Similar to Jenna, the main character in my book that I am in the process of editing, I have always found biking to be extremely challenging. I guess it stems from not spending a lot of time riding as a kid. Let’s just say that I wasn’t exactly the adventurous type of child – I was happy playing with Barbies, reading comic books, and doing art projects. Still, I can vividly recall my first bike – a Schwinn Stingray complete with a banana seat and a yellow and orange frame. I remember riding up and down the sidewalk to the left of our house – with training wheels on and our dog’s leash attached to the handlebars. Early on I figured out an “easier” way to ride. I think that I might have been the last kid in our neighborhood to lose the training wheels. But after I mastered two wheels, I rarely rode.
As I grew older my friends and I really never rode our bikes. Biking was more of a vacation activity – riding an easy, flat road on a rented blue bike with a white basket that hung from the handlebars. To stop these bikes all you had to do was peddle backwards. The seats were soft, and they had kickstands. Easy, plain, and simple.
But then I married a man who loved to mountain bike. Not only was this his recreational pastime, but he had also been a bike messenger in Philadelphia at one point in his life. Ten days before our first son was born my husband had a significant accident. His helmet cracked, and I dread to think what would have happened if he hadn’t been wearing one. Still, he suffered a concussion and a broken collarbone. One more reason why biking seemed dangerous – if this happened to him, then I had absolutely no business riding a mountain bike.
However, that all shifted eight years later when my husband surprised me for Christmas with a “very nice” mountain bike. I mean this piece of art should have been displayed inside, not stored in our garage. It was beautiful, but it intimidated the hell out of me. Still, I had told him that I was interested in learning to bike, that it might be a fun thing for us to do together. So I tried.
Let’s just say it wasn’t a high point in our marriage. I think I called him words that one should never say to her husband. And then, as I disembarked at a red light, I managed to take off about six inches of the skin on my right shin as my leg scraped the metal pedal while getting off of the bike.
Yet I wrote it off to my first time out so I tried it again. But that “easy” bike ride was anything but. Once again I employed my less than classy vocabulary to ensure that my husband knew exactly how I felt about that experience. After that the bike never left the garage… until we sold it at a huge loss.
This experience pretty much confirmed that I was not made for mountain biking. That was “his” thing, not mine. But life has a way of twisting and turning. Two and a half years ago we found ourselves spending significant time in Bend, Oregon - a mountain biking mecca. When a friend offered to take me riding on the trails during our first summer in Bend, I readily agreed. I was sort of athletic, and if I were going to be in Bend, then I needed to mountain bike, right?
Maybe not - somehow I managed to take another six inches of skin off my right shin – at the same spot as before. Yep, that damn metal spiked pedal was once again the culprit. Plus I fell into a very prickly bush, which didn’t help matters. I felt that this was an omen telling me to stay off of mountain bikes. So I listened and kept to either walking or running on the trails. Sure, I’d take my hybrid bike out on the road, but it couldn’t handle dirt, the wheels were too thin. I resigned myself to the fact that I would never ride these trails.
But then a strange thing happened this past winter. I started to spin a lot. It was an amazing workout, and here was the best part – I couldn’t fall off. I had finally found my kind of bike!
However, this summer when we arrived in Bend I realized how much I missed spinning. Then I noticed how happy my husband would be when he’d return from the trails every day. But, it wasn’t only him. So many people seemed to love this sport – little kids, young adults, and older people. It made me wonder – if I like the spin bike so much and I love being outside in Bend, what would happen if I gave mountain biking just one more try?
So I took a risk and made the commitment to buy a bike.
The second day out on the “baby” trails, I had a huge realization – my issue is not with the bike, it’s the emotions and feelings I experience while biking that has been the problem. Like a former blog I wrote, “It’s Not About the Horse,” I’m now witnessing a similar phenomenon on my mountain bike. When I’m riding on the trails all sorts of things come up that make me uncomfortable:
- Will I fall? And if so, will I hurt myself?
- Will I look ridiculous?
- How can little kids and women older than me do this so skillfully when I am terrified?
- What do I do if there are too many rocks – how can I navigate through them?
- What if the ground is too sandy and gives out?
- What if I come across some kind of scary creature – or worse yet – a dangerous animal? How can I maneuver out of that situation?
- What if I make a wrong turn?
- What if I get left behind?
- Will I hit the tree trunk going between these two trees?
- Will I break too hard and topple over my handlebars?
And the list goes on.
Being on a bike brought out all of the fears that I’ve learned to carefully tuck away deep inside of me. But when I’m riding, I can’t hide those feelings. They surface immediately and force me to second guess myself, question my decisions, and doubt my abilities. It’s like trying on a bathing suit in a brightly lit dressing room – there is no hiding anything. All that you wish wasn’t there is in plain view. That is what riding a bike does to me.
But I want to become proficient on this mountain bike. I want to be able to maneuver the easy trails so I can ride with my husband and friends. I want to experience this aspect of Bend – the one that people come here to feel.
So I have a decision to make. I either strap on my helmet and climb onto this bike, or I play it safe and avoid those uncomfortable feelings. It’s a similar emotional reaction to self-publishing my book, Learning to Bend. Keeping it as a word document on my laptop is safe. No one can judge my writing, criticize the characters, or laugh at the plot. But if I want to grow, expand, and see what I can truly become, I must put the manuscript out there, just as I now know that if I want to understand some of the finer aspects of this beautiful town, then I have to get on the bike.
And who knows what will happen as I leave my comfort zone and try. Sure I may fall down or my book may not sell. But that’s not what is important, not what it’s all about. For if I never try, if I fail to venture into uncharted waters, then how will I ever know what I am capable of?