This year has been an incredible year of change and adjusting to a new lifestyle. And I’ve had to face fears I knew I had and I’ve had to face fears I didn’t even know I had. You know that life is just like that, being afraid, facing that fear, overcoming the fear by getting something right, getting good at doing whatever it is, and then having to start all over again because something changes and forces you to get better at doing whatever it is or just because something changes and you have to adjust.
This profound revelation happened today as I lay on my side on the grass with my right leg underneath Poppie’s bike and my feet firmly cleated into the pedals. Learning to ride a bike has been humiliating and daunting and terrifying, marginally rewarding and horrible and fun and awful and quite amusing at times. Why am I learning to ride a bike now that I am someone’s grandmother?
Let me take you back to Kaapsehoop last year. Yes, that stupid race! Last year, I drove down with an exceptional person who has now become someone with whom I am happily in love. Having successfully avoided any kind of committed relationship for 15 or so years, I found myself falling in love with someone who, not only loves me in return, but allows me to love them without a desperate need to help or fix them. That’s refreshing for me. Quite unnerving, but refreshing. We have spent the past year having the most spectacular adventures together and I’ve managed to overcome most of my fears of commitment.
What has any of this got to do with my learning to ride a bike? Well, Exceptional Person loves dogs. Really loves dogs. I love dogs too, but not enough to learn to do a new form of exercise which I’m probably going to hate anyway, my being an excellent couch potato and all that. So Exceptional Person (EP) adopts a dog friend for their existing dog from Border Collie Rescue. Read all about Border Collie Rescue SA. They do amazing work with all sorts of border collie dogs or dogs that look a little like border collies and they rescue and home these lovely dogs. (Personally, I’m a boxer dog fan, but I really do like all dogs and I’m really amazed at the fantastic work that Border Collie Rescue do). So EP adopts a Border Collie-ish dog. He’s really lovely, young Romeo. That’s his real name, Romeo. What a lovely dog.
Anyway, one day, while sitting in the Wimpy where bad things happen, EP yells out to all present, “Hey, why don’t we cycle 94.7 to raise money for Border Collie Rescue?” I didn’t like the reference to “we” there. And by “we” you mean everyone who isn’t me? EP’s baby blues blinked at me. Oh for the love of Pete! What chance do I have when your puppy dog eyes are even more pathetic than Romeo’s or any other dog’s? This was my reaction to the idea.
But somehow, due to the force field that is in the Wimpy where bad things happen, I committed to ride the Telkom 94.7 Cycle Challenge in November.
I didn’t have a bike. No worries. Lisa was leaving for Germany the next week. I could use hers. I haven’t ridden a bike for 25 years. No worries. It’s just like riding a bike. I hate exercise!! I’ve always hated exercise. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I keep signing up for stupid shit that I hate doing.
That was in April. There were some big trail races which EP and I did which didn’t give us much time to train on the bike, but we knew that as soon as Num Num was over, we’d get into cycling. Cycling is such a mission of a sport! Before you’ve even bought a bike, you’ve had to shell out a reasonable amount of money on all sorts of gear. And you still haven’t even put one foot on a pedal yet. I went and bought the minimum. Poopy pants, a pair of gloves and a helmet. Already R1000 out of the bank. I got Lisa’s bike serviced and specially setup for me. R800. The bike shop told me that Lisa’s bike was too small for me, but I didn’t care. I was going to ride this one race and then never ride anything again so an ill-fitting bike would be fine. Bwahaha! They set the seat up so high that I couldn’t touch the floor with my feet when I had my bum on the seat. Apparently this is correct. Fuck cycling!
So one Saturday afternoon, EP and I ventured out to what cyclists in Joburg refer to as The Cradle. It’s a World Heritage Site known as the Cradle of Humankind and is famous for the discovery of amongst other hominids, Mrs Ples and Homo Naledi. The roads here are wide and not too congested or busy. There are places where cycling lanes have been established and there are reasonable stretches of road without traffic lights or stop signs. So it’s great cycling territory. It’s also great standing still on the side of the road territory. Which is how my first bike ride went that balmy Saturday afternoon.
After EP made fun of me for driving all the way to the Cradle with my helmet on my head (we were driving in a car), we stopped at a little coffee shop to park and disentangled our bikes from the bike rack on the back of EP’s car. EP got on the bike and rode off into the sunset. I pictured my attempt going differently to the way it went. I positioned myself on the bike after almost falling when I tried to hike my leg over the saddle onto the other side. So essentially I almost fell when you know, getting onto the bike? I steadied myself, moved the bike sideways onto a flat piece of road by lifting it up between my legs and shuffling my entire body to the right. Okay. I was all lined up. By the way, at this point, I have promised to never use cleats because that’s scary. So I have my running shoes on. Lisa’s bike had nice big pedals like my bike from school. Yes. I had once owned a bike. It was pink. It didn’t have that pesky middle bar to lift my leg over when getting onto the bike. It had 6 gears. It was state of the art. I rode it three times and then hung it in my mom’s garage, never to be ridden again. That was 1990. I think my mom sold it or it just disintegrated with age. So there I am on the side of the road in the Cradle and I’m ready. Right foot on the pedal. Left foot on my tippy toes. And that’s where I stayed for the twenty minutes that EP was riding up and down, occasionally checking on me and providing advice. I never moved forward. Not one centimetre. I talked to myself. I encouraged myself. I attempted to rationalise myself to move forward. Unfortunately, rational things were not keeping me from moving forward. Fear was. What was I afraid of? The root of the fear, as I have come to analyse to death is the fear that if (when) I fall, the gears on the bike will cut into my leg and all that grease will get into the wound and cause an infection so bad I’ll have to cut off my leg. Don’t laugh! Your fears are probably just as irrational. As irrational as that fear was (is), I couldn’t talk myself out of it.
Bored from the riding up and down, EP stopped next to me and empathised. It was getting dark and cold and neither of us wanted to be out in this deserted farm land without reflective gear. So I got off the bike, almost falling again in the process, and pushed my bike back to the car. We racked the bikes up again and EP and I drove home in relative silence.
I hate being afraid. I hate that I’m having to face a fear that I didn’t even have two months ago. I don’t even like Border Collies that much! This totally sucks. I wish I could go back, but now people have donated money here and so I’m forced to bumble forward learning to ride a bike again which, contrary to the old adage, is not just like riding a fucking bike!!
Yours feeling the fear