The women’s CAT 3 amateur races are on today at Boston’s City Hall. Within the first few laps, valiant stragglers are left behind and then disqualified; the cutoff times are too brutal for a lay rider to contemplate. Soon a peloton forms; a single tight accretion circling fast around City Hall. As the laps count down, I begin to see the effort in the sculpted thighs and tightening jaws.

Three laps to go: There are signs of a strategic sprint. A rider breaks away as the rest of the peloton tries to compensate, their eyes show murderous intention, some bare their teeth. The effort, as it turns out, is too much too soon; she cannot keep up the sprint, and slowly but surely, the peloton bears down on her like a wolf pack, swallows her into its uncompromising depths. This is Call of the Wild on a human scale.

And like the primordial opportunists that survived and propagated their seed through the ages, someone else has been biding her time. At 1 lap to go, she summons a reserve of energy from who knows where, and launches into an incredible sprint that will seal the race; this stunning apparition of mind, flesh, bone and carbon blitzes the finish line, her back wheel about 3 feet ahead of the peloton.

I feel my hair standing on end. These are supposed to be amateur riders, but their speed boggles the mind. Tomorrow, I will face my own challenge, which appears so much smaller than the ridiculous physical feats that I have just seen. I have to ride 50 miles inside 5 hours, probably in the rain. With a little bit of shame, but a lot of inspiration, I pick up my registration package with the race still buzzing in my head.

The bib number I receive is 4057. In my head, I compulsively divide it by 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, … it is a disease. The number turns out to be a prime, quite in line with the sense of desperate, angry isolation that has crept upon me and grown during the past year. I wonder if this bodes well for the ride tomorrow.