Does Your Name Belong on a List?

Every cyclist has a start list they want to be on. It’s a route or race that is so hard it seems a little absurd to even try. It’s within their capability...but...they aren’t really sure if that’s true.

The ride looks different for everyone at certain times in their lives. It changes as they change. It might start as a 10 mile ride, morph into a 50 mile race, and end up as a 460 mile bikepacking route with 50,000 vertical feet of puke. This list has a lot of false summits.

My point is, whatever the list is that you want your name on, it evolves with you. It grows.

It’s amusing how something as insignificant as seeing my name signed up for a race can bring on such intense emotions. On one hand, what I’m really signed up for is a vacation (so why am I so nervous?). It’s a week of hanging outside, doing something I enjoy. It’s a week of eating burgers and drinking beers along the way. On the other hand, it’s the actualization of something I’ve spent a lot of time planning out, training, and preparing for. Even though it’s just another chunk of miles in my year-long tally, the possibility of failure on this ride feels heavy.

For a vacation, the stakes are pretty damn high.

This morning I saw my name in a short list of participants signed up for the 460-mile Black Hills Expedition. It appeared so plainly that I was a little stunned.

Despite my turning gut, my name looks like it belongs there. It’s unapologetic. It’s confident, if not a little cavalier. “That’s okay,” my name says, “If I’m going to finish, I need to be cavalier.” My name looks tough, nestled with 14 other names that will line up next to mine at the start of the Black Hills Expedition.

My name doesn’t betray any uncertainty or anxiousness. It isn’t concerned about my apprehension or my feelings (or anyone else’s, for that matter). It doesn’t care about my goals and doesn’t question whether I can meet them. Names are black and white. You’re in or you’re out. Mine is decidedly in.

My name doesn’t care if I finish in 5 days or 10—or even if I finish at all. Rain? Hail? A tornado? “I don’t really give a shit,” my name says.

It passes no judgement on how many miles are under my belt or how long I’ve been riding my bike.

My name isn’t even particularly concerned that it’s the only one in the “women” category. It doesn’t try to hide in the pack. It doesn’t betray the vulnerability in that distinction. It doesn’t bother to explain that if it succeeds in some meaningful way, that success is for women, but if it fails, that failure is all mine. It doesn’t care if it receives extra scrutiny because of it. It leaves the significance of that distinction up to reader—names don’t really care much about what you think they can do.

They can’t convey the nervous back and forth, the oscillation between complete certainty and total doubt.

Names are jerks.

To a name, the bizarre ease by which you can simultaneously hold two opposing beliefs (utter confidence and total doubt) is of little interest.

But to me, it’s everything.

I’ve had this feeling exactly two times before. One was seeing my name signed up for my first cross-country race. The second was before my first bikepacking race. I guess it’s fitting I’d feel it again before this ride. What does 460 miles and 50,000 vertical feet of trail even feel like? Honestly, I don’t have a clue. For the first time since considering the race a year ago, this morning I felt the gravity of that decision.

I like being a newbie bikepacker. I have the freedom to make mistakes and ask for advice. My expectations of myself aren’t dictated by experience. I can inwardly set the bar high and outwardly keep my expectations low. It’s alright that the ride is two days away and I’m not sure how many batteries to take or how I’ll fit my seat bag so I can still use my dropper. I don’t expect to get things right the first time.

Maybe that’s a big reason I’m attempting this ride. I want the opportunity to surprise myself. I think you can only find that when you try something that, deep down you know you’re capable of, but it’s a stretch. It’s worth something because the odds aren’t in your favor. Success is only meaningful when it isn’t guaranteed.

Besides, I like riding my bike. Also I heard the route has good burgers and beer.

We’ll see how this stretch works out for me, but in the mean-time, I know there is a list out there that your name belongs on. I’ll leave it at that for now.