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Published on February 29th, 2012 | by DerbyLife

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Inside the Hive: The Epic Pack

By: TK-Oh! #3 South Bend Roller Girls

“I got you, TK,” a voice off my shoulder called, somehow sensing I was afraid I’d fall behind the rest of the pack. There were around 20 or so of us clustered together; this was… lap, what, 10? 12?

“That’s six – you have nine minutes; pick it up!” The coach yelled over the hum of 40-odd wheels spinning, the shhwhish…shhwishh of bodies changing places, and the interspersed instructions of, “Inside!” and “Coming up center!” Lap six? Holy cow. 36 more to go, and we were only getting faster. This drill was called the “epic pack”; the goal, 40 laps in 10 minutes, or bust. Eff…

“That’s seven; let’s go! Let’s go!” The coach called again.

“OK, push it. We’re gonna get 50!”

“Come on, ladies, we’ve got this!”

“Watch her, here-here… bring her up. Right there, TK. In that hole!”

Ohmygod. I’d like to say that I took a moment here to contemplate the amazing, hive-like mentality of the group, the apparent psychic connection of all the veteran girls, and how absolutely reverent the whole experience felt, but there in the fray, with the hum in my ears and the bodies literally every square inch around me, for the first ten laps, I was terrified.

Wheels were locking every so often, the girl next to me was suddenly whiffed out of existence— gone, like some kind of floor monster had just sucked her under, and who knew when it might come back for me. I raised up from derby stance just a second, turned my head back to look for her, but all I could see were bobbing helmets undulating in every direction.

“Bring it down, TK. She’s fine. Watch in front of you.” I heard a voice say just over the pounding in my chest. I wasn’t winded, was I? How could I be winded with all of them pushing me forward. And they were quite literally pushing me forward, gently pulling me around, turning my hips. I was part of a machine.

“That’s twelve. Keep it up, you’re ahead of pace!” The coach’s voice came again from somewhere beyond the bobbing helmet ocean.

“50! Let’s go, ladies; get this!”

“Take Danger – up there, go, girl…” a voice came over my shoulder again as one of my fellow recruits emerged at my side.

“Pull her in, TK. You can do it; I got you,” that same voice from before advised, the one that assured me the floor monster didn’t eat the girl who had fallen.

“Come on, Danger; in here. In front of me.” I heard my voice saying. Um, what did I just say? I didn’t know how to put anyone anywhere, but my hand went around her hip and guided her in front of me. I felt someone do the same to me, pulling me back to make room, and suddenly both Danger and I were absorbed into the middle of the buzzing pack again, shoulder to shoulder, wheels inches from other wheels, and the hum, sshwisshh, hummmmmm of what I can only describe as a building electrical pulse of people generating what would surely result in some kind of nuclear reaction after 40-laps.

“20! You’re halfway there; move, move! You have six minutes!”

“Let’s pick it up! Dig in!”

“Hang on!”

“50! Let’s get 50!”

Holy crap, faster? We were going to go faster!? The floor monster continued picking people off here and there, but I told myself not to look back. The sensors must have sounded in the part of the pack just behind me, though, because another voice found its way over my shoulder, and I felt a hand grip the outside of my hip in a gesture of what I instantly knew to be assurance.

“She’s good. Breathe and stay low, TK; I got you.”

But how did they know? How could they read my mind like this? How did they somehow jump into my skin and make my arms reach for people and pull them in front me, pull them around, and if they were falling back, tell them to hang on to me? And before they said so, how did I know it was OK for me to do the same? I don’t know. I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. It just came with being part of the hive.

“38! Two minutes!”

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Egg…Egg…Egg!!”

“TK, just hang onto me if you have to. I got you.”

“Pull her in – pull her in!”

“Coming up the middle!”

There were so many voices, but they all became one. The hum was louder, deeper, the shoulders were closer, and suddenly we were all lower and going even faster. I knew the floor monster wasn’t coming for anyone anymore. I wasn’t afraid of falling, I wasn’t afraid of tripping someone else, I wasn’t in my own body anymore. I was part of the machine, the hive. I heard all of them inside my head saying,

“Stay low, breathe. We’ve got you. Six more laps, come on-come on.”

I wanted to say thank you. I wanted to somehow express my appreciation for this insane connection and tell them all how grateful I felt that they let me be part of it. But I didn’t have any of these words, and even if I did, no one could have heard me over the hummm and the sshhwishhh and the coach’s calling out, “One minute, do not stop until you hear the whistle!” and “That’s 42, push it! Push it!”

Amazingly, I belonged in this place. I was part of this telepathic sisterhood, this beehive machine. I was older than so many of these girls, but they were looking out for me. My whole life I wanted an older sister or brother, someone to say, “I got your back.” Someone to go first, then look over and tell me it was OK. That I could do it too… that they would make sure of it, so all I had to do was try. And here were 20-something of them all around me pulling, guiding, assuring, confirming, most of the time without even saying a word.

“TIME!” We heard after the whistle blew. “48, ladies. Nice damn job. Skate it out.”

“Wooo! Nice job!”

“Hey, fresh meat! Way to go!!”

Someone smacked my butt, someone else tapped my helmet.

“Good job, TK. Way to hang.”

“Yeah, girl. That’s almost double the 25 in five!”

More smacks. More helmet taps. I could not stop shaking.

I wanted to talk. I wanted to tell them all how amazing they were, but everything locked up in my throat. My face felt hot, and all I could get out was how much it felt like being inside of a beehive, a machine. How they were all just energy for a while. They smiled at me, not in a patronizing way or even in an amused way, but in a way that told me they knew, and now, so did I.

I can, without hesitation, say that although I’ve felt completely moved by the poignancy of a triathlon or a marathon, and the overwhelming connection to others who have lined up at my side, I have never felt so completely wrapped up in the humanity of anything as I did that day during epic pack. I’ve ridden in large groups of cyclists before, but if you fall behind in one of those, you fall behind. No one can “get you” there. No one can guide you into the protective nucleus of the group and shield you from anything, except maybe headwinds. And don’t get me wrong, not having to buffer the headwind is a lifesaver, but my point is no one can physically carry you, and you can’t physically carry anyone else. Not even for a little while.

There’s something to be said, I think, for the hands-on exchange of momentum. In an epic pack, you transfer a little of your strength to someone else who needs it, and almost in answer, someone behind you or to the side of you transfers a little of theirs to you. In this simple action, everyone becomes one, and the truly amazing part of it all is when the pack disperses, you realize that somehow you’re still one. You’re more than a team, you’re more than sisters. You’re the same. And you know forever after that nothing can break this kind of bond.

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