Cycling Stories

My Old Friend

June 27, 2020

My Old Friend

Words have been thrown like knives, and now there’s nothing more to say. The silence is deafening as I stare down at the blank screen on my phone. It’s over. Five years of heartache and heartbreak; of intense highs and plummeting lows. Over.  

The waves of emotion, temporarily stilled, come raging back, and the apartment feels suddenly suffocating. I look up and catch a reflection of myself in the mirror by the door, black smears of mascara down my tear-stained face. My eyes are puffy, my hair drab and unwashed. The all too familiar shadow of anxiety begins to grip me, and I know I need to get out. 
I grab my green helmet, patterned on the outside like the shell of a watermelon, throw on my bike shoes, and grab my old friend. I clip in and head for the bike path that will lead me through the vast desert wastelands of the outer city. The air is hot, and the sun is bearing down on me, fuelling the anger I now feel burning within.  

I’m out on the road now, no one for miles, just sand, rock, and the sound of my panting, angry breath. I drop a gear and pick up the pace, pushing harder and faster. Clipped in and gripping the handlebars so tightly my knuckles flash white, my bike and I are one. It feels my pain and holds me as I propel along on the track, letting the hot wind dry my tears while the exertion begins to calm the adrenaline slowly. 
I am not concentrating on the road ahead, focussing instead on pushing myself to let the physicality of the ride still my mind. And so, it happens, as it so often does in such moments. Appearing in a flash, too suddenly to react and spare me from the inevitable; there is sand all over the path ahead. It is piled thick and high, too deep for even the most accomplished of riders to challenge. My stomach drops, and dread flows through me like ice in my veins. 
It is only my second week with clip-ins. The new shoes are tight and stiff. They are not even a blip on my mental radar as I head toward my impending doom. Instead, I hit the brakes and go to put my foot down and steady me through the treacherous terrain. 
As I lie in the dirt, my knee throbbing and left leg trapped underneath my bike, still attached to the pedal, my brain makes the connection of where I went wrong. The dawning realization brings back the earlier fury I was cycling so hard to disappear. I free myself from the metal frame and crawl away off the side of the track. 
The projections come hard and fast. I unbuckle my helmet and throw it at my bike. 
“You stupid piece of s@*t! How could you do this to me?! Who even designed these ridiculous shoes. I hate you!” 
As I bow my head to catch my breath, the sun catches on the rock on my hand. Beautiful and set into a perfect ring of gold, it sparkles in the light. On my knees, as though crying out to some long-forgotten deity, I let out a howl into the wind. Harrowing, it is choked with emotion and pain. I tear the ring from my finger and throw it violently away into the desert. 
I don’t know how long I sit there, staring out in the silence toward the red horizon. Slowly, though, a soft calmness falls over me as the emotions drain out of my exhausted body. I look back to my bike, lying on its side in the sand, and feel a pang of regret for the emotions I have spat at it. Its black frame a stark contract to its surroundings.  

I walk back towards it and slowly pick it up. With a wave of newfound peace, I clip in, helmet on, and begin to pedal. My heart rate steady, my mind clearer and calmer, my bike and I are again one. I feel as though we have shared this moment alone in the desert, so private and raw. 
And I ride on, my old friend and me. 

Erica de la Harpe is a lawyer by trade, human rights defender by passion, a budding writer, and beginner triathlete who hopes to use her writing to shine a light on those who most need our help in the world.
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