The Body Remembers
In fairness, the bulk of the damage was done in the course of a single ride, early last summer: that 300K brevet, when, uncharacteristically, I rode all day in 90°F+ heat and humidity without issue only to, equally uncharacteristically, give up just 30 miles from the finish after night had fallen. This failure hit me with unexpected intensity. After some time I wanted badly to put it behind me, to stop dwelling on the hows and the whys and the what-ifs. But how could I forget an event that left me physically branded? The marks were so prominent, the contrast between the pale and the darkened flesh so dramatic. To make matters worse, everyone around me noticed. "So many miles so early in the summer!" But of course they did not know the real story the tan lines told. All those hours in that insane sun… and all for nothing.
When they don't make me think of the failed brevet, my etched legs make me think of photography. There is considerable overlap between cyclists and photographers, and among these are many film enthusiasts. When you ask those who prefer film over digital to explain why, many will tell you film has a special look that digital simply can't replicate, that film stirs emotions in a way that digital cannot. I do not believe this to be so, and the more I use both mediums the more certain I am there is no such thing as "the look of film" per se. Once you fully and properly control for format, type of lens used, type of film used, aperture and exposure settings, and the myriad of other factors involved, I believe that you can create a digital and a digitised (i.e. viewable on your computer) film image so that the two are indistinguishable to the human eye and emotional palette.
This is not a popular opinion and many film lovers will disagree. But that is beside the point. Because my point is that despite holding this view, I nonetheless prefer film photography over digital. When I want to capture something truly special or meaningful - be it a place, person or event - I shoot it on film. For me it is not about the look, or the quality, or the negative vs megapixel size. It is about capturing a moment and fixing it in physicality; it is about transforming fleeting light into a solid tangible object. The sensual palpability of the silver gelatin process is especially appealing. The baths, the resins, the salts and metals, the "cooking." The photographic process is essentially a printmaking process, and it is the alchemy of it that attracts me. Is this any more valid than the "special look of film" narrative? Maybe not. It's only my way of conceptualising it.
When seen from this perspective, my legs, in a sense, have become photographic objects. Exposure to light produced an etched, physical record of an otherwise fleeting event. Large format. Pigment on flesh. If analogue photography is what I'm after, this is it, in its most basic form.
After a long winter, I am slowly getting back into the swing of roadcycling. The tan lines are covered by long fleecy tights and, considering where I live now, might be for some time. But as I ride, I notice something else that has imprinted on my body. While my fitness level has degraded and my muscle tone's diminished, the technique I have internalised over last summer and all the summers before that have not. On climbs I rise out of the saddle so effortlessly, and on corners I lean so intuitively, that I can hardly believe it was ever otherwise. And then there is that feeling of oneness with the bike that carries with it an animalistically alert-yet-calm sort of confidence that I can hardly put into words. These states of being are etched so deeply, they are of archival quality. The body is analogue and it remembers.