Mauerweg on Tag der Deutschen Einheit. In retrospect, I can already see in my gappy training that chronic fatigue from a year of over-intensity and stress (surgery was only a part of it) was getting to me, November and half of December is that burnout.
Bike is currently in need of complete rebuild and new components, most of my cycling gear is similarly needing to be retired, but whatever. I keep riding. Every ride has had something in it for me, and it’s been so, so good for my mental and emotional health, as well as keeping my physicality ticking over. And it’s winter, a broken, very much not cold and snowless winter, barely ever below zero, but even that, riding in the cold, wet, dark grot makes me smile.
Well into the final run down to shortest day of the year, Berlin turning on its cold, damp, dim grey lid on a pot season. The neighbours have gone all festive, brass band on the weekend, and a diminutive Christmas tree all lit up in the gloom today. Cow is unbothered.
Off for my afternoon training ride, picking through traffic on Reuterstraße, crossing Sonnenallee and there’s a big unit of 4WD behind me. I was feeling sharp after my last ride, first proper interval sprint training since before Ramadan, using the traffic lights turning green as out-of-saddle starts, keeping the pace tight. Heading up towards Flughafenstraße, that turbo diesel behind me, I’m indicating as I pull around double-parked cars, two-finger pointing flicks of my wrists, and just past the pedestrian crossing at Erlanger Str. I hear it gun and pull along side me. I’m thinking, “A’right, here we go, bruv in his whip is flexing ’cos he thinks I’m in his lane.” It’s a pristine glossy white bimmer, X5 kinda thing, and he’s got his passenger window down. I’m all about to pull screwface but he doesn’t give me a chance, looks across at me, beautiful black guy with the biggest smile like he’s experienced the most joyful thing, and shouts over.
“I fell in love with you, watching you cycle!”
True, I look hectic sikk, I know.
Of course I smiled back, smiled with, of course, y’know, sometimes this stuff is just real. Sometimes it’s like my serious nah not really but nah kinda yeah fantasy actually pulls up next to me in his whip and gives me a look and compliment that is so completely honest and committed, and truth, I am holding everyone else to his high standards, and my heart filled up like the entire theatre, stalls, balconies and all, went off when Kano joined Giggs at the Roundhouse. Real truth, that.
And as I was doing laps of Tempelhofer Feld in the afternoon sun, thinking of all that, thinking, “Yeah perhaps he read me as a bro?” ’cos I’m tall and kinda slender, and people make a habit of reading taller and more physical as ‘male’, and I have this constant questioning around physicality and masculinity, like all women do, but then I thought, “Okay, if he did, then I’m still taking the compliment,” I’m taking it even if — especially if — he read me as trans, ’cos being able to genuinely express joy and emotion and attraction the way he did, flexing his queer self loudly reading me as masc or straight self into trans chicks, fuck yes, I am here for that. I want and need much more of that unequivocal desire and speaking that desire. And I’ve been talking a lot with my grans lately, Aisha and Iwa, and felt very much this was Allah and the universe reading me, seeing me, seeing me.
I know also some of you reading this, some of you cis women and afab people are gonna wanna tell me how this is objectifying and tell me shit like I don’t already know this, like I haven’t lived this since my early teens, like I would only think and write this if what? I’m seeking validation in misogyny? ’Cos I’m trans? And you think you need to educate me? What can you tell me about anything of what this means, in itself or to me?
A compliment. A compliment is sometimes just a compliment, just reciprocating the joy someone else causes in you, and when I’m receiving it from a source way too an accurate read of what I vibe strongly with, yeah, that’s part of it. Maybe I was that for him too, lighting up the streets of Neukölln, deep in my physicality, and we both looked at each other and laughed in recognising that too perfect moment. Remember that. Remember that beauty. Remember that truth in all what he said.
“I fell in love with you, watching you cycle!”
Backyard garden park turning on the colours on an almost frosty autumn morning.
On the street by the slab of Berlin Wall at the northern gates to Invalidensiedlung Frohnau is one of those orange pillars marking where someone was murdered trying to escape across the Berlin Wall from East Germany. This one is for Marienetta Jirkowsky, who was murdered in 1980 at the age of eighteen, shot in the stomach.
In ten years of Berlin, I think I’ve never intentionally taken a picture of the Berlin Wall. Other things Wall, yes, but the Wall itself still feels oppressively commodified on top of oversimplified significance. Up in Invalidensiedlung Frohnau, about to turn south for the last 40-something kilometre stretch to Neukölln, having a food stop and telling myself it’s not so far, this solitary chunk way out where no tourists would spend an hour just to get get there, it seemed appropriate on the day to take this one photo.
Me at the north gate of Invalidensiedlung Frohnau, mid-peanut butter sandwich. The Berlin grot layered and ablated and re-layered like sediment in cycles of wet and dry. Took fucking hours to clean.
The farthest northern point of the Berlin Wall, the site of Invalidensiedlung Frohnau. Whether coming from the west via the Stolpe fields or east via the cobblestone tracks of Waldgelände Frohnau (and the delightfully named Jägersteig), arriving amidst the brown brick houses and tree-lined streets, like a quiet town is a calming moment and one of those uniquely Berlin creep-outs. The north gate has these parallel troughs rutted into the concrete, which confused me the first time I rode through, then realised they look like the gouges of metal tank tracks.
Bike looking all sexy on the bridge. We have good times together.