On Monday I rode my bike 10 miles along the Silver Comet Trail.
6 months ago, those words would have been unfathomable to me. First of all, that I even have a bike. Second of all, that I strapped it onto my car and drove it to a trail. And finally, hello!, that I RODE it, for 10 miles, no less.
I never learned to ride a bike as a child. I mastered a tiny one with training wheels, but when my dad took them off for me and I started off down a small hill for momentum, I got to the bottom and forgot to pedal. In my memory, I crashed. In my dad’s memory, he was right there and he caught me (the latter is probably true). But either way, the experience was traumatic and embarassing enough for me that I didn’t touch a bike outside of a gym for nearly 20 years.
I skirted the issue of my inability for most of my life. As a competitive swimmer, my afternoons and summers consisted of long hours in the pool rather than lazy cycling trips around the neighborhood. And in the sprawling, car-loving cities where I’ve made my home as an adult, commuting by bike is relegated to a brave rank of which no one is an assumed member, least of all me.
My husband Andy took it upon himself to teach me one of the first summers we were married. I tottered around a church parking lot near our apartment complex a few times. We bought me a helmet. But with little easy access to riding paths, I never progressed from there. We sold my bike when we moved because it was never ridden, and Andy’s was stolen shortly after we arrived in Atlanta, so we’ve been bikeless for awhile.
And yet. I’ve wanted to do a triathlon for years. Everyone always says the swimming is the hardest part, and I’ve got that down pat. I can run when I put my mind to it. It was just the biking, looming large in my psyche, scaring me away.
For whatever reason, I decided 2015 was the year, and I signed up for a sprint triathlon on June 21. But where to begin with learning to ride a bike?!
A friend turned me on to a True Beginners class offered by the Atlanta Bicycle Coalition, so I decided to start there. I woke on the designated Sunday with a belly full of nerves, which were quickly assuaged once I got to the class. Here were 7 other competent adult people who shared my dirty little secret of not knowing how to ride a bike! We each told our bike stories, all of us with slightly different reasons that we never conquered the two-wheeled beast and all of us with different motivations for finally wanting to learn. It was equal parts therapy and instruction. You can hardly imagine the relief it was to realize I wasn’t alone, the fellowship I felt with these people, the validation of myself it was to meet them all. With some guidance and some patient gliding, I eventually found myself peddling before the class was over.
Every step of the process was a new fear for me to overcome. Ordering a bike rack for my car, which I needed to do before I could buy a bike, elicited an afternoon’s worth of anxiety over 1-star reviews. How would I know if it would damage my car or if it would fly off in the middle of the road?
Next to buy a bike, which was equally as foreign for a novice. Who knew what I should be looking for in Craigslist posts? Who knew what questions I should ask of the bike shop clerk? I found an inexpensive refurbished road bike that seemed fine. The price was right. But it was the strangest feeling not to have the confidence to try it out. I bought it practically untried because the path behind the bikeshop was so crowded as to make me nervous.
I loaded it on my rack and got it home. The rack stayed firmly put, which was a small win. I was wobbly when I finally got on the bike, as it had been weeks since my beginners class and I hadn’t touched one since then.
It was frustrating, to feel so unsure of myself. To want to be able to do something so badly and yet to have my body so ill-attuned to my wishes. I felt a flutter of worry every time I swung my leg over that uncomfortable seat. And yet I kept doing it. I rode a little at a time, every week or so. I got less wobbly, I trusted my abilities more. I was worried, though, that my triathlon was coming up quickly and I still hadn’t ridden any substantial distance at a time. Could I even do it? Was I capable? I finally decided I just had to try.
On Monday, a holiday, I loaded up the bike. I drove to the trail. I unloaded the bike. I put on my helmet. And I rode.
At various points on the path I found myself with a big goofy grin on my face. “I’m doing it,” I thought, “I’m really, truly riding a bike!” I rode from mile marker 0.0 to a bench at 5.3, and stopped to eat a granola bar and text Andy about my triumph. I climbed back on and rode back to the parking lot. Thanks to months of intense spin classes, my muscles were in fine shape. It was the mental block I had needed to overcome.
On Monday, I rode my bike 10 miles along the Silver Comet Trail.
And isn’t that a microcosm of every scary thing we ever confront in our lives? You start out with questions you aren’t even sure how to ask. You tackle the smallest step to equip yourself. You shakily take the next one. You shy away and cower for awhile, too fearful to make progress. You chip away again. And finally you do it. You do it. You do the scary thing. You ride the bike.
On Monday, I rode my bike for 10 miles. I’m finally excited, rather than fearful, for my triathlon in just a couple of weeks. Who knows if I will ever be comfortable riding on the roads and using my bike to commute? But it doesn’t really matter. On June 21, I’ll be able to say that I’ve achieved a long-held goal of completing a triathlon. And I can already imagine how sweet that will feel.