My first bicycle I crashed into a lamppost learning how to ride, scraped my little toe along a concrete wall learning how to steer. I’ve almost always had a bike. My longest relationships have been with them. No matter how tired I’ve been, I could always do the ride home, half an hour, 45 minutes, an hour. No matter how drunk, my bike would always get me home.
My riding went from mountain biking to cyclocross to cobbles to endless laps of Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld, like solo time trialing, and always my one and only form of transport. Without a bike, without my training, without the discipline and solitary routine, I fall apart. Cycling used to be my way to get to and from dance, to morning class, to rehearsals, the addition, the aerobic training on top of all that, ancillary. Then it became a respite from that, where I could go deeper and deeper into my own rhythm, endless repetition that becomes infinitely different. On my bike, alone, pushing out the laps and intervals, unseen by others, I can be me. I am shaped by a lifetime of this as much as by anything else.
As with my other training, climbing, swimming, and dancing, the limits of my selfhood are where a person like me is allowed to be seen, allowed to exist. My selfhood is reduced to a body, and that body is politicised, medicalised, invaded, excluded. In all this, I keep cycling, keep moving. I will not be denied my self.
Of all the races, it is the late-winter and early-spring ones I am drawn to, when the weather remains hostile, when snow, rain, wind and cold are part of the agreement. Of these, it is the Cobbled Classics in Belgium, and Paris–Roubaix, brutal days of bone-jarring suffering, leaving rider and bike haunted in the aftermath.
Embrace the Suffering.
Accept it and Suffer.
Make the pain your choice, and be happy about it.
Practice to ride like you care.
You have to really care about it, you have to really suffer. — Emma Pooley
The Hell of the North is a hypothetical work in the future, in which I prepare for, and ride the 257 kilometres of the Paris-Roubaix race.