I hit a moment last week when I panicked. I fired off emails and asked a hundred questions. I re-analyzed my Training Peaks account. Later that day after five hours in 85 degree heat, I cracked. I went to the fountain here in Lecchi, poured water over my head and sat in a daze. Then I lost a pair of important glasses that did not belong to me. I did things that were out of character.
I was tired, but more than that - I was scared.
Someone reminded me recently that I have an obligation to write from a place of honesty. It was an important observation – one that I was happy to have vocalized. For years I've made a point of writing from the gut with all the messy, hard, wonderful and stinging truths that I can muster. This year I've been more quiet: reserved and a little hesitant. Sometimes I say less because I'm afraid of what will come out or how people will react. That's cowardly and, frankly, a little hard to admit. It's over now.
When it comes to our tour in France, I want to wave pom-poms and do a star jump and make you think everything is going to be fucking awesome, but I don't always feel that way. So, there's that.
I get heady about this thing a lot: I over-think it and try to control things that I can't. Some days I wake up and I don't want to ride my bike but I do anyway. Sometimes I resent that. Then I beat myself up for a while for resenting a component of what is possibly the biggest opportunity I have ever had. Shut up and make this shit shine, Swift. Shut up and pedal. Shut up and write.
I'm not alone in this emotion. At team camp Kym Fant and I discussed her own breakdown. A day of complete emotional exhaustion from weeks of trying to train while chasing a toddler and working a full time job.
"Don't you call it a breakthrough in California?" I asked. She laughed (they do). Sometimes coming unraveled is the only way to get yourself sorted.
Deep down, we hate to say anything negative because we are indescribably grateful but this is a lot to manage emotionally and physically and there are a lot of unanswered questions that intensify the uncertainty. I like to know what is going to happen next and the truth is, in this case, I don't have a fucking clue.
We lost a teammate two weeks ago: my friend Susan is no longer coming to France with the team. There are a lot of reasons, but the bottom line is it was the wrong trip at the wrong time and there were simply things that couldn't worked out. Here's me being honest again: it's heartbreaking in so many ways to see her go.
The Reve Tour didn't talk about this publicly and I processed the news on my own in Italy, removed from the real ramifications of sitting down to talk to her. I sent her a few brutally honest emails and she replied thoughtfully with a balance of emotion and intellect. We're ok now, but I still can't wait to get home from Tuscany and give her a hug while we eat croissants and drink coffee together. Mixing business and bikes and relationships can be tricky.
I wish this was a prettier story with a prettier ending, but perhaps now is the right time for me to articulate clearly the fact that I am not a press agent for this trip. I'm a writer and I'm going to tell you what happens. That's it.
I'm going to miss Susan, but the trip will go on. The tour will be amazing. The team will be amazing.
We've just picked up a replacement rider, a triathlete from Colorado named Kristen Peterson and I can't wait to meet her when we convene in Santa Rosa later this month for our second team camp.
Things happen when you travel. You learn and meet new people and challenge yourself. There's a lot of cliche to be had there, but it is what it is: when I leave home I always change. I just never know how or when it's going to happen.
Last week when my hosts from InGamba Tours took their group to visit Castello di Ama, a local winery, I tagged along. I was tired from training and wineries traditionally aren't really my thing, but I rallied and went anyway. I'll spare you the exhaustive description of the organic symmetry of the vineyards or the way the sun backlit the group as we walked east across the grounds. It's a magical place, but what part of Tuscany isn't?
More striking than the sprawling estate, ancient buildings or intimate collaborations with specific artists, was the woman at the head of it all: Lorenza Sebasti. Refined, articulate, gracious, elegant, warm and passionate, she seemed to embody everything I've begun to fall in love with in this part of Italy. I sat at her right hand throughout dinner and watched her command the table full of men with a presence that was soft and firm at the same time. When Lorenza speaks, you get quiet. You listen.
She spoke of history and innovation and soil and inspiration – and of her instant love affair with the land when she first visited at the age of 15. She discussed the grapes and processes with the knowledge of a scientist, the fervor of an artist and the affection of a lover. She has changed fundamental things about the production of Chianti. She's challenged convention while respecting tradition. Together with her husband, the winemaker, they have constantly elevated, innovated and evolved every aspect of their work and life. She never said it directly, but the point was taken: never settle.
We were talking about wine, but we were also talking about life and love and family and inspiration and an existence so permeated with meaning that most of us can only begin to understand it. It's about ambition, but not as we understand that word in the United States: it is about ambition balanced with real, honest respect for passion. It's about making your life the way you want it to be while honoring a calling that exceeds your own existence. Have a purpose outside yourself. For godsake, do what you are meant to be doing. And do it well.
At the end of the meal, someone revealed that I was riding all of the stages of the Tour de France. I'll be honest, in the presence of such a woman and such a life, the Tour seemed inconsequential and a little trite. To my surprise, she expressed not only respect but also jealousy: explaining that this "focus on sport" is something that she would like to have more of in her life. I joked that I was quite taken with her work as well and perhaps we could trade for a bit, to which she replied, "I think this would make my husband very happy," and winked.
The air outside was chilly. I was quiet on the drive home and I realized that for all the doubt and questioning and fear that is in my heart these days, there's one thing that is sure: there's a bigger reason for this ride. And it's the thing I'm supposed to be doing right now. Hopefully the meaning will become clear in some delirious moment on the side of a mountain pass (if it does, I'll be sure to tell you). For now, we can only wait and see. We can only keep pedaling.