It has been over a decade since I visited Texas in the summertime, and although I thought I knew what to expect, the oppressive combination of heat and humidity ensured that any resemblance of comfort became a distant memory during my stay. I had entered the Katy Flatlands 100km arrogantly assuming the early start (and, consequently, relatively cooler temperatures) would make it a pleasant outing with friends (an old school friend, Zareen, and her boyfriend, Cameron). I had not accounted for the following:
- The three of us went out drinking the night before, and I ended up sleeping in their spare room as it span around me; and
- Zareen, having done the ride before, already expected to arrive late as the event had an ‘open start’, a casual come-as-you-please affair that simpy would not fly in Scotland.
My alarm screech pierced my dreams at 05:25. I went to sleep at about 03:04. My eyes were glued shut, my mouth was dry, and the room seemed to rock when I tried to stand up. I’ll spare you the fiasco of getting everyone roused (and angry at me for being “that person that likes doing active things”), swinging past mine to grab something more appropriate to wear than last night’s outfit, and the drive. Long story short: we arrived with about 15 minutes to spare before packet pick up closed, and eventually set off amongst fellow latecomers.
The original plan was to cycle with Zareen and Cameron as part of a social ride, but we all cycle at vastly different cruising speeds, so after about ten minutes, Cameron and I had pulled ahead. I remember, naively, thinking the temperature wasn’t too bad, omitting from my calculations that it wasn’t even 08:30. The two of us slowly picked off riders until the first aid stop, roughly 15 miles into the course, where we waited for Zareen.
The first aid stop is where cracks began to appear after a night of debauchery. Zareen decided she would be scaling down to the 36 mile route, and although Cameron wanted to stick to the 62 miles, he eventually also eschewed the full whack, taking the 55 mile turn-off later in the day. But this is the last I saw of either of them until the end.
Thus began my pennance – hungover, heart rate rising with my average speed (and the unforgiving heat), the burn of an unfamiliar saddle. And I relished it. Despite my largely unrooted existence in life, something about the suffering gave me the rare, fleeting feeling that I was never more at home anywhere but in this moment. The lazy rise of fall of the hiss of the cicadas, hidden but comfortingly present, fell in sync with my breathing and the vibrations of the handlebars wrapped in the death grip of my sweat-soaked hands.
Largely alone, I felt alive. It didn’t matter that the world was crumbling around me: that my eight and a half year relationship had come to an end, that my brother – a heroin addict – was waiting for a jail bed to open so he could begin a lengthy stint, that my parents were struggling to raise his child when they should be enjoying their retirement years, that there appears to be an increasing probability that Donald Fucking Trump might actually have a realistic shot at ruling a nation, that David Bowie, the one man on this Earth I have been in love with forever, was dead. I. Was. Alive. I changed into a heavier gear; Changed direction into an oven-breath headwind; Hissed along with the chorus of cicadas, like some kind of visceral hymn.
Until I betrayed myself.
A new, heavier, almost engine-like hiss emerged to my left as I started to be overtaken by the peleton of the 100 mile riders. I was 25 miles from the finish, and this train was the chink in the armour of my new identity as the lone rider of the Lone Star State. The end of the group whipped past, and – instinctively – I was horrified with myself as I found myself leaving my saddle to push my way into their slipstream, and fresh atonement at a punishing pace.
In fact, for the last hour and a half of my ride, I held a pace upwards of 20mph. And a heart rate upwards of 177bpm. Granted, it was not the undulating roads of North East Scotland, but the relentless heat brought its own challenge. The scenery changed from hay bales to rear wheels and weathered calves, cicadas to snot rockets and squirts from water bottles directed onto the backs of necks.
We ate up the road as one amorphous being, slowly shedding men off the back who couldn’t keep pace until, 5 miles from home, second rider from the front, I looked back to see only three others from what started as a 35 strong group. After passing the final aide station, the rest peeled off and I was back to riding alone for the final gasp, ultimately collapsing onto my handlebars as I freewheeled across the finish.
A volunteer handed me a towel from a cooler filled with ice and gently wrapped it around my neck, as another handed me a cup of flavoured ice (probably something like “summer berry splash!” or “grape explosion!”) which I promptly inhaled, and which – equally promptly – gave me the worst case of brainfreeze I have experienced for years. I wheeled my bike inside, and into the school cafeteria (the event was held at a local high school) where I found Zareen and sank into a chair beside her, unable to communicate properly for the time being, instead using the now-thawed towel to wipe the accumulated sweat salt off of my body.
Cameron, looking equally drained of life, staggered in about half an hour later, and once we had each satisfied our craving for salty food by turning ferral at the pizza spread, we piled back into the car for a largely silent homeward journey, save for some of Houston’s finest hip-hop radio stations.
The rest of the week went by in a blur. I tired my best to regain that feeling of belonging in what is technically my hometown, but felt, as always, like an imposter who happens to have “Houston, TX” listed as their place of birth in their passport, and who happens to be asked, upon meeting anyone new, where “that accent” is from.
Instead of indulging myself any more by reflecting on what I can only assume is a quarter-life crisis (hey, I’m ever an optimist), I’ll close with a few snapshots of my first Texas Summer as a real adult, and my new motto in life: ‘Make mistakes.’