Life is like riding a bicycle — in order to keep your balance, you must keep moving. ~Albert Einstein
So yesterday I talked about my new walk and new food, but today I want to talk about the biggest challenge my brain has decided to come up with in order to make me happy: Cycling
I haven’t been on a bike since I was maybe 12. OK, maybe once or twice since then when I got this crazy idea to spend my tax return on a little $150 bike from some department store at the young age of 23. I think I tried riding that 21 speed mountain bike a few times before I realized I had no confidence for it or time or whatever it was that made me stop my attempts. But I always kind of harbored this idea of actually getting out and riding it and doing great things like maybe even going up an unpaved hill or something. Dreaming of when I was a kid and riding the back paths of my 25 acres of fields and woods, I thought as an adult I could totally make it up a mountain, right?
So while I was dog sitting, the dream came back to me that I could get out there and really put some miles on those wheels, become what I dreamed of in the past. I told myself that the first Saturday I’m home I will grab my bike, take it to a place that had trails, and gosh darn it, RIDE! Kiss the air blowing through my hair, relish in the joy of moving quickly, recapture the happiness of being a kid again. While dog sitting, I even took a trip to a bike shop just to look around and ask about a group ride somewhere. I went to the bookstore and read some cycling magazines. I flipped through a few books to check about gear and making sure I had what I needed. I was excited, I was going to do it, and then that Saturday arrived.
I woke up, still pumped, still determined to dust off the spiders from my old seat and haul my bike to some trails. It was a cloudy, cool, rainy morning. For some reason the nice warm (humid even) July weather turned into mid September on the day I wanted to go ride. I looked out my window at the clouds, stepped outside and felt the rain and cool temperature, and told myself that I didn’t have to do it that day. But then, I thought, “No, people run in the rain. Surely I can bike.” So I continued my prepping.
I rolled my bike out to my new car and popped the hatch up, then attempted to maneuver my bike into my car. No go. The front tire was going to have to come off. “Now, how do I do that?” I wandered to myself. I noticed the quick release lever on my tire and worked it loose, but the wheel wouldn’t budge, it was still caught on my rim breaks. Still undeterred, I grabbed my phone and watched several YouTube videos on how to remove my front wheel (and how to reattach it), and read a few articles just to make sure I knew what I was doing. So I took my front wheel off, and I felt so proud! Look new skills on the first ride! I’m awesome! I got this! Then I loaded up my bike, easy peasy.
When I arrived at the little neighborhood that I knew had some trails, I happily hopped out of my car and unloaded my bike. I quickly re-attached my wheel. I put my helmet on, started my cycling app, hopped on my bike, and pushed off. It was then I noticed my chain had come off. I did not know the exact location to put the chain on, which cogs for whatever gear I might have been in, but I wrangled with it a bit and it stayed on, basically. That little annoyance gone, I walked myself to the trail and figured there was no way I’d get down the serpentine trail head down hill, so I walked a bit more. Then hopped on and started peddling.
My trail took me through some woods that, due to the weather, were dreary, wet, dark, and a little creepy when I saw there was NO ONE else out there. I found myself going through a long tunnel that was incredibly creepy, even with my little flashing head light. I came to a fork in the road and consulted my little map and realized I had no clue where any of these paths went. It suddenly dawned on me that I had no idea where I was going, no one was out there, no one would hear me if something happened to me, and no one even knew where I was if I turned up missing. Letting that all sink in, I turned myself back around, went through creepy tunnel again, and found my way back to the trail head, then walked up the serpentine hill path back to my car.
Sitting in my car, I looked at my little app that I had running. I had gone one and a half miles and the app had been running for 26 minutes. Wow, not even a whole 30 minutes. My prep time took more time than my actual ride. And yet, I was smiling. I had gone out and done it, actually ridden my bike for the first time in 9 years. I did it under my own determination, nothing else. I conquered the fear of getting out there. I learned a good skill of removing my tire. I remembered how to ride, got the shaky feeling out of my body. I smiled to myself and said, “Yes, I can do this.”
I took that ride a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t get back on my bike until the following Saturday when I decided to take myself to one of the greenways in Charlotte. I was still a bit nervous, knowing there would be other cyclists out there, afraid I’d be seen as a total noob and get in their way. But I put my helmet on anyway and saddled up. My chain fell off again after the first stroke and I had to fiddle with it for 10 minutes before it came loose and I could out it back on, but I fixed it. It hasn’t fallen off since. Despite my knees and my butt hurting me like the dickens, I rode 4 miles to a half way point before getting off for a water break. I almost couldn’t stand, my hips/knees/ankles/butt hurt so bad. I limped over to a water fountain and got a trickle of warm water. Not really refreshing. I decided this would be a good turn around point, so I hopped back on and started back. Soon after this, another cyclist passed me, asking me how my ride was going. I replied it was my first ride but I was ok. He slowed up and rode beside me for a moment, then asked if he could give me a tip. Ever eager to know what I could do better, I readily agreed. He told me to raise my seat up 3 inches as it would make my knees more comfortable. I thanked him for the info and he rode on. Shortly after, I stopped and raised my seat. Oh the difference! Suddenly I was feeling free and wild like a kid again! Still, I huffed it back to the finish line dying of thirst, but I had made it! A total of 8 miles, 1.5 hours, and lots of sweat, but I had done it! I took some time stretching and rode on my mental high for the rest of the day. I even rewarded myself with long hot soak in the tub, where I noticed that my rides break me out into hives that mostly go away. (Had a huge outbreak on my hands and feet after the first ride that I had to medicate after 3 days of misery. I still have them….but alas, I’m still spinning away.)
Since that first greenway ride, I’ve been trying to ride every other day. I’ve increased my distance to 12 miles and decreased my time to about an hour. I’ve had the euphoria of riding along side a running deer before it crossed my path and ran off into the wetlands, as well as riding beside of rabbits, praying they didn’t cross in front of me. I’ve trekked into a few bike shops, asking questions about clip and clipless pedals, saddles, bike bags, and other things that I know nothing about. One shop even took time to explain everything and then even gave me a demo on how to change a flat tire. I don’t like being completely dumb in front of other people, but I squashed my desire to appear smart in order to get all the information from the experts. I’ve taken humbleness by the hand and skipped into bike shops to learn. Tomorrow I’m a little nervous because I’m taking my bike in to get looked at in order to figure out why my breaks sound like a dying cat playing a violin when I press on them. Taking my cheap little bike into a shop where the employees probably ride bikes 10 times more expensive than mine makes me feel a little shy, but as one shop guy told me when I mentioned my bike wasn’t quality, “Does it have wheels, handle bars, pedals, breaks, and a frame? Then it’s a decent bike.” And yes, it IS a decent bike for me right now.
I’ve gained my courage in this endeavor and through it I’ve found happiness. I look forward to my rides now, anticipate them happily. I’m willing to treat myself to a little bike gear when I have extra cash; a new CamelBack water bottle, a bike bag to hold my keys and phone, a drink holder, a gear bag for my helmet and post stretch equipment (yoga mat/yoga strap). I find myself thinking and planning my rides while I’m working, grabbing onto that mental high and bringing it into my massages to spur me on when I feel tired. And when I think I can’t do it, I simply smile and remind myself that I can. Where else can I put this energy in my life? Possibilities are endless, right?