Lessons Learned From the Bike: Time, Practice and Potholes

I was finishing a ride on the Highline Canal Trail. I was riding on the sidewalk on the highway overpass, because there is no room to ride safely in the street. I saw a pedestrian coming toward me, and, rather than stopping, I hugged the right side of the sidewalk, allowing the pedestrian to keep to her right.

What I didn’t see was the manhole cover with a huge pothole. I hit it going full speed (granted, my full speed is only about 13 mph). It jolted every bolt and joint on both my body and my bike. It unseated me and my feet flew off the pedals (I don’t clip in). Within seconds, my feet found their placing, I regained my seat, and Blue2 and I rode merrily on.

I haven’t been riding long, but I realized that a couple of years ago, this would have been a very painful accident. I would not just have been unseated, I would have crashed miserably, either going over the handlebars or not being able to regain balance.

Life is like that. I have learned that sometimes you can’t assume that what looks like a leaf is actually a leaf. Sometimes it’s a rock. Sometimes the puddle is deeper than you think. And you never see beforehand the nail that lodges in your tire.

But with enough time, with enough practice, huge potholes don’t have to end in a crash. Nothing but time and practice will give you the skill and balance you need to keep seated and keep moving on.

Put in the time. Don’t let the potholes make you crash. No matter what it is in your life. Writing. Music. Family. Friends. God. Put in the time. Keep moving on.

Advertisements

Spontaneity

bike drawingI have been riding a bike now for two and a half years. When I first bought my bike, which I dubbed Baby Blue, I wasn’t sure how much I would like it. What if it was too hard? What if I hated it? What if I had just wasted $189?

It didn’t take long to discover the joy of movement. It took a little longer to learn how not to fight the bike but work with it, to work the gears, to realize that there was no embarrassment and certainly no shame in shifting to lower gears when going uphill. Of course not! It became an exercise of listening to my body and what it was telling me, and I didn’t need to listen to anyone else. It was me and Baby Blue against the hills, against the wind, against the world.

The first ride I took was only about three miles. I don’t remember how long it took. Then for that first summer, when I would ride in the mornings before work, I would go less than five miles and only about seven or eight miles per hour. It didn’t matter. I was outside, I was riding.

Now, two and half years later, when I ride in the mornings before work, I go nine or ten miles before I have to go back and get ready for work. (I’m sure my co-workers can tell when I haven’t ridden my bike in the morning—surly is the word, and I’m not talking about the brand of cycles.) But on the weekends, when I can ride as much as I feel like, I will regularly go between 15 and 20 miles both days, generally averaging at least 12 miles an hour. It feels glorious.

I had never planned on getting faster. Or necessarily going farther. I hadn’t planned my muscles becoming stronger. I hadn’t planned on losing weight. But all of that happened. It is perhaps true that if I had planned (“plan your work and then work your plan!” “those who fail to plan plan to fail!”) I might be riding even faster, even farther now. All of that may be true.

But there is a certain joy in spontaneity, a certain glee in doing something just for the sheer pleasure of doing it. No hidden or not-so-hidden agenda. No motivation needed other than the activity itself. Some people, some planners, never learn that. And while in my job I must schedule, and in my creative endeavors I must outline, and in my marketing efforts I must plan, I reserve the right in my cycling to do none of those things, to simply go where my heart, my legs and Baby Blue will take me on any given day.

Perhaps in life—anyone’s life—there should be one thing, one place, that is structure-free. It doesn’t have to be all of life. It doesn’t even have to be something large. Just something that you, as controller of your own life, can say, “What the heck — I’m going to do what I want to do.”

Here’s to spontaneity.

Pro-Choice

you can't be sad while riding a bicycleWhen I ride my bike during the week, I am constrained by the fact that I have to go to work. So I get up, hit the road by about 6:15 and ride until 7:15 or 7:20. I come home, make a breakfast of fake bacon and Egg Beaters, sometimes Greek yogurt with fruit, take a shower and go to work. It sets my metabolism and my mood for the day. But as I said, it’s constrained. I can’t go for as long as I might want.

On the weekends, though, I can ride as long as I want. I can take new routes and let myself get lost in the joy of speed and muscles and sunshine. I can listen to an entire playlist rather than just part. (I can also burn crazy calories and justify eating a Nacho Cheeseburger at Village Inn, but that’s another story.)

One thing I enjoy on the weekends that I don’t often have at 6:30 in the morning is seeing people in their yards or walking their dogs. I see them all the time, they see me. We wave and smile, and in some strange way I consider them my friends. I miss them if I don’t see them. It made my day when on my first ride of the spring I saw one of my friends walking his dog. He said, “Hey! Hi!” as I rode past, pleasure and recognition in his voice. I felt the same way.

But the other day I had an encounter that left me a bit baffled. One of the families I regularly wave to was having a garage sale on Saturday. It was crowded and fun and I got to wave to a lot of people as they cheered me on. On Sunday when I rode by, I stopped for a few moments and talked to the woman. I asked how the sale went. She said it went well, and they were in the process of cleaning things out because they were going to be moving. The weekends were the only time she had to do this because she worked during the week. Then she said, “I love watching you ride your bike. I wish I had the time to do that.”

It left me feeling … I’m not sure. At first I felt bad, like I was being lazy by riding my bike. Even though I work during the week, I wasn’t working on cleaning my apartment or anything like that. I was riding a bike.

Then it made me a little angry. Not because I felt that she was judging my choices (no doubt she wasn’t). It was because she was feeling sorry for herself for choices she was making. I have made different choices. Bike riding is a priority — it is freedom, it is exercise, it is my anti-depressant. It is life. It is my choice.

Choices are important. Very often, we get depressed or angry or frustrated when we feel we have no choices, no options. We feel out of control or that we have no control. We are put upon. But I am here to tell you, and to tell the garage sale woman, we are not slaves. We have choices in life. Celebrate that ability. Make choices. Make good choices. Make bad choices. Choose to learn from those bad choices and then make more choices. Become pro-choice.

In that way, say yes to life. Your life.

Lessons From the Bike

ImageI’m not crazy about hills. My legs get weary, my lungs burn, and I feel that the air I’m taking in isn’t enough. My pace gets slower, and if the hill is big enough, I almost think I could outpace myself by walking. I refuse, however, to let the hills beat me.

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to live somewhere where the roads and trails are always flat. I think it would probably be wonderful. At least for a little while. But eventually, I would get tired of always knowing what lays ahead. There is something charming and eventful in the surprises of what lays over the crest of a hill or just around the bend.

There is also the reward of coming downhill after the trek up. Did I say “coming downhill”? I meant screaming downhill. It’s exhilarating to race down a hill, your heart thumping wildly as you command yourself “Do not brake!” Wind tangles my hair and cools my sweat-drenched face, and I reach the bottom with a strong urge to shout “YEAH! Let’s do it again!”

The exhilaration comes from the previous effort.

Some will be happy with straight trails and serene, uneventful vistas. I wish them good travels. But for me–whether in my talents, my career, my faith, my ambitions, my dreams, my passions, and yes my bike rides–I want to scream downhill.

And so I climb.

Lessons From the Bike

ImageIt’s been a long winter. I didn’t get a chance to ride as much as I wanted to. (Unlike some of my friends, I’m a wimp when it comes to snow and ice.) But on my ride today, I started noticing flowers. Tulips surrounded the base of several mailboxes and dandelions dotted the park. The smell of blossoms on the trees intoxicated my senses and made me absolutely giddy to be on my bike. No matter how long the winter, it always gives way to spring.

And while it is true that winter gives way to spring, it is also true that spring, summer and fall will eventually give way to another winter. But I can’t think about that now, not in the midst of spring, not with flowers dotting the grass and trees casting their blossoms in front of me. If I think about that now, it robs today of its joy. During spring, it is time to live in the present and focus on the glorious feel of my legs as they push the peddles, the wind in my hair as I scream down a hill, the tiredness that feels so good when I get off the bike. Live in the present. I can live in the future when it is winter when it might be best to not focus on the present and instead know that no matter how cold it is, spring will eventually come.

It’s a matter of balance, this living in the present and looking toward the future.

In the past month, I’ve had some things happen that have left a winter coldness in my heart. I’ve been depressed, angry at God, lashing out at friends to try to assuage the pain, punching out at life as though I could knock it out. I’ve raged at friends but maintained a chilly silence with God. And yet, winter gives way to spring.

Albert Camus in The Stranger said, “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.”

Here I am in this present moment. I am pushing back.

Good thing I rode my bike hard today. Snow is coming tomorrow.

Lessons Learned from the Bike, Part Two

falling-off-bike-calvin-harris-pushupsI read a motivational quote about cycling not long ago that said “Even the professionals fall.” I want to say here and now, I have never fallen off my bike. I felt the rear end shimmy a little one time when I went over a patch of ice. And there have been a couple of times when I’m getting on that I’ll almost lose my balance (I never said I was well-balanced or graceful). But I’ve never actually fallen.

In other words, the professionals fall a lot more than I do. The reason, of course, is because they take risks that I don’t. They go fast, they lean into the curves and barely slow down around corners. They weave in and around other objects, whether those objects are squirrels, pedestrians or other cyclists. Me? I slow down. I’ll even follow a pedestrian for just a few seconds until I’m sure they’ve heard I’m coming up on them. It’s why if I’m trying to build up some speed (and for me that’s still pretty slow), I’ll hit the roads. That way I can avoid the dog-walkers, wagon-pulling fathers and unfriendly joggers.

But back to falling down. Other risks that other cyclists may take is riding on snow or ice. I won’t do it. They do. So while they may slide and fight for tire purchase on sanded or salted paths, I haven’t done that. Yet. (A blog I follow is All Seasons Cyclist. My goal is to eventually ride in the weather he does.)

People don’t take risks because they are afraid of failing, of falling in the big areas of life. And yet to not try at all is to fail, perhaps to fail in the biggest way possible. The lesson I am learning from not falling is one that we have heard often, and yet it bears repeating to ourselves every day. If you don’t take risks, if you don’t occasionally fall, you will never find greatness.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa was intended to stand straight, but if the architect would have succeeded, would the building be as famous as it is today? When a reporter interviewed Thomas Edison, he asked Edison if he felt like a failure and if he thought he should just give up by now. “Young man, why would I feel like a failure? And why would I ever give up?” Edison replied. “I now know definitively over 9,000 ways that an electric light bulb will not work. Success is almost in my grasp.” Shortly after that, and over 10,000 attempts, Edison invented the light bulb.

Learning is a painful process. As Bruce Cockburn said in “Shipwrecked at the Stable Door,” “Ask anyone who can remember, it’s horrible to be born.” To fail is to take another step on the path to success. It eliminates one way that something doesn’t work. To fall on the bike is simply to learn how to balance better, how to read the road, how to get better at everything we do.

This doesn’t mean we take foolish risks. As Aristotle taught, virtue is found in the middle of two extremes. We find balance between rashness and cowardice. For me, this means while riding that maybe I strive to go a little faster — and still wear my helmet. In life, this means that I continue to strive in my writing. I write out of the box, I take risks — even if my writing won’t always be appreciated, understood or even liked.

We take risks We fail. We fall. We get back up. We learn.

And we ride.

I Am a Cyclist

bike signAt times when I get on my bike, I feel like a little kid playing pretend. I feel small, holding on to handlebars that are high above me. I watch the peloton racing by, their moisture-wicking jerseys and padded pants signifying passion, and I look at my t-shirt and leggings and bright pink girly helmet and feel like a piker–small-time and amateurish. A piker biker. I feel like a little kid, as though I should have multi-colored streamers flowing from my handlebars.

At the same time, something–rebelliousness mixed with joy–rises in me. Who the heck cares? Do the other bikers care? Of course not. Does my bright pink girly helmet protect my head? Yes. And my t-shirt and leggings are what I have right now. Eventually, I will get padded bike shorts, maybe a better saddle, a jersey that I’ve earned from a ride.

But for now, I’m okay with what I have. I can be that little kid. I didn’t ride a bike when I was young. No particular reason, I just walked everywhere. Now, however, when I’m on the bike, I feel free. Cliched, maybe, but true nonetheless. I am free. I am uncluttered. I am unfettered. I am grinning like a little kid as I go down hills, enjoying the feeling of my hair flying out behind me. I am a cyclist and I will not be stopped.

I am a cyclist.