When’s the moment when you know you’re really hooked? When do you realize you’re a goner, a smitten kitten, a hopeless addict of shameless proportions? When’s the instant when you fall in love?
Nope, I’m not talking about my partner, as wonderful and amazing a fellow as he is. I’m talking about my other lover, my brilliant discovery, my dazzling summer fling I can’t get enough of: my bike.
It’s hard to fathom that in May, just a few months ago, I could barely ride 2 miles. I was timid and had little idea what I was doing. And yet since then, I’ve biked maybe around 1,500 miles in an attempt to get in shape for my upcoming 300-mile 5-day charity ride. (I leave tomorrow!)
It’s been a long, challenging, and exciting summer, to say the least. And no, it hasn’t been all roses and cupcakes and rainbow kittens. I’ve fallen down a few times (and I just may have this gnarly new scar on my elbow for life) – sometimes about as awkwardly as possible in front of other people. I got miserably drenched in rainstorms. Once, early on, I saw my friend get hit by car right in front of me. (She was ok, luckily!) I’ve broken down mid-ride, 30 miles from home and not sure I could make it back, and just cried. There was a week where I couldn’t even turn my neck, I had strained it so badly. I earned more bruises than I can count.
But still, somehow, somewhere in the middle there, it snuck up on me. I fell in love.
Of course, for people or for modes of transportation, love rarely hits light like a lightning bolt. It’s more a series of small transformations that all add up to that inevitable realization that, well, yep. There’s no going back now. And I wouldn’t want to if I could.
It’s not just one moment. It’s probably a thousand moments. If you’re a cyclist, you probably have a long list of your own. Here’s some of mine:
1. The moment when I finally conquered that hill.
Oh, hills. You scamps. You brutal, cruel teases. I am still terrible at climbing you, hills. But I’m better than I was. I remember I rode on one trail early on and felt like my chest was bursting and I couldn’t go on, so I got off my bike and walked it. A dozen cyclists passed me and I marveled at how they could possibly do it.
A month later, I was one of them. I found myself back on that same hill, and I rode up it non-stop feeling like a Tour de France champion. I learned that feeling of deep satisfaction that comes after the pain.
2. …And then the moment when I flew back down it.
There’s nothing like soaring downhill that makes you feel like you’re the luckiest 8-year old in the world again. When the wind soars through your hair and the scenery zooms by and the rush of 10% terror and 90% joy fills you to the brim. It’s especially awesome when it’s a big hill that you already suffered the climb up. You feel like you really earned that descent, and it’s glorious.
3. The moment when I got my first flat tire, and 15 cyclists stopped and asked if I needed help.
Before I rode regularly, cyclists were these mysterious, ethereal creatures to me. They were incomprehensibly athletic. They seemed uncannily comfortable in Lycra. And then of course I found out they’re just ordinary people, surprise surprise. Except, they’re ordinary people with an extraordinary sense of community.
From the unfailingly wonderful Women & Bicycles Facebook group that answers all my questions with enthusiasm and mutual support and joins me for rides, to the dozen+ cyclists who offered their help when I had a flat tire and was attempting to fix it myself, to the phenomenal folks at my local bike shop who also answer all my questions enthusiastically (yes, I have a lot of questions)… it’s been so warm and fuzzy and awesome.
Sure, sometimes I’ll run into a jerk out on a trail. But sometimes you run into a jerk any day, anywhere. On the whole, bike people are seriously good people.
4. The moment when I soared past cars stuck in traffic in the bike lane on my commute.
Oh hello there, cars. Look at you, just sitting there. I used to be you, once. But now here I am in my work clothes, just pedaling along in the bike lane at a very moderate pace, and you’re still stuck fuming at that stop sign because you can’t go forward. I remember that fume. I wouldn’t trade places with you for the world, cars. Ok, gotta go. Smell ya later!
5. The moment(s) when I went further than I’d ever been – and then I went even further.
Sometimes, falling in love with my bike at age 30 makes me feel like an 8 year old – and then sometimes, it makes me feel like I’m 16 again, waiting in line at the DMV on my birthday for my long-awaited freedom, aka my driver’s license. I used to love to drive so much, you have no idea. Gas was cheap then, and either alone or with friends, I would cruise around for hours, taking random turns, exploring the countryside, and just enjoying, for the first time, that sweet taste of independence and adventure.
I pretty much hate driving these days, for lots of reasons, but biking is totally different. Biking brings all the adventure and exploration with none of the baggage. And then there’s the challenge of long distance riding – of pushing yourself past what seems like your limit and then going further… brilliant. Addicting. Wonderful.
6. The moment when I discovered that food is fuel.
In the cycling world, there’s a phenomenon they call bonking – when you just completely and utterly run out of energy, and all the fight in you dies, and you just want to crawl into a hole and never come out again, and yeah, it’s pretty much the worst. It happened to me once.
And then I started eating more, before and during my rides. And then I started paying attention to what kinds of food I was eating. And then I realized that food isn’t just delicious stuff I enjoy consuming regularly and take for granted more than I should; it’s literally fuel. I need it to keep moving. It gives me strength. It gets me where I want to go, and it gets me home.
7. The moment when I conquered my fear of city cycling and proudly took up the whole lane.
It seems forever ago, but the first time I tried to bike in the city, I was so intimidated by the city streets in my super-quiet, residential neighborhood that I rode on the sidewalk. (I’ve since learned that isn’t actually safer…). Then, I’d only ride in this quiet neighborhood on streets with bike lanes only, and only not during rush hour, and only during daylight.
But eventually, and in part thanks to an awesome ride I did with some experienced lady city cyclists once, I gained so much more confidence. Now, even if I’m by myself, I’ll take the whole lane if I need to. (It’s legal, and often safer than hugging the shoulder.) With my bike decked out with flashy lights, I’ll bike at night if I need to. And I get this thrill when I hop across town from one end of the city to the other on a bike – it’s like a whole new world has been opened up to me.
Suddenly I can easily access places in the city that I never could before (or not without multiple transit transfers, etc.). And I feel like I’ve gotten to know it so much better in even just a few months. What’s not to love?
8. The moment when a local newspaper columnist tried to kill me.
Ok, no, not really. But right around the time when I was becoming a dedicated daily cyclist, columnist Courtland Milloy wrote a ridiculous tirade against rude cyclists – or “bike terrorists” – who he claimed aggressively hog the roads and routinely ruin the days of decent, respectable drivers. His infamous quote: “It’s a $500 fine for a motorist to hit a bicyclist in the District, but some behaviors are so egregious that some drivers might think it’s worth paying the fine.”
It was hilarious and appalling at the same time. But the reason I’m mentioning it here is because the aftermath gave me a new glimpse at just how dedicated DC’s cycling advocates are. They wrote eloquent responses, they staged a last-minute protest in front of the Washington Post, they started sporting ironic “bike terrorist” t-shirts – one excellent group even got Milloy on a bike and took him on a tour to see life on “the other side.”
In other words, I learned a lot more about the work organizations like WABA and others are doing to get more and more people to fall in love with bikes and to make the city a friendlier and easier place for us to ride. So, instead of feeling threatened by that silly ol’ column, I ended up feeling safer – not to mention proud to support such great groups.
9. The moment when I realized I was healthier and stronger than I’d been in years.
Since I’ve started biking, my blood pressure’s down 10 points. I get out of breath much less easily. Where once there was only marshmallow, now there’s mighty muscles in my thighs – and my arms and back are much stronger now than they were before too. When I first started my training, one of my biggest worries was my lower back, because it’s been prone to injury before and always had a sort of low-grade pain whenever I exercised. Between the biking and the stretching after biking, my back hasn’t hurt in months!
I still have a long way to go until I’m in better shape, but I’ve seen so much improvement, it’s nothing but encouraging. And since I’m all in love and whatnot now, I’m not going to stop. It’s just way too cool to feel like superwoman now.
10. The moment when I crossed the finish line on my ride next week.
Ok, ok, I haven’t actually crossed it yet. There’s still 300+ miles between me and it. But I’m using positive visualization to imagine what it’ll be like in my head. And I’m just so excited. I can’t wait.
Thank you to all my fundraising donors who are making it possible for me to conquer this challenge! Thanks to all my friends for encouraging me, and my family for their constant love and support, even when things were tough.
And yep! We’re still accepting donations for our cause. Just click the big ol’ orange button below.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for making this happen. Thanks for everything!Permalink/Leave a Comment