The bike is my façade, my super suit that the shy awkward girl is securely hidden behind. I recall a moment in college shortly after I took to cycling, sitting in the midst of an unknown class, surrounded by classmates and feeling out of place in my own skin, wishing I was somewhere else.
That somewhere else was on two wheels, suited up in my kit, out in the woods on a trail or on the open road, SAFE. I couldn’t have been riding for long at that point but something about the bike felt like home, a place I could be me, in the locations that made me happy, a source of confidence, comfort, a focus to call my own.
I am the complexity that is an introverted extrovert. When I first joined the military the biggest thrill besides knowing that I was going to have a job that supposedly “made a difference” was that I would be put into forced social situations with folks I would otherwise shy away from.
It took time and a whole lot of “fake it till you make it” to find myself comfortable in conditions I deem highly susceptible to being awkward. But it was effective, and eventually I was able to integrate into nearly any setting without any outward signs that I was not wanting to be there.
With time I compartmentalized those introvert tendencies and embraced my extrovert with its ease of integration. But it’s exhausting, this huge effort I put forth to blend in and maintain a complete awareness of everything around me so that I may never be caught off guard. The introvert is always still there, and sometimes screams at me to not open the car door after a long drive or take my sunglasses off with the clouds.
I use the racing as another degree to be forced into social situations. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the challenge and the competition as much as being social but I want to be influenced by those who I am inspired by, those who think like me and normalize what I was told wasn’t for the longest time, to find avenues to be a better version of me.
I want to see done what I did not think was possible, and in turn set the example for what can be. Lessons from the bike set the stage for life, try until you succeed, work hard and you shall be rewarded. The beauty of it is in the simplicity and the standards that sets for everything else. We make it more complex than it needs to be, it being everything. It’s the nature of humanity, and once again, it’s exhausting.
So I put on that helmet, buckle on my shoes and head out to train. No one sees me, to all the non-cyclists out there I’m just another one of those people in tight clothes with something to prove. When my confidence is high I watch them go by to see who looks, hidden behind my mirror tinted glasses. Occasionally I forget that I’m not wearing them and I make eye contact with an unsuspecting person. The curiosity in their eyes as they see me is startling, I am not invisible.
Can we ever truly fathom how it is that others see us? There is an obvious lens of external characteristics, activity, clothing, fitness, hygiene. But beyond that each person understands us in their own context, from their individual point of view. We are made up of characteristics that others assign us, like the underwear clad paper dress up doll with all his clothing options, complete with folded tabs: perspective is customizable.
With that knowledge I arguably shouldn’t need to care, I’m aware I am not the one in control of perceptions, everyone sees their own version. Still I crave to be on the bike, hiding from it all… from reality. Only it is my reality now, nearly everything I do evolves around the bike. It’s its own world regardless of the overall significance a simple machine or a sport plays in the larger picture that is life; a component of a consumer driven world. But the parallels to what is important remain, that symbolism: the strength, the growth, the confidence.
Those are real and they are mine, mine to treasure and mine to share. The weirdness of the concept never leaves me, my life evolves around this fixture that on paper seems so insignificant. But when I see how it continues to impact me and how I can continue to positively impact others it feels as though my superhero persona has come full circle.