This weekend, I’m going to do my first ever bike race. I feel like “race” is misleading, as speed isn’t really my goal. I am quite sure that little children will beat me across the finish line, and that is fine because I will have come a long way from the days when I was getting hurt just getting on and off the bike.
I joked recently that I bought a road bike two years ago, and a year ago I started to ride it. I liked the idea of riding a bike, but I was also pretty scared of…everything, basically. I got a road bike, but traffic made me nervous. I had trouble adjusting to the posture of sitting on a bike, and I had trouble adjusting to my hand brakes, so I often started getting off the bike before I managed to come to a stop resulting in much banging of the shins. I was afraid of going too fast and being out of control, so I rode my brakes until I was faster at going uphill than I was at going downhill. And, surely my butt wasn’t supposed to feel so bruised.
Through all of this, Eric was incredibly encouraging and patient, but when I started getting better, he confessed it was hard to ride slow enough to stay with me on our first rides. Several times, he just tried to balance while standing still, as I fretted that I was going too fast. Learning to ride a grown up bike (multiple gears, no kickstand or cute basket on the front, no brakes that work by simply pedaling backwards), taught me a lot about myself.
For starters, I can be incredibly stubborn. I once told Eric, “I know what you’re saying, but I’m not going to do that,” and I might as well have put that on a t-shirt because I am incredibly resistant until I am ready. Whether it be driving directions in South Austin, or being told how to make an omelet, I ask a lot of questions that reveal that I think I know what’s right even when I don’t know what I’m doing. I second guessed Eric a lot, and, bless him, he has almost come to expect this. I’m a control freak, which is why starting to ride I was obsessed with not going to fast because it made me feel out of control. To get better, I had to learn to be open to advice and willing to try new things.
I am, however, motivated by “leveling up!” Knowing me as well as he does, Eric found ways to encourage me to try things by giving me a challenge and then telling me I’d unlocked a new badge, my “touched your water bottle while peddling” badge or my “rode one handed while I scratched my nose” badge. Almost anything can be a badge, and conquering challenges gave me the kind of boost you get when you earn a gold star as a kid. I’m very reward driven, and so, especially in the early days, trying and accomplishing small tasks made me feel more confident on the bike.
Finally, I learned that I often work too hard. Whether it be agonizing over grading, planning and trying to find the perfect reading for class, analyzing a blog post for unintended subtext. Even when I stretch, which should be relaxing, I twist and contort until Eric insists it looks like torture. I’ve stretched so hard I’ve pulled a muscle. So, Saturday when we set out for a short two mile bike ride to the local Whole Foods for coffee and breakfast tacos, my legs felt tired and sluggish. We’d gone about a mile, and I almost asked if we could stop and rest, but we hit a nice downhill and I finally started to feel a little more awake. I assumed this was because I hadn’t had coffee yet, and so my muscles were tired.
I felt better after breakfast, and as we finally started to ride back to the apartment, Eric glanced at my gears. He pointed out that I was in a much harder gear than I had to be and told me how to shift to make it easier on myself. Part of the reason I hadn’t realized this sooner was because I hadn’t been riding in a while, and I got my front and back gear controls mixed up. But I also didn’t question the fact that the ride was so difficult. I assumed that I was just tired and out of shape.
I shifted and the ride back was a breeze. I told Eric, “I think I’ll definitely be able to ride 14 miles this weekend, but I may very well make it harder than it has to be.”
“Yeah,” he smiled, “that sounds like you.”