“Pushing off at around 5am. Have room, as it's just me and the bikes. The bikes are usually well-behaved and will let you nap.”
– Jeff Meyer, Pink Rhino
All the way to T-Town, Jeff never touches the brakes. Black road, brilliant sky spool out, and out, carrying us into Jersey and then Pennsylvania.
The wind at the open windows, is a relief, after weeks trapped in heat dome city.
We talk over the wind, about our Brooklyn neighborhoods, the changing city, coffee rituals, the art and discipline of racing bikes. We talk about night rides and morning people. About time, about racing at thirty-five versus racing at eighteen.
In less than two hours, we pull into the Java Joint, a drive-through coffee cart. Fueled up, we go another two hundred meters, and spill out of the car.
This, is T-Town. You've heard so much about it from your friends. Your fastest friends. And now you are here, and it is smaller than you imagined, but also far, far bigger.
You cross the footbridge into the infield, crowded with colorful tents.
“If you're waking up, and the alarm clock is going off, that means you're alive,” you hear a coach tell a racer. “There's no alarm clocks on the other side, as far as I've heard.”
Over the next hour, the bustle picks up, as riders shimmy into their skin suits, warm up on rollers, tinker with their bikes. They change wheels, cogs. They go over the rules for bike check, the minimum weight, the maximum distance between seat and bars, etc. They put bottles of ice on their backs. Some throw on ice vests.
It's ninety-something degrees in Trexlertown, PA, and the track is open for warm-up. It's got the festive air of an ice-skating rink. Festive but nervous.
You stand, on the bridge, and look down at the sunlit wooden track. A team passes beneath you in tight formation. It's like looking into a very clear Caribbean sea, and seeing a school of fish: very organized, matching, fast fish.
Your heart, somersaults.
It's nine o'clock on a Wednesday morning. The bleachers are empty, save for a few spectators in the top row. They are hoarding the scant shade up there. You join them. You throw a scarf over your legs, and fix your gaze on the track.
The track, is a giant, unblinking, sunlit eye, on which a thrilling ballet is about to transpire.
“Up up up up up up!”
This is what the coaches yell at the racers every time they come around the track.
It's not a word, it's a sound. It's the bellow of a warrior.
Your vision feels sharper than usual: high contrast and zero shadow.
But you struggle to understand the announcer. He's telling you little tidbits about the racers' lives in between rattling off times and speeds.
“...says he wants to be a commercial pilot.”
You understand only that the times are very fast, the speeds very high. The differences between one rider and another, one team and another, are minute.
And you understand, also: “Redbeard Racing.”
Mark Wagner. Evan Thomson. Nick Baker.
Those are your names. Your people.
Your people, qualify for the Team Sprint. Your heart, is full.
“Hurry up and wait,” is the maxim of track racing. There is so much down time between races.
You hang out in the tent with the Redbeard Racing and Pink Rhino boys, and Amelia. Amelia is the only girlfriend around. She jokes about an abacus on which she tracks Mark Wagner's drinking and peeing.
BJ Ohlson of Pink Rhino finds out that he needs to clear out of his Airbnb earlier than he thought. He's sent his dad to collect his stuff, now he's on the phone with him.
“Just tell me what you see and I'll tell you if it's mine," he says. "The towels are not mine. The Garmin charger is mine. Just the one bag. Yes. No. Yes. That's it. That's everything.”
You catch Amelia's eye. She giggles. "I love having a playmate."
Mark is spinning out his legs. The whirr of the trainer is a lullaby. You close your eyes, and doze.
In between sessions you all hit the Applebee's for cherry limeade.
The boys make short work of the lunch you order, but cannot eat. You are sated with sun, and excitement.
Evening. Time for the team sprint final. After an agonizing delay due to technical difficulties at the start – the race is on – and over before you know it.
Your people come in six-tenths of a second too slow.
“This is yours. You've earned this.”
A coach is yelling to his rider, who has broken away from the pack. He seems to have a decent lead, you think he's golden. But it's only lap 38 of 75 and a lot can still happen, and a lot does happen, and in the end, he does not win.
A rider rolls off the track, his Garmin in his teeth. Time, in his teeth.
Time, is different here. A T-Town minute is not a minute. It is, a lifetime.
You catch the Beiber bus back to NYC, where you realize that the energy of Times Square is a blip, compared to the energy of T-Town.
The sunburnt tops of your feet, confirm that the day was not a dream.
Words and photos by Kasia Nikhamina