the secret language

The beginning of road season is becoming, to life, what a friend's cupcake usually is to my dieting brain; the one I'll stare at while the same friend will complain to me about very valid things that I won't be able to process over the animalistic desire to stuff her untouched cupcake into my entirely deserving face. There have been other things going on, sure, but with the Volta a Catalunya, E3, and GW going on in the same week, I couldn't have cared about what my own legs were doing, much less anything else.
Having swiped a fingertip of frosting of what's to come this summer, I've been mentally salivating for more. The Three Days of De Panne have gifted me some more crumbs, to get me through to the Tour of Flanders. April comes storming in right after that, with Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, but I'm already itching for the Grand Tours.

It's every cycling fan's complaint; old news to those who have been doing this for a few decades, but still new enough to me that I feel justified in being a brat about it. A few years ago, bike friends and even a guy I once really wanted to stay with couldn't get me to focus on pixelated pros doing ridiculously hard shit in impossibly foreign countries. Now, I can't seem to get enough.
The 180 is a weird one, because I initially thought I lucked out in getting a pass from actively spectating and not stalking Cyclingnews Pez Cycling News and Velonews. And because I like to blame others – or at least my gender – for my laziness, I suspect it was, in part, because I have a vagina. When it comes to sports, women always get a different set of rules. Apparently it was enough that I liked to ride. I suppose people thought that expecting me to be able to tell the difference between Flecha and Mayo would have been asking too much, even of someone who enthusiastically lanced saddle sores. A willingness to do more than 80 km on the road on any given day was good enough. Like girlfriends who are invited to watch football games with the guys, as long as I didn’t complain about it, I was in the clear.
Curiosity eventually got the better of me, but since fans can be possessive, I was instantly cockblocked. "You're not into pro cycling, anyway," that boyfriend had declared before turning back to his live stream. Overwhelmed by European names with too many vowels, teams I knew nothing about, and frustrated by how stupid I felt every time I didn't understand a joke about an attack or a mis-timed sprint, I folded my cards and did what I was supposed to do. I rode instead of watched. Josh continued to ask if I'd watched Stage 10 of the Tour, Paris-Roubaix, or the Dauphine Libere. "I'm not into pro cycling," I used to parrot back at him. He never judged [at least overtly] if I hadn't, and never asked why, in 2011, I finally started.

It was a lot of things; a break up - and the consequent freedom to do things I'm not supposed to be into - being one of them. I started with the Spring Classics as a friend advised, then graduated to the Giro and the Tour de France. By the time the Vuelta rolled around, I had moved back to Tokyo. Back at a place I hadn’t wanted to return to, I was struggling. Watching pro cycling suddenly became unbearably lonely. I watched the occasional highlights in 2012, but the likes of Lampre and Sky brought back too many sticky reminders of friends a world away.

Not quite a year after stubbornly ignoring the Tour, something drew me back. It’s not that things have changed much – I’m still struggling – but the familiarity of pro races announced in English, Dutch, or Italian suddenly have a different feel. There is a happy completeness in sitting back to watch a pro race unfold, close to that bubbly feeling you get in your chest when you clip into your most trusted steel bike after either an extended hiatus or too much time spent sitting on something lighter, racier, or more aggressive. Currently surrounded by a language that I understand but by a culture that I sometimes fail to grasp, those live streams of the pro peloton remind me that there is at least one language that I can still comprehend. It’s the ones friends speak, that Josh and I use when comparing notes after any race, the one that makes me unafraid to ask strangers who race bikes for a living to surprise, inspire, or even disappoint. It’s the secret language that compensates for my muted hours at the office and pushes my burning legs to keep up the pace for another minute and 5…no…4 seconds. It’s what I think and cry in when everything seems to be going wrong.
“I don’t even know what that means,” I had shouted at my father a few days ago. It was the same old bullshit argument, in which I screamed in English and he yelled back in Japanese.
“Then maybe you should study Japanese,” he had snapped, before pulling up the Great Wall of Ignore.

Free-falling into cultural limbo, I shamelessly bawled my eyes out that night. I woke up the next morning with those swollen eyelids that scream at people to ask what's wrong although what's wrong is clearly bad enough that you have no desire to talk about it. I remembered, with guilt, that I had skipped out on GW to throw myself that pity party the night before. I cradled a cup of coffee while I watched the highlights and cracked a smile. In those minutes, it didn’t matter that I look Japanese but don’t act like it. Or that I’m a woman. Or that I’d rather spend time on my bike than update my severely outdated wardrobe. The noise of miscommunication paused as I focused on my personal cupcake, presented by Sagan with a wheelie over the finish line.
Whispers of that secret language began to run through my head again, and the day seemed, if only just a little bit, to brighten.