Sunday, 29 January 2012

Cycling Back To Reclaim Old Victory!

I'm about to harvest my hard-earned tax money for the year, which couldn't have come at a more opportune moment. Today's the day I bought my very first bike, ever. That's right, EVER. And now begins our story...

It sounds like this "poor me" sort of story, entitled, "My Parents Never Bought Me A Bike" (booh-hoo), but, really, I didn't exactly feel like I was missing out on anything at the time. This was 1985 and my parents, both very entrepreneurial hairdressers, were busy, developing their fantastic new invention, the world's first computer imaging software for the hair styling industry.

The software itself worked like this: A hairstyling client's face was lined up in its proper place using appropriate cross-hair markers and a video camera, and captured onto a computer screen. Then, the stylist could choose from a list of hairstyles which he or she wanted to try on the client. the style would appear over the client's own image and the stylist could adjust the size, color and length using a pen mouse. It was all pretty advanced for the 80s. I liked that they let me play with it when I was left at the salon all day. I always made my hair pink with big mall bangs. I liked Jem, a lot.

I was always very good at entertaining myself. Back in those days, when daycare options were sparse for folks like us, and when my parents were traveling with the imaging system, I depended a lot of my own imagination and books to carry me through the recreational hours. We lived in St. Louis suburbia, in a subdivision with no children my age (mostly babies or very small children), and nowhere for kids to go anyway (the nearest stores were a 20-min walk away). So, relegated to the back yard and to the few sleepovers or playdates that I did have, the option of "going bike riding" never came up.

As for my parents, I don't know if they were so busy at the time, that teaching me to ride wasn't an upfront and center consideration, or whether because I never asked for one, they never even bothered. I asked my mother one day why I never got a bike and my sister did, and she said, "I don't know. I guess maybe you never expressed interest."

That answer alone didn't hold up as a solid reason for me. Sure, there are some skills, like learning ballet or skiing, that should not be forced on a child, but bike riding is almost like learning to type nowadays. You can get along fine without it, but it's pretty difficult when everyone else around you knows how. If you can coax a child into learning to type, you can coax a child into learning how to ride a bike. My guess is, the parents were busy and didn't have time to waste coaxing. So, they never bought me a bike, and they never taught me to ride.

Years went by. My sister got a bike when she was 7 or so, maybe 8 even. It was her birthday and she'd asked for it. That was fine with me, as long as it didn't cross over to my territory. I guarded my turf like an alpha canine: I get horseback riding, art, books, dogs and the color blue, and you can have stuff I don't care about, like ballet, gymnastics, ice skating and pink. The laws were never verbally outlined, but strictly enforced when broken. So, the bike fell into her territory by default. I had no need for a bike, so I thought.

My French uncle and aunt and cousin came to visit that summer. They were the ones who taught my sister to ride her bike. I stayed inside with a book while they begged and pleaded with me to "move a little, it's good for you." Horn-headed as I am, I allowed their pleas to drive me further into my shell, and I covered myself in my fantasy world, where it was more fun and bike riding people didn't exist.

After they'd left and the summer days dragged on (I don't remember the last time a summer day dragged on for me as an adult), I found myself observing my sister and her little friend, weebling around the subdivision on their bikes through my bedroom window. Something sour started to develop, which spread into a delicate flavor combination of longing, jealousy and fear.

Her bike was too small for me when I pulled it out. It was a kid's mountain bike, forest green, with nice, fat tires. If I could just find out if I could balance on it, I thought. I sat on it at the top of our driveway, which slanted down ever-so-slightly. Down and down and down I repeated coasting until I thought, I'm going to coast around the block. Shaky, I went, coasting down the big hills. I was too afraid to put my feet on the pedals. When I did, the bike would wobble to the side and I'd panic. I could feel I was getting the hang of the balance, I was almost there, until...the neighbor saw me.

Poor woman. I don't mean to blame her for my inability to ride a bike. All she said as she drove by was, "You're almost there!"

And I was mortified. Here I was, 12 years old, and I didn't know how to ride a bike and my little sister did. The shame of hiding such a secret from peers was bad enough, but now, even my neighbors knew. I put up the bike and never tried again.

On through teens and 20s the years marched on. I accomplished a lot to be proud of in that time. I lived abroad, I studied in London to receive my MA in International Journalism, I traveled, I tried new things, I picked up many skills, but, still, I'd see them, what seemed to be everyone else gliding along on two wheels, and I'd feel that sourness again and again. The freedom of movement, the elegant limbs, the ease of the pedal strokes, all struck me with indescribable awe. Someday I'll find a way to learn, I'd tell myself.

At any time, I suppose, I could have bought myself a bike and I could have gone to a parking lot and piddled about until I learned, but, mostly, it was about the shame. It'd been my deepest, darkest secret for so long, the shame had grown into my skin. Only my closest friends knew. I'd observed typical 90s sitcom episodes, like "Friends" where Phoebe learns to ride a bike, or "Frasier", where Niles is the cycling newbie, and, in both instances, the adult non-cyclists were treated like ridiculous fodder for an episode of jokes. But it was almost like, "Yeah, but we know in REAL life no adults exist who don't know how to ride a bike. That's just absurd!" The horrific embarrassment ignited by pop culture grew a forest fire that kept my little secret inside for many more years.

By the time I hit 30, I'd sweated out most of the fear of trying new things, challenging myself in new ways, both in my professional life and personal life. Now that I was living on my own in Southern California, where there was lots to do and the weather was mostly almost always awesome, I set myself a goal of having more adventures and learning new skills. It was time to explore, get bold and find out what I was made of.

Ironically as part of that whole adventure, I found myself meeting a great guy who happened to be an active cyclist. He competed in a race not long after we first started dating. It took me a while to muster up the courage to tell him my secret. How on Earth could I tell a person SO passionate about biking that I'd never learned how to ride?

One day, when I somehow eeked out the bold streak to tell him. He was surprised, but very supportive. "I'll take you to a parking lot, we'll take it slow," he'd assured me.

As much as I appreciated his chivalrous and kind response to my dilemma, the thought of falling headfirst into a concrete parking island in front of him was anything but sexy. Sure, maybe it was my shame taking hold at this point, but I wanted to see what other options were available.

Much to my surprise, "How to Ride a Bike" courses were popping up all over the country. REI offered a "How to Ride a Bike" course right in my area! I looked for the next one and I was shocked to see that it had filled up.

"They say it's their most popular class," my boyfriend had mentioned after a trip to REI one day.

I admit, I didn't sign up right away to the next available one. The holidays got in the way and there were lots of things to distract me, not to mention financial issues, that kept me a little bit distanced from my goal. Luckily, my boyfriend, who never forgets anything I tell him (amazing, especially for the male species), sent me an email while I was spending Christmas with my folks, detailing the next "How to Ride a Bike" course on January 22, 2012. Within a few clicks, I was committed to finally attempt to conquer a lifelong source of embarrassment and limitations.

The date came galloping up, and, I'll admit, that morning my stomach felt a little jittery. Some of it was excitement, some of it was definitely laced with fear. Either way, no matter how difficult a feat this was going to be, I wss going to master it.

The instructor was from Ecuador, one of those very handsome, rugged types with a thick accent. He stood on the other side of a line of bikes, while his co-instructor, a thinner all-American white guy, adjusted and checked each one. One-by-one the students arrived and looked around at each other. All ages, sizes and colors we were, but each of us ported that same timid look, like, "Are we really going to do this?"

As our instructor had us go around and talk about our reasons for taking the class, I realized that I wasn't the only one who had carried this secret around forever. Each person in the class had been burdened by the same shame as I had been, some for even longer than I had. We all seemed excited when the instructor said, "95 percent of the students who take this class learn how to ride a bike by the end of the class." Our shame would end that day.

First exercise: Coasting. We were instructed to get a good start by forcefully pushing with our legs to gain some momentum, then we focused on our balance while we would glide along with our feet lifted off of the ground. The first coast felt wobbly and scary, but as I continued down the hill over and over, I felt something begin to click as my glides got more graceful, less wobbly and less scary.

"Come over here, I'm going to put your pedals on," our instructor said, motioning to me after about 20-30 minutes of gliding practice.

He showed me how to push off and start pedaling, the part where, long ago, I'd never gotten past. I was nervous. The first start, I didn't get enough momentum and ended up wobbling over to one side before I put my feet flat on the ground. the second time, I lifted my feet up and found the pedals. Before I knew it, I was balanced and pedaling. Balanced and pedaling! I was riding a bike!

As the first hour wore on, I was gliding around the parking lot, practicing smooth turns and picking up speed fearlessly. I couldn't believe it! It was me, ME, the person who had for so long carried this weight in my heart. As I floated effortlessly around the parking lot, I felt a new surge of freedom, like a gust of wind under the wings of a falcon.

Horn-headed as I am, I had to find a bike right away because I was hooked. Needless to say, it was hard to keep myself from being distracted at work, while so much excitement was bubbling inside of me. I clawed my way through my responsibilities, just so I could see the weekend again.

Early this morning, my boyfriend and I headed to the bike shop. The sales guy who helped us had an accent too and a pleasant countenance. He guided me through the zillions of bike choices (I'll admit, I know nothing and he could have sold me a pogo stick and I wouldn't have known the diff), and I agreed that I would try out three of them.

I was still nervous about trying them. I wobbled around on the first bike and had major trouble steering at first. Not that I'd expected perfection, but I hadn't expected to have been such an unattractive, ungraceful spectacle in front of two guys (as well as other passers by). The second bike I tried felt much easier and I careened smoothly around the try-out area. Okay, so I got my mojo back a little bit, and I didn't end up in the bushes or face-planted in the concrete. I saved face in many ways, I guess you could say.

Ultimately I chose bike #2, a Trek 7100 women's hybrid bike in a sparkly light blue color. I got a helmet to match. It's SOOOOOOO cool! My first bike. It's here on my turf and I'm ready for the next step.

P.S. Pic of me + bike (named, "Victoria") coming soon!

No comments: