It’s Friday night, and I’m sitting in a budget motel room in Frankenmuth, Michigan, watching The Karate Kid, which won out over the Weather Channel. The race the next morning starts early, and I need to get to sleep. Unfortunately The Karate Kid is one of those movies that I can’t turn off.
I’m also overcome the feeling of, “what am I doing here?”
Why am I watching a cheesy movie on a Friday night, 260 miles from home in a cheap motel room? Why did I drive all this way by myself to ride my bike? This uneasy sensation happens often when I travel to a race alone. When there’s no one else to interact with, your own neurotic thoughts take over.
Frankenmuth is a curiosity: a kitschy faux-Bavarian town clearly oriented towards tourists, with fudge shops, sausage shops and toy stores. When I check into the hotel the receptionist comes out of the back room wearing a “dirndl” (it’s been said that Americans think all of Germany is like Bavaria). I ask her if many people here speak German. She says not too many, but there is now an effort to offer it in the local schools.
The next morning I wake up disoriented then go through the usual nervousness of the pre-race routine: eat, go to the bathroom, worry about how many layers to wear, pin numbers, go to the bathroom, pump tires, look at the clock, go to the bathroom. It’s going to be a beautiful sunny day. It would have been so much easier to just go for a nice, long ride at home.
But here I am.
Once on the starting line, I’m surrounded by the 60 or so other guys all ready to let out their nervousness. I look around and feel intimidated at the sight of several pro riders. We start out with a whir of wheels, chains, gears shifting. That sound is indescribable. Flying down the country roads at 30 mph, pulled along by the field of racers, is something you can’t experience riding at home by yourself. This is why I drive 260 miles to race.
It’s a windy day, and after about 20 miles the crosswinds are starting to make things difficult. I follow an attack, end up making the winning breakaway, and finish a solid 3rd place. The trip, the hassle, the nervousness, all seems worth it.
After the race, as I’m talking with a couple of other riders I realize that one of them, a young guy, has a German accent. I talk to him in German and find out he is from Berlin, and that his team in Germany disbanded. He sent out resumes and was picked up by a small US pro team (Rite Aid). Someone in Frankenmuth speaks German after all.