There’s a quote attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt which has always spoken to me: “Do one thing every day that you’re afraid of.” Now, I certainly don’t hold true to this sentiment EVERY day, but I try to hold it in the back of my mind as a reminder to not let fear hold me back; to break out of my comfort zone.
I bought myself a bicycle for a belated birthday present last fall. I had just moved to Austin and I thought if I could learn to ride, I might be able to get around town more easily – especially in light of my desire to use public transportation more frequently if possible.
As of that point, I hadn’t been on a bicycle in over ten years. I took my new bicycle out exactly once before the weather turned cold, but only managed to coast up and down the driveway. I realized our street wasn’t wide enough, and that it would be too hard to learn to pedal and steer all at once.
I started researching parks nearby my house where I could practice without immediate fear of crashing into anything, and put the bicycle to the side for what I thought was just the time-being.
Well, between my stressful call center job and daylight savings time, it wasn’t long before it was cold and pitch-black by the time I got off work, so the bicycle has been sitting in my living room for months untouched.
I got a new job in February, and the weather has been increasingly warmer. It is also now light until almost nine o’clock at night. Still my bicycle sat in the living room. Still I had learning to ride on my perpetual “to-do” list.
I was still finding excuses – I will wait until my day off, I’m too tired, this errand or that errand is more important, etc. Over the last month or so, I realized I was making up those excuses because I was still afraid.
Like I said, I haven’t been on a bicycle in ten years. The last time I rode I was a sophomore in high school and I broke my ankle because I put my foot down during a turn and the bicycle fell on top of me, twisting my foot underneath it. It was only a hairline fracture, but after spending months in a cast and then on crutches, I never got on a bicycle again. By then I was old enough to learn to drive and I thought, I don’t need to know how to ride a bike anyway.
Over time, my fear only grew. I had bought myself a used bicycle out of the desire to learn, but I couldn’t seem to get past the mental block. Honestly, I was never any good at riding a bicycle in the first place. What made me think I could start now? What would people think, seeing a twenty-six year old woman trying to learn to ride a bike? More importantly, what if it turned out I couldn’t? What if it was too late?
Riding a bicycle is cited culturally as the easiest thing to do. Whenever someone is afraid of completing a task they haven’t done for a while, people say, “Oh, it’s like learning a bicycle… you never forget!” But what if you never learned?
Looking back, maybe the reason I never learned to ride a bicycle as a child is because it wasn’t something I wanted at the time. It was just a rite of passage. My older sister’s bike was passed down to me when I was 7 or 8 but my feet barely touched the pedals when I sat on it and I was terrified. I tried to learn again in high school, but I already told you how that ended.
But now I like the idea of being able to get around town in a convenient and environment-friendly way. My lover bikes around town all the time, and even if I can’t sell my car just yet, being able to ride a bike might allow me to use it less frequently. Now I’ve CHOSEN to learn to ride, rather than it just being something it feel like I ought to know how to do. But still, that nagging voice in the back of my mind told me it was too late to try, or furnished worst-case scenarios ending with more broken limbs.
Yet, in spite of all this, staring at the bicycle in my living room, there was still a part of me that wanted to try to learn to ride, if only to prove to myself and the voice in my head that it was possible. Also, admittedly, I have become increasingly jealous of the bicyclists riding around down as the weather improves. I see them, doing the thing I want and fear so deeply, and I feel ashamed of myself for not trying. I knew I just had to pluck up the courage and find a way to short-circuit the excuses in my brain.
Now, any of the parks I had previously found were still at least a mile from my house, and walking the bike all the way there and back seemed like a pain, as did paying for the bus to take me such a short distance. Recently, however, I realized the large parking lot about a block from my house is usually at last half empty, unless some sports practice is happening. If I practiced riding there, inconvenience would no longer be a possible excuse.
Knowing I had Wednesday through Friday off this week, I made a promise to myself that one of those afternoons I would take my bicycle outside to ride.
Yesterday I didn’t get home until late, and tomorrow I have errands to run, so after a late lunch this afternoon I decided that May Day was the day to do it. I had a solid two hours before I had to go anywhere, and I told myself that even a half-hour would be something.
So I wiped the dust off my helmet and wheeled my bicycle out of the house. I tried coasting down the driveway again, and then walked the block or so to the parking lot. I hadn’t accounted for rush-hour traffic on Guadeloupe or the fact that the parking lot is also a bus stop, but since I was so close already, I decided to not let my embarrassment of what others might think stop me.
I waited until the people getting off the bus had passed me, and I tried coasting. The parking lot is actually somewhat slanted, which worked in my favor. For half an hour, I coasted from one side to the other, trying not to fall over, and then getting off my bike and wheeling it back to my starting place to try again.
Once I could coast and stop without (or with less?) fear, I tried putting my feet on the pedals. It seemed I could only manage one revolution, if that, before the wheel turned and the bike fell over sideways. I went back to coasting and trying to steer, as well as trying my brakes a few times.
When I tried pedaling again, I kept going for maybe 10 or 15 seconds before the wheel turned and I got scared and put my feet down. Apparently I’m most terrified of running into something with my bike. I tried to memorize the way my body felt in the moments I was actually upright and moving.
Soon, I realized that instead of stopping completely when the wheel turned, if I just stopped pedaling for a second, it would straighten out and I could keep going. I tried again, and this time I went the length of the parking lot, turned the wheel, and started to come back the other way.
I laughed out loud with the realization that I was actually riding.
In all the years since I’d been on a bicycle, all the memories which had remained were the bad ones. I remembered how scared I was, how hard it was, how horrible having a broken leg was. I didn’t remember that riding could actually be FUN.
Whether the adrenaline was from fear or what I don’t know, but soon I was laughing and breathless with glee as I made my slow, unwieldy circles around the parking lot. Any kind of speed still terrifies me, and I’m not so great at steering, but I can ride.
I can ride my bicycle. Not well, perhaps, but that will come with practice.
It took me an hour to go from nothing riding small circles, so I now truly believe I CAN learn.
The voice in my head is silenced.
But more importantly, since riding was actually fun, I’m more likely to WANT to do it moving forward.
Not to sound cliche, but if there’s ever anything you’re afraid of, anything you think you’re too old to learn, anything you want to do but you’re embarrassed what others will think of you… I promise it’s not too late.
Yes, it will be scary. It might even be embarrassing. But I can also promise you it will be totally worth it.