FEAR TERRITORY: MY LONG-TERM CASE OF BIKE AVOIDANCE
I was ten years old when I fell off my bike and didn’t get back on. It was a summer evening and I had one hour before dinner. I was racing my navy blue schwinn ten speed down the sidewalk toward the park and as I went over the curb’s edge my bike or my body failed and I ended up on my back in the gravel with my navy blue schwinn pressed on top of me.
It hurt. Like most bike crashes do, but more than that it shook me up. There was no reason why I couldn’t pull myself together, nurse my wounds, cry in my mom’s arms and get back on to ride the next day. Because what’s that old phrase they say when something is supposed to be easy? As easy as riding a bike, right?
Instead, I went home, nursed my wounds, cried in my mom’s arms and never got back on my bike again. I’ve wondered over and over through the years why I became such a scaredy cat after one bike crash that didn’t leave any permanent physical damage. I’ve grown into an active person. I relish a challenging hike that involves scaling up or down a rocky surface. I’ve trained as a dancer for years. I went through an ice-skating phase. I even led groups of teenagers on harnessed drops over 80 foot ravines during summer long Adventure Camps. I’m not unwilling to take risks, but since that strange evening when I was ten, the prospect of getting on a bike has left me feeling terrified. You could say I’ve had a long-term case of bike avoidance.
I happened to go to college in a small, bicycle avid town where most everyone I knew chose bike over car over bus. Not only that, but many of them used their bike as a form of extreme sport, racing up and down the town’s rugged, hilly terrain. One of these cute, extreme sport loving bike guys asked me out on a date once my sophomore year after a history class. I met him at his place on a Friday with plans to walk into Old Town and see a movie. He was excitedly grabbing a helmet as I approached.
“It’s a great night for a ride don’t you think?!”
My stomach looped into knots.
“I was thinking we could ride around for awhile before the movie. You can borrow my housemate’s bike. She’s a little taller than you, so you’ll just have to keep your balance.”
I told him as my cheeks heated up and my pulse stuttered that, “I…uh…can’t actually ride right now cause I’m taking care of an injured tendon in my ankle.” My lying mind raced - could I be walking if I injured a tendon in my ankle?
“I thought you were a dance major?”
“Exactly. That’s why I’ve got to be extra careful with bicycle riding motions. It’s counter-productive to my dance training and my recovery.” Bicycle riding motions? It was one of the worst, most ridiculous fibs I’ve made up on the spot and all to get out of a simple ride. Needless to say that was our first and last date. As we parted ways after the movie my cute, naïve coulda-been boyfriend tried once more, “Next time, when your ankle is better, I’ll take you on one of my favorite bike trails!”
I nodded my head stiffly, embarrassment bubbling in my chest and then never called him back. Perhaps it was safer to go on dates with writers or chemists.
Time passed, college ended, I stayed clear of bicycle boys and came back to my home town of Portland, Oregon, which if you didn’t know, has transformed into one of the most bicycle enthusiastic cities in the United States. It seemed my bicycle phobia wasn’t going to be left alone, but I didn’t stay put in Portland for long and the need to own a bike was rendered useless.
Flash forward six years and here I am in Portland again. Last night a soft summer rain fell as I pedaled my bike through my South East neighborhood. It’s been a series of stop/start attempts to get to this part of the story, including another scenario where my date had an ‘extra’ bike to offer. (How many magical, extra bikes could there be?) I rode a tottery few blocks behind him making scared animal noises and gasping until finally he pulled over and asked if my appendix hurt or if I was having pains in my chest.
But two years ago I became a bike owner and recently my boyfriend helped me replace my rusted chain. My bike phobia has been no secret between us and perhaps this is one of the many signs that our relationship has legs. He’s been taking me on long rides the last few weeks, encouraging me each time we go out to cover more distance or learn to bike on busier streets. Sometimes I have to stop and randomly walk my bike when I freak out. I’ll see him slow down and turn around as I wait sheepishly at a cross walk on foot. But I think this is the key to our successful bicycle avoidance intervention. I can be my ridiculously, inexplicably bike shy self and I know he’s not judging my quirky fear. I can make strange noises when I panic, I can stop riding and I can tell him when I need to slow down.
Last night as I rode home the air smelled like sweet rain and wood smoke. My legs felt strong as the wind traced silky fingers across my skin. I marveled at the feeling of self-pedaled power, of lightness, of grace.
Sometimes what scares us can feel simple or silly but it’s valid nonetheless. I’m inspired today by the gentle and accepting presence of my partner, who has loved me when I don’t feel brave as much as when I do. These are the times we most need to be loved in order to feel safe and feeling safe is one of the ways I’ve managed to move through a frozen, fearful territory within. I’m asking myself today how I can love my fears as much as my courage? How can I work through what holds me back and how can I love the vulnerability in those around me?