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Practicing Self-Preservation

In the words of my One True Daddy, Vin Diesel, “I live for this shit.”

Thankfully Tempelhofer Feld wasn’t packed today like an open-air concert as it has been the last couple of days when I went for a ride (and bailed, ’cos fucking Germans not taking shit seriously and making exceptions for themselves the last month is the default, legit scary, and the reason we’re in this mess). I’ve been working the various single tracks on the fields, practicing self-preservation through solitary endurance. I’m a little worried the city is going to go on lockdown, and fuck knows what I’ll do to satisfy my need for high-quality suffering if I can’t ride, also bike is in dire need of new components. Highlights of today though, finding a series of run-ups and drop-offs that I actually went, “Nah, I’m gonna hold on that till I’m more stupid.”

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Youse! Tempelhofer Feld has a Motherfucking Pump Track!

Deserves a swear ’cos it’s that good.

I can’t believe I’ve ridden there for so long and completely missed what I actually knew was there 🤦🏻‍♀️🤷🏻‍♀️. I’ve done thousands of laps of Tempelhofer Feld, on the default boring outer loop, on the inner pavé, all over on the single track, and I knew there was this section around where the old DC-3 is, the north inner field directly down from the north gate, that had some good steep ride-ups / run-ups, and something in a bunch of trees I’d never ventured into, and all that time I’ve been missing the forest around Flughafen Tegel, which is proper, fast up and down slippery technical cyclocross, and who’s a stupid intransigent bitch whose neurofuckery makes her do the same thing over and over?

I needed an easier and entertaining ride today, ’cos my week has been two hard rides and strength work that left me sore, and I didn’t want to go round and round, especially when this storm is moving in and 25km/h winds with gusts around 60km/h wouldn’t make for ‘easier’. And I’ve been enjoying the northern pavé (around the circus tents area) where I can work on sharp turns and hard braking / acceleration. So I decided to make a kind of flip-flop back and forth reverse-c shaped loop (which ended up being around 12km per loop) with some exploring of that bit I have no explanation for why I’ve not ridden it until now.

And fucking fuck yes. Fucking pump track! Small one, tight, better on a BMX or Slopestyle type bike than a cyclocross, proved to me I absolutely do not know how to pump, which is dope as fuck ’cos that means I get to learn something new and I am legit excited as shit by that. And there’s all these other trails I did not ride (so many!) and the ones I did, very fast occasionally technical single track, with sharp ride-ups (run-ups when they’re muddy), plenty of technical turns, the type of clay-y sandy mud that gets greasy and slippery, plenty of changes in terrain, there’s excellent loops of 4–8km, and I will be making that one of my weekly rides. Also slightly ridiculous riding it on 33mm cobble / pavé tires with effectively no tread and hella gripless on anything remotely ‘off-road’ but I don’t have the euros for another set of tires and stupid fun is stupid fun.

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Tempelhofer Feld First Ride of the Year

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.

Another Year of Doing the Work

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.

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German Whip: Fiat Abarth 595 Competizione

Seen on the corner of Dresdener Str. and Oranienplatz. Hectic sick Fiat Abarth 595 in eye acid Adrenaline Green. It’s like they saw the Lamborghini Gallardo Superleggera green and went, “Hold my barolo.” Absolutely the loudest colour in Kreuzberg. Also one of my all-time fave over-achieving small cars. 180 turbo’d horsepower for a bit over 1000kg is frankly hilarious. 5-speed manual and tops out at 225km/h. And it’s the only one of the recent-ish trend of “Let’s do our old compact city cars again,” that didn’t add, “but bigger and crapper,” to the end of that sentence (Volkswagen Beetle and Mini, I’m looking at you.) Have you ever heard such pretty hoonage? Probably the best, cheap, burbleburblebraaaaapchitterchitter since the WRX slapped a turbo on the boxer and STi’d their way to blue and gold rally glory in the ’90s. “Look like a baller, Ps and that.”

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Women’s 100 2019 Berlin, at Brandenburger Tor

Me, third from right, underneath Victoria, goddess of victory’s arse.

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“For a long time I failed to believe in my own capabilities …”

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

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Notes On My Top Tube — Women’s 100 Berlin

Because I always need and desire reminders to myself of how and why I do this.

  • drink & eat every 15–20 min
  • stretch back & neck
  • change saddle & hand position
  • stand up on the regular
  • over / under-gearing
  • breathing
  • serve calm realness
  • do it for the my sistahs
  • KIA KAHA [-o-]

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Serving Trans Femme Athletic Realness at the Rapha Women’s 100 in Berlin

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-]”.