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Just Like Riding a Bike.

18 May 2015

When I was 13, I went on a month long trip riding a bike across France and Spain. That’s a bit of a grandiose description. We rode 10 days out of 30, and covered a total of about 250 miles. We started in Paris, and then took the train to Orleans, from which we rode about every third day through French countryside. I saw Chartres, and Chenonceau, Ambois. It was beautiful. Then we loaded the bikes up for an overnight train across the Pyrenees and rode again through little towns in northeast Spain. Santiago de Compostela, and Sanxenxo are the ones I remember now.

I had a terrible time. I was not quite pubescent, and I was the youngest kid on the trip by almost a year. I didn’t fit in. I still don’t fit in, of course.  But I really didn’t fit in. I wasn’t in good enough physical condition. I rode only once – for ten miles – prior to leaving. On the trip, we averaged a 25 mile day while hauling all our luggage on pannier racks. I was in pretty decent shape at the end. I made an ass of myself regularly just by being too immature for the group. I ran out of spending money. I called my mom, to ask for more. She said, “They won’t let you starve to death,” and hung up on me.

And I found other ways to humiliate myself. At the age of 13, still not quite pubescent, I had never worn deodorant. I didn’t know it existed. And I was lazy about washing my clothes on the trip. One day in Spain, everyone was joking about “smelling something”. But no one would tell me it was me. I, of course, didn’t smell it. But I wanted to fit in. So I pretended I did. And I pretended that I didn’t know where it was coming from, just like they were. Only, I wasn’t in on the joke. Later, one of the leaders took me aside.

“Dude, can I tell you something?” He said. He was in college. I admired him. “You peef, dude.”

I’m still humiliated. I wish I could find them. Let them know how different I am now. Am I different? I’m still immature. I’m still socially clueless. I still struggle to be popular, to fit in. And as a drunk, when I didn’t care about myself, I even went without deodorant again, often. Alcoholism traps us in adolescence. I’m still emerging.

But I discovered, on that trip, that I loved to travel. And I loved to ride a bike. Riding a bike is a lot like flying. I rode a lot throughout high school, and some in college. But after about age 22, I stopped. I owned a couple of bikes thereafter, and rode very, very occasionally. But I bet I haven’t ridden 20 miles in the past 15 years, total.

Until yesterday. This weekend, BB worked all weekend getting her two bikes into working order. She’s handy and know how to do things like that. I’m not, and I don’t. And frankly, I’m not that interested in learning. But luckily, in this modern day, one can hire other professionals to do things like fix bikes. So I don’t need to learn if I don’t want.

I bought a bike. It’s a halfway-decent, point-and-shoot bicycle. Push-button shifting, etc.. Nothing fancy, nothing special. Just two wheels and a derailleur. And yesterday I took it out for a ride. I rode home from the shop, of course, and then on the path where I usually run. I rode 7.8 miles in 45 minutes. And I just kind of sailed the whole way. I can’t even begin to describe how wonderful it was. I felt myself nearing tears several times.

I have a complicated history with bicycles. They evoke shame and humiliation. Adolescence. I broke my arm while riding a bike when I was 16. But they are also about growth and freedom and exhilaration and joy. And I have a different relationship with myself than I did the last time I rode.

My fitness is in an entirely different place now. I hadn’t ridden a bike for more than a mile in a decade. Probably more. And yet I got on this bike, my new bike, yesterday, and rode joyfully for 45 minutes without being tired or suffering in the heat. Without much in the way of effort. It was easy and fun and liberating. I felt like a 40 year old boy. It’s exciting to be able to do that kind of thing. For my body to work the way I want it to, instead of me being subject to its inadequacies.

Things stay with me. Old pain. Old fear. And bicycles.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 27 May 2015 09:00

    Biking’s a blast. Glad you’ve rediscovered it!

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