I am the fourth in line of six sisters. Growing up, we had one bike between us. I missed out. But before you get out your violins for the ‘Neglected Middle Child Concerto’, I should admit that I never really fought for my turn. Hell, we could’ve had 2 or 3 bikes for all I know because I was too busy inside reading books and watching old movies to bother with such practicalities such as a sense of balance.
By and large, my inability to ride a bike has had very little impact on my day-to-day life. If anything, it became one of my ‘quirks’, an amusing little story that made me who I was… until I stopped believing in all my fairytales. These last few years have been more about exposing the myths of my existence – the good, the bad and the hideous – and laying aside the long standing ideas I carried around with me about who I was so that I might discover who I could be.
A couple of years ago now, I was in Thailand and a new friend invited me on a scooter excursion with her as a passenger. I was petrified but said ‘yes’ anyway. Once I got passed the abject terror, I had the time of my life. It was so liberating to be able to go where we wanted, when we wanted, unbeholden to timetables and tour operators. Since returning to Sydney, I’ve had the privilege of being a regular pillion passenger on my friend’s Vespa and again, that feeling of freedom is very affecting. I had a dream one night that I was riding my own Vespa and shortly after, another friend offered me full use of his should I get my licence so that’s exactly what I resolved to do! I signed up to get my licence and off I went to scooter-school…
…where I totally flunked out. In hindsight, I don’t know what made me think that I could just magically ride but at the time, I was certain I’d just work it out! Well, right there was a lesson for Little Miss Bookworm who coasted through school and university with minimal effort. Now I knew how the other kids felt, especially when I was dismissed in the first hour of the first day of the 2-day pre-learner course and sent off to special-scooter-school for one-on-one tuition… where I flunked out again! I was politely told by the bemused instructor to come back when I’d learnt to balance.
Following my defeat, my very encouraging and generous brother-in-law, Marlon, bought me a bicycle – a very cool, retro, reconditioned one. I sat on her once, gave her a name (Betty White – because she’s old, white and a source of great amusement) and then bought her inside and propped her up against my bookshelf on the off chance that she might also prefer reading. She certainly seems to, having made her home there for almost a year without complaining once! But enough is enough. Even I have to admit that a bike’s destiny is to be ridden and my destiny is to continue to grow and learn beyond my self-imposed limitations.
And so Physical Challenge #1 for 2014 was an obvious choice – learn to ride a bike! I set a date and time. Once more, Marlon came to my aid with a helmet, he pumped up the tyres and took off one of the pedals so I could first use it as a balance bike (the other rusted on whilst reading too many books). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Marlon is an excellent teacher! I doubt most people can even remember a time before they could ride but Marlon has a knack for explaining concepts in such a patient and non-judgemental way, that I was able to understand this thing I’d never done before. By the end of our short lesson, I was coasting down tiny inclines and pushing myself off with the one remaining pedal. It really wasn’t much but it was more than I’d done before. I actually balanced – just for a few meters but I felt like I’d won the Tour de France!
I headed back over to the industrial lot opposite my house for my second lesson but this time I went alone. I went to the highest point and with my feet out to the side and my hands firmly around the brakes, I glided all the way from the top, around a corner and down a driveway without stopping! FIVE TIMES! I was positively giddy! I couldn’t believe it was me doing it!
After that triumph, I realised it was time to reattach the other pedal and give it a go. Back over in weekend-abandoned lot, I found a flat area and, after very many false starts, I pedalled! I actually pedalled and propelled myself! Just a few revolutions but still, technically, that’s riding a bike! It counts! I did it!!! I still have a long way to go of course and finding time to practice remains my biggest challenge but I’ve come too far to not persevere, especially now I’ve had a taste of that freedom and imagined the possibilities that this new magic trick presents. The time has come for Betty White and I to stop reading adventure stories and start living them!
Coming soon: Physical Challenge #2: A 10-day silent meditation retreat. This may not seem like a physical challenge and when I signed up to do it, I hadn’t intended it to be but since then, the one thing that I’ve heard and read time and again from previous participants is how physically challenging it is to sit in a meditation position for 14 hours a day for 10 days straight! It may not be the kind of challenge to get the heart pumping, au contraire, but I suspect I’ll emerge much lighter, if only metaphorically (though with only 2 meals a day and nothing after midday, I might drop a kg or two as well!). I don’t expect it to be fun or even relaxing, in fact I fully expect it to be one of the most gruelling things I’ve done but I’m assured the rewards are there. I’ll let you know on the other side! Wish my luck!