Sacred Cycle Blog Mtb Sunset Credit VLMD

The Summit

Guest blogger: Shay Castle.    | Above Photo Credit: Vail Local Marketing District

I’ve never liked my body.

In fact, I’ve hated and distrusted it most of my life. I see it primarily as an object of desire, and for this, I feel great shame. My body is not for me, it is for them: to admire, to use.

I have tried focusing on what my body can do rather than how it looks, but this is no good either. Although my heart pumps and my legs can jump and my arms lift and my spine twists, these are all ordinary performances. My body can do nothing great.

Maybe if I lived somewhere else, it would be a different story. If I still resided in Orlando, biking to work most days would impress most people. That I’ve climbed to the Continental Divide would be an amazing feat back in Ohio, to my family who, on most days, don’t bother to walk to their mailboxes.

But I live in Boulder. Where everyone is just like you, but better.

There are probably more residents here who have summited Everest than my hometown contains college grads. I know people who run 200-mile races, who have climbed every 14,000-foot peak in the state, who have trekked to the South Pole, who jump out of helicopters to ski down mountains — for fun.

Chain link
Photo credit: Conor Ludy

So the fact that I’ve worn out my first bike chain with 2,000 miles worth of 5-mile round-trip commutes, the joy and pride that brings is quickly muted by the knowledge that someone, somewhere in this very town, has gone through more chains than I’ve downed beers in my lifetime. I will never be amazing here. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to. Too much work.

These are the thoughts I battle as I pedal my way up Vail pass, from the Frisco side. Let’s continue with the honesty: I didn’t start in Frisco. I began at Copper, a measly six miles down. 1,695 vertical feet of gain. Or as it’s known in Boulder: an active recovery day.

I am with my sister on this cool, cloudy afternoon.

Rebecca adopted me late in life: I approaching 30, she having just passed 54. No family claims me, so she did. The twirl of a purple pen on a phony certificate of adoption cemented one of the most real relationships of my life.

Photo Credit: Jack B.

My sister is one of Boulder’s amazing specimens. Every year, she rides the Tour de Badass (recently renamed from Tour de Bitch) an event of her own making to celebrate the biggest of all bike races. This year, she will do 1,000 miles in 23 days, with only two to rest, all the while running her own small business and doing the dirty, thankless work of being a human being on this planet.

That is objectively amazing. Even if you are Taylor Phinney, her Tour demands your respect. It will include something called the Death Ride (235 miles and 24,000 feet of elevation gain) and a cycling ascent of Pike’s Peak I’ve aptly (though none too cleverly) named Bikes Peak.

It is her training that has brought me here today, to this short stretch of paved bike path between two mountain resorts I will never utilize because I am both too poor and too chicken-shit to ski. I am on the only bike I own, an $800 REI house brand that my ex-boyfriend got for $150 after a customer returned it unridden. It has been tricked out with a Thule pannier rack, silver fenders, and a brass bell. I’ve stashed a Kind bar in the holster where my link lock would normally go. The stock pedals — I do not clip in, hating to be forcibly attached to anything — are worn under my garage-sale Solomon trail-running shoes that will bust later this same day. Rebecca has lent me a jacket and gloves; my pink Lampre jersey she handed down years ago. The only new things I have on are my helmet and my bike shorts, both gifts; I even borrowed the chamoix cream slathered on my bits, though I won’t be returning it.

My beloved Charles Bikely, now six years old, weighs 35 lbs. Rebecca has already put in 30 miles today, on the hard side of Vail pass. We are now, to use her word, ‘toodling.’ She is shaky from almost being creamed by a car near mile 25 of her ride. Winded and huffy, I am haunted by my own brushes with human carelessness.

I’ve come to Vail to speak to advocates for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

I am here to help them learn how to identify and aid survivors of another trauma: childhood sexual abuse (CSA). I am uniquely suited to this task, for I fit the profile to a tee. Whether they know it or not, they will have come across many people like me before in their work.

Survivors of CSA are three times more likely to be re-victimized by sexual assault, domestic violence or intimate partner violence.

The signs are many, but these ones are mine: unhealthy boundaries and coping mechanisms, minimizing abusive behavior in relationships, disordered eating, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression, multiple sexual partners, STDs, unplanned pregnancies, increased risk of suicidal thoughts or actions.

By the time I am on my bike in Vail, I have largely done my healing. Eleven years of it, in fits and starts. Emotionally, I am well. Physically, I am… well, I’ve been worse.

I ride as I have healed: slowly and with many breaks. My urban commuting at a comfortable mile above sea level has not prepared me for a steady climb at 10,000 feet. As I catch my breath beside the flowing creek, I slip into a mindset I have long since left behind in therapy: self-judgment.

I tell myself it does not matter that I reach the summit if it was a struggle to do so. Because if I get there — and it is an if, not a when — there will be others who have ridden farther and faster, on better equipment, with proper kits and shoes, without resting or yelling, “Fuck, fuck fuck!” at every rise. Riders who are not pants-shittingly terrified to descend, who will not clutch the brake the whole way down until their forearms cramp.

I have white-knuckled my way through life, and they are toodling.

The profound unfairness of it all leaves me more breathless than the altitude, and I think, what’s the point of continuing? What am I going to prove, and to whom?

Rebecca, ever the gentle domestique, does not push or prod. Every day on the bike is a win, she says, leaving it to me to decide when to turn around and cruise back home. She means every word, I know it. She is no stranger to struggle, on and off the bike. She is my sister, who loves me, but today, she is also the woman who just logged 555 miles of her personal, 21-day Giro.

Sacred Cycle Road ride
Photo Credit: Coen van den Broek

I pause, but I do not stop. This time, at least, I have a little more go. The next break is longer, but I get back in the saddle. And again. And again. I give myself to the crest of the next hill, just around that bend, before I quit.

And then, we are there. Rebecca pulls ahead of me to share the news. I did it. I fucking did it, and it didn’t matter that I was slow and my gear was all wrong and six miles isn’t really that long depending on whose lens you’re looking through because this is my first real climb and we are here. We are here, together, and she reminds me to be proud, and the pain in my chest and the tears on my face remind me that I am alive, and who cares that it hurts?

It is a feeling I’ve had only a few times in my life. Speaking my truth.

Pulling into Nederland after my first time on a mountain bike. Dropping it off a box and not falling; rolling down a hill at speed and taking the corner. Telling my story to a roomful of strangers and my remaining family members, and then again to only strangers. Strangers and Rebecca.

All those things scared me. I did them anyway. And though the emotional victories held great joy and triumph, they were missing a key element that I could only get on my bike.

They helped me love myself, but only riding helped me love my body.

My head is down when Rebecca tells me we’ve reached the summit. I am working hard and at first I don’t believe her that we’re there. Even when I can clearly see the sign marking our elevation — 10,662 feet — my mind cannot believe I’ve made it. My body, however, insists we have, as it has always insisted we could. The relief kicks in as my mind begins to comprehend what my body already knows: I did it, I can do this, and that must mean I am not so broken, after all.

Thanks to Shay for her contribution and support. Learn more about Sacred Cycle programming.

No Comments

Post A Comment