Housatonic — For high school senior Kira Payer, it’s all about choosing to be present. And, in a nod to fellow New Englander Robert Frost, taking the “road less traveled.” On Monday morning, when the Class of 2017 returns to Monument Mountain Regional High School following April break for the final push before graduation, Payer will be waking up in the Netherlands or possibly driving across Germany — she’s not quite sure — as the 18-year-old athlete embarks on a 19-day tour of the cobblestone lined streets of Europe, representing Team USA in both the final installment of the Junior Women’s Nations Cup — EPZ Omloop van Borsele in the Netherlands — and Gracia Orlova Stage Race in the Czech Republic.
“I’m all packed up” Payer reported first thing Tuesday morning as she was getting ready to catch a flight to Europe from Albany. “I’ll be traveling solo,” she added, which she absolutely loves. This determined, passionate and stubborn young woman — adjectives she uses to describe the non-riding Kira — ramps things up a few notches when she puts on her competitive cyclist helmet. “I’m pretty similar, but I’m definitely a bit more aggressive on a bike — which is a good quality,” the Housatonic native said in a phone interview. Payer, one of some 550 riders from more than 20 countries around the world, will spend the better part of the next three weeks showcasing what she’s been working towards as an elite level junior living and training in the Berkshires.
As for the fabled cobblestones? “I’m not sure what they are going to feel like, but I really want to ride on them,” Payer said, noting that she fully expects “some discomfort that [she’ll] have to deal with as a result.” Payer, one of just nine women representing the USA National Team, really loves backpacking, video editing and cooking when she is not on her bike.
“I really like making oatmeal,” she elaborated, noting, “I eat the same breakfast every day: exactly half a banana, 3/8 cup rolled oats, 1/8 cup steel-cut oats, 1 teaspoon chia seeds, 1 tablespoon peanut butter, and a sprinkling of chocolate chips, cooked in unsweetened soy milk.” It is this delicate balance, mitigating both the risks and rewards of routine, that keep the local teenager moving when she is not ensconced in a rigorous academic schedule where she favors anything having to do with social studies. She is candid about the negative connotations surrounding routine, namely that “[simply] sticking with it, not building toward anything greater” can be a detriment if one gets “stuck in a mundane routine.” The positive connotations, on the other hand, come when one uses ”routine as a building block to pursue your dreams.” After all, she says matter-of-factly, “the goal of routine is to eliminate unnecessary variables.”
For Payer, who can be found quoting Thoreau and Emerson on her personal blog, a transcendental approach to life has served her well thus far. “Life is kind of ridiculous,” she admits, noting how easy it is to take oneself too seriously. “The key to success is proceeding as if it isn’t. Take it as a grain of salt. Don’t take anything too seriously,” she cautions. Which translates, in the end, to having fun. The high school senior describes herself as kind of tallish with an upper body that is pretty lanky. And really big legs, of course. “You can always recognize me by my horrible tan lines” she joked. “Mid thigh, mid upper arm. I’m pretty easy to spot,” she added. When asked if she listens to music while training, Payer admits, “I shouldn’t but I occasionally do…[I listen to] lots of obscure music. Right now I’m liking Alt-J” (an English Indie alt band, I learned, after a quick Google search).
When asked about her biggest source of support, Payer is modestly stumped. “With so many people in the cycling community who are so helpful and so supportive it’s kind of hard to choose,” she admits. But, when pressed, she is firm in her answer: William Caligari. “We spend a lot of time together,” Payer said of the fellow cyclist, competitor and Great Barrington native. “He’s helped me with a lot of advice,” she continued. “It is kind of unlikely that we’ve become good friends, but we just get along really well and he has so much useful advice and wisdom from all his years of experience [as a cyclist].” The pair met through Berkshire Bike and Board in Great Barrington where, along with a dozen other cyclists, they ride together on Tuesday nights. Caligari said, “because of her talent and ability, [Kira] is able to ride and be very competitive with the elite group.” He went on to add, “She’s got a lot of talent and dedication to cycling and I think she’s probably going to have a lot of success in her cycling career.” For now, this weekend will be telling. Coverage of Payer’s first event, a unique three day course in Europe, begins on Friday and continues through the weekend.
Payer will return from Europe on May 1, one month to the date from when she will cross the stage at Tanglewood to receive her high school diploma. “I don’t really talk about [my cycling career] a lot at school,” Payer admitted. “[It’s] intricate…[there’s] lots of weird terminology,” she continued. “[My peers] are all supportive, it’s nice,” she concluded. But there is a sense of separation that pervades the high school senior’s experiences. Payer will be going to the senior prom, an event to which she is looking forward, but her perspective is understandably skewed. “It’s weird, in a way,” she explained. “[Prom is] supposed to be this massive event but this year I am looking forward to even more…[it’s like a] cherry on top.”
And so, for this Berkshire daughter with ten miles behind her and ten thousand more to go, graduation will indeed be a real commencement. Payer will enroll at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, next fall where she will ride for their Division I cycling team and major in psychology. As to the topic of her college essay? “It was on biking, of course, but the perspective was a little different,” Payer said. “It focused on relationships with people while racing. Like the car rides on the way there, the friendships. And the fact that we are bonded by a shared love [of the sport].”
When asked where she imagines her life going, Payer’s answer is balanced and admirable. “I want to be me, at the top of the sport. That would be ideal. Eventually, when I’m not racing, I want to be involved as a healthy role model for other young women coming up through the ranks.” And for this young woman, the journey is quite literally unfolding. “It certainly is a side path from what I had expected,” said Payer. “I didn’t expect it to take me to Europe, anywhere really, other than Berkshire County. It has completely changed the path of my life and given me so many opportunities that are not normal.” And then her wheels really start to spin. “What I’m reaching for is a little different. It’s not fame or money. Just friendships and personal satisfaction.” Astute words from a young woman whose coming of age has occurred while balanced on two wheels — across miles of winding roads around Stockbridge Bowl, Hawthorne Street, and Route 183 in Lenox — traversing roads that, while nestled in an ostensibly sheltered enclave of Berkshire County, have quite literally paved the way for the future of a girl and her bike.
To follow Kira’s progress, please link to her blog: https://kirapayer.wordpress.com/.