I found myself flying between gorgeous rows of prairie grain edged by sweet smelling thistles. Flying! The wind blowing cool, tempering my sunned skin. I am sure I was going a hundred kilometres an hour! Buzzing along just above the surface of the earth—on my rocket ship!
Okay—sometimes I exaggerate for the sake of story telling. It wasn’t a rocket ship. Or an airplane. It was a bicycle. But, let me tell you, if it felt like anything it felt like the best feeling in the whole world, zipping along at a clip faster than I could run, completely open to the air. And, it was AMAZING.
I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.
Just like riding a bike?
What the hell does that mean? For years I had no idea—why? Because until very recently I didn’t know how to ride a bike. I never learned. My sister learned. My brother learned. But, somehow that experience passed me by on my childhood journey. I have vague memories of sitting on the handle bars of my dad’s bike as a child. But I never rode a bike.
I can sew, paint, have climbed mountains, used power tools, grown a garden, ran a half marathon (that was enough). I skate, helped deliver babies. I swim, cross country ski, camp, back woods camp, speak another language—blah, blah, blah. But, somehow riding a bike never made the list.
And after so many years I figured the ship—had sailed. I resigned myself to never learning until I kicked it into high gear with a bunch of goals I completed. But cycling never really made it. I was scared. I avoided it.
But, you know, credibility is a thing. I said it out loud. I said “I want to learn to ride a bike!” And my people stepped up offering to help. However there were stipulations. I didn’t want an audience. My dear friend Crystal, who has like 300 bikes hanging from the rafters of her garage, insisted no one was looking and I could just learn in her alley. And I insisted that I wanted to go out of town. I didn’t want an audience.
“I have one vanity!!” I shouted. “Let me keep it!” That’s a bit of a lie. I have more than one—definitely. But I’m quite seasoned in the art of shamelessness as I am after all, a high school teacher, and my modesty has been kept in check with intense teen audiences.
A day of courage
After brunch two Sundays ago my sweet man said “well, time to go ride a bike.”
“We’ve been talking about it for a long while. It’s time.” Fuck.
“I don’t have pants on! My skirt is too short!”
“You can borrow my sweats.” Fuck. “Come on, let’s go.” He encouraged kindly.
And before I knew it we were in his garage. I was wearing his sweat pants and sitting on several bikes to see which felt the most comfortable. They all felt awkward.
I picked the one that was closest to the earth. I very quickly became a Nasa scientist calculating distances, trajectories, gravity verses speed and concluded the smallest bike was the best for my 5’3″ frame. I hoped this rocket ship would launch but if it didn’t the damage would be minimal.
He put my rocket ship bike in the van along with his bicycle.
We headed out of town. I was silent. It was a gorgeous summer afternoon on the prairie. The sun was beaming down bright and hard and there were few clouds. The fields rolled on as we left the city behind us. It was a beauty of a day to break my face or some other part of me and I wouldn’t have an audience. Perfect.
He kindly explained that pavement would be hard for a first time rider if I fell. Gravel is loose, slippery and difficult to control, but a dirt road would be perfect. Solid to ride on. Soft to fall on (oh God). I sort of listened while I thought about my underpants and which ones I was going to fill with shit as I crashed.
It was go time
Eventually Kevin found a perfect spot. I was still quiet.
He took out both bikes. “Get on.” He kindly motioned to the bike. Fuck. I obeyed. “The only thing you need to do is keep pedaling. Don’t stop. Just keep going.”
I was so nervous. I’m 51 years old! What the actual hell! What was I doing!? What was I trying to prove filling in gaps from my childhood? What was the point?
He saw the stress on my face. “It’s okay…” He encouraged. I got on the bike. I got my feet on the pedals and I started pedaling. I pedaled so hard! There was a second where out of my peripheral I saw him let go. Right then I felt a surge of fear. I wobbled. But, I’m a good student so I kept pedaling.
And guess what? I didn’t fall down. I was definitely all over the road but I was upright and maintained some balance and all of a sudden my creased brow shifted into this ridiculously huge shit eating grin! My rocketship!!! was flying along the prairie! Zoooommmmm!! And it wasn’t Apollo 13!
Joy, straight up!
My smile was so big! I almost started crying. I was overwhelmed with the idea that I had filled in a gap from my childhood—finally—so wonderfully. I hollered a whoooo-hooooo. The smile did not come off my face. I watched the road and smelled the honey scent of the purple thistles and kept pedaling!
Ground Control to Major Tom
I managed about eight kilometres that day—mostly smiling the whole time. Back and forth on that farm road, over rocks, past trees, in ruts. I did good until I eventually fell into the thistles. It was hilarious. I’m sure it was in slow motion. I stood up laughing. “I’m okay!” I had to fall to add that to my bike riding knowledge.
I proudly wear my first bicycle bruise. And I have happily threaded together a few missing stitches from my childhood which makes this accomplishment even more special. I thought it was a lost hope. It wasn’t.
Friends, it may be a cliche, but it’s never too late to do something that brings us joy, to conquer a fear, to re-frame an experience.