I would like to start by saying that I love Pikuro with my whole heart. She has never betrayed me, always been strong, never complained, and always volunteered for a challenge. I love this bike.
The boys, on the other hand, were much less praiseworthy.
I had gone into the shop after work on Monday to see if there would be practice for the Sado ride we are doing in just over two week’s time (a 210 km loop around Sado island). So far we have done a single ride of half the total distance in practice and I’m really nervous. I give up and go home without an answer only to get called just as I’m going to bed and told to be back at the shop at 6am the next day. It’s an hour and a half from my house. We were going to ride from Enzan station to the top of the highest paved road in Japan. I was thrilled at the idea, but tired and worn out. I agreed on faith, hoping that since the pansy girly-girls at the shop were doing the Sado ride that I would be able to do the practice ride, too.
Barely fifteen minutes into the ride they disappear around a corner without a word. Luckily the road was pretty obvious, because they didn’t bother to give me directions. While I knew I would be dropped eventually, I told myself that they would come back soon to check on me and make sure I wasn’t lost or overwhelmed or something. I said to myself, of course they’ll come back! They’re so much stronger than I am that the extra miles will barely be a workout.
An hour goes by, then two. I look down at my GPS and I’ve climbed nearly a thousand meters in under fifteen kilometers’ distance. A map by the side of the road marks the peak at 2300 meters. I could only carry one water bottle and it was already dangerously light. There were no shops, no vending machines, not even any intersections in sight, just this long, steep, winding road disappearing off into the clouds.
Parched and exhausted I reach the Kotagawa Dam, and the first intersection in nearly twenty kilometers of riding. All the public toilets are bolted shut. There is no water. I am only halfway to the top. I sat down in the grass by the side of the road and tried to hold it together. I had no idea where I was and no idea where they were. Do I turn back? Do I push on? The gentlest grade on the entire ascent was 4% and the mountain road was tight, often only a single lane, and dirty with the dried leaves and seeds of a winter without traffic. With no cell reception and no backup, a flat tire or a slip on the way down could be disastrous, but my legs were already quivering with exhaustion.
After a nap in what turned out to be a grassy field of deer poop I decided I would ride the two kilometer scenic route to a flower bed around the corner. It would wake my legs up a bit and get me back in the zone to handle the very spookey descent ahead of me. Five kilomters and another 300 m of climbing and there were no flowers. Fuck it, I’m done. I’m fed up and pissed off and I’m going home. I did my best to ride clean and smooth on the descent, but the road was so dangerous that it was hard to really enjoy myself as I kept expecting a car to appear right in front of me around every turn. As much as I could see, I focused on my newfound technique: brake, eye the inside of the turn, keep your focus inside until either you start to creep toward the outer edge or the turn opens up, then look at your exit and set up for the next curve. I did well, though my knuckles were locking up and my shoulders were on fire by the time I got down.
Not knowing what to do, I headed for the train station and hoped for a place to get water. The boys showed up twenty minutes later, but after all that I had been through I was livid, fucking furious! I could not even speak to them for fear I would fly into a rage. It had been over four hours since I had any contact with any of them and they didn’t even bother to tell me what route they were planning to ride.
In the end, I still enjoyed the physicality of the day. I love my bike. I love feeling my muscles clench and churn, and the response of the bike surging forward with every pedal stroke. I love knowing that it is the power of my own body that drives the momentum underneath me. At the same time, I wanted desperately to have a group to ride with — to ride with friends.
A girl on a bike is a lonely, lonely creature. There is no culture for female cyclists, no products that suit our bodies, no events appropriate for our skills. I searched in the States, and I’ve been searching in Japan. At first I said to myself, you just need to get a little stronger. You’ll be amazing as a woman, but you’ll still only be able to ride with the beginner and weaker guys, but it will be a ride with a group in any case so set this as your goal. I did that. I got stronger. I got faster. I took on challenges that most other women would cringe at and what did it get me? It got me dropped without a word in the mountains in the middle of nowhere with no water, no support, not even a goddamn map.
I don’t curse my bike, the road or even the sport. I curse the privilege of the Y-chromosome, the infrastructure, and the dehumanization of women. I curse the blithe and cavalier attitude of the boys who say to me, “look, we didn’t treat you any differently than anyone else. If these other guys couldn’t keep up, we would have dropped them, too.” And they have the audacity to complain that women don’t want to ride with them! Dear boys, this is the world that you create. Stop being such fucking assholes about it.