On a bright Saturday over Columbus Day weekend, my college friend Clare and I planted ourselves in my driveway, spread out the directions, and attempted to mount my new bicycle rack to my car. That’s something I never expected to say, even more than a bicycle itself, a bike rack is something I never would have expected to own. I never would have thought I’d be that interested in any sport, but I am. And, now I don’t just own a bike rack, I have the bike to go with it.
Once I decided to give cycling a try things progressed pretty quickly. I went from interviewing bike shops about the type of bike I should get, to buying one! It all started when I ran into my best friend from childhood, Madelaine, and inquired about the Stowe bike path where she frequently rides. I mentioned that I might be interested in biking there one day and a few weeks later, she called my bluff. I hummed and I hawed and I found an excuse to cancel, but only by a week. She wanted to go out the next Wednesday. My sister-in-law, Gretchin, and I actually had possible plans to try out some bikes in Stowe, but up until that moment I wasn’t sure I was going to go through with it. In fact, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t. I hadn’t been on a bike in 30 years and I had no idea if I could even straddle one. I decided I needed to try that before anything else, so in the dark of night I found the key to my father’s shed, went inside and removed my brother’s trick bike from the wall. Perhaps not the best thing to start with, but it was the only bike on hand. Problem is there was no way I could ride it. Like one of Goldilocks’ bears, I found this bike too short. My knees practically touched my chin.
Another idea dawned on me. Why not go to Wal-Mart and try one of their bikes. If I could at least get on one and stay upright maybe I’d have a chance of actually riding one. I went to Wal-Mart, hopeful, but soon found most of the bikes too heavy and big to lift. Plus, they were located right in front of the customer service desk so there was no way I would be able to try one unnoticed. I tried not to worry about that, lifting the only bike I could reach down and soon realizing, like another of the three bears, that this bike was too tall. This should have been funny, but it wasn’t. I wanted to cry. I did cry. Partly because I was frustrated, mostly because I knew there was no way I was getting on a bike in front of people with the possibility of not even being able to pedal. The potential for embarrassment was too great! And, that embarrassed me even more. How much of my life had I spent being scared of doing things because I was afraid I couldn’t? To be honest, that was my reason for wanting to take up biking in the first place.
When I had visited my friend Clare earlier this year in D.C. she had gotten us coupons to bike around the city. Not only did I have to turn her down, but also I was shocked she’d even think I’d entertain the idea. Me, on a bike? But deep down I was sorry that I didn’t have a choice. We weren’t biking not because I didn’t want to, but because I didn’t think I could. I didn’t like that feeling, so I decided to do something about it; hence, my research into bicycles and bike paths.
That probably would have been the end of it, if it weren’t for Madelaine and Gretchin, neither of whom seemed to want to give up on my dreams. Gretchin kindly supported me, saying we’d go to the bike shop and rent the bike and if there was any problem we didn’t have to go. “But what if the bike shop guys are watching us as we try to ride off?” I asked. I don’t think she knew how much I dreaded the answer. “I’ll take care of them,” she said.
I tried to warn her, but she seemed to ignore my protests. I turned to my brother. “Gretchin, doesn’t know how I am. I don’t want her to get upset if I get upset,” I said.
“Ah, huh,” he murmured. He seemed to be humoring me.
“Seriously,” I said. “Remember that time they asked me to be a bunny for drama club? I froze and ran out. I couldn’t do it. You have to tell Gretchin I might freeze, or cry or run out!” I protested.
Mark started laughing. “What’s so funny,” I cried.
“I’m just trying to be inside your head. What could you possibly have been thinking would have been so bad about being a bunny that you had to run out?” he chuckled more.
Convinced the situation was hopeless, I continued to try to weasel my way out of going with Gretchin, but part of me wanted to so badly. So we did. On the way, we spied a rusty bike being given away for free. I wanted to stop and try it out, but a guy pulled up in back of me and placed it in his trunk.
At the bike shop, Gretchin waited until the clerks were busy and then nabbed one of the waiting rentals for me to try. She surveyed them all first, choosing a short one, but not too short, for my virgin ride. She even suggested which foot to lead with and moments later I was triumphantly circling the yard. A little wobbly, but I was on the move. We rode a simple mile, but the next week along with Madelaine we tried more and a week after that I returned to purchase an end-of-the-season rental. Madelaine even chipped in to help me get the bike rack. Last week, we toted the bikes up to Lake Champlain and completed 10 miles around the lake. Tonight, I found myself disappointed when both Madelaine and Gretchin had to cancel tomorrow’s ride. You know the expression one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind? This was more than one simple bike ride for me, it was a giant leap in confidence, in daring, in the willingness to beat back fear and potential failure. The fact that I discovered that I love it has just been icing on the cake!