Learning how to ride my bike… again

“Learning how to ride my bike… again” is the ninth post in a series about the human side of dailymile: How We Succeed. As a part of this series, dailymilers write about their experiences as athletes struggling to overcome obstacles and solve problems with the help of their friends on dailymile. Being an athlete makes our bodies stronger, but having the support of a crowd of athletes makes our minds stronger. This series highlights the side of training that requires more than muscle power. To submit your story, email the editor

When I was a kid, my bike was blue. It was a hand-me-down from my brother. The training wheels had already been through the ringer once with him, and barely worked for me. It’s a good thing that kids have a low center of gravity, because my only option as my brothers sped off ahead of me was to hold on tight as I raced down our gravel, twisting, muddy driveway. I whipped out consistently and usually into a mud puddle that formed in early June and lasted until October when it froze over. Eventually I learned how to ride down the street and up the hill to our neighbor’s house. Riding my bike as a kid was simple. It involved unknown adventure, a newly discovered sense of freedom, and my mom didn’t make us wear helmets unless we were going out on the highway.

High school and college was when my bicycle love story started. I began riding my Trek in local races, did a five day bike tour across Alaska with my family, experimented with triathlons and discovered how fun it is to fall off a mountain bike. During my summers off in college I became a bike guide for cruise ship adventurers in Skagway, leading bus loads of cyclists around Southeast, Alaska. When I moved from Alaska to Tennessee, I would take long solo trips through the Tennessee hills and into Alabama. I would lose myself in the rolling hills and acres of farm land for hours. Eventually I moved to San Francisco where I braved the downtown traffic on a daily bike commute to work. Biking to work gave me a different (and usually more positive) perspective about commuting. Ironically the most challenging part of it was getting to know the unwritten rules of dealing with other bike commuters.

Since then, though, things have changed. These days I strap on my helmet if I’m going to the end of the block. I don’t like riding close to other cyclists (abreast or in a line). I get nervous at stop signs, downhill turns, gravel in the road, and the tiniest amount of traffic. Walkers, runners, dogs, and especially kids make me grip the handlebars harder. My brake pads need to be replaced on a monthly basis. What happened? I crashed my bike during a 50 mile fun ride through Napa Valley, CA and while I’ve made a full recovery physically, the mental healing is still in the works.

The ride was with the Tour de Cure, a non-profit working to fight Diabetes. The course was a loop that started in Yountville, continued through Napa along the highway, and then took a turn on the historic Silverado Trail, which connects back with the highway at the finish. The ride was great, and even after I crashed my bike, I still enjoyed the day. After we made the turn onto the Silverado Trail, the people I was biking with connected with another group of riders who had been riding in a line. We decided to link up with them to help us get over the hills that make up the Trail. In hindsight, this was a mistake. Rule #1 I learned about riding in a line was to not do it with people that I don’t know. Eventually the group was about eight riders long, and I couldn’t even see the leader. I was bringing up the end when we started to pass a slower rider who wasn’t part of the group. To this day I’m not sure exactly what provoked him, but he pulled out into our line, disrupting it, and forcing our riders to use their breaks instead of pulling out into the wind to slow down. My tire hit the man infront of me, and I went skidding across two lanes of the highway face first. The first thing I did was check to make sure I had all my teeth which was completely pointless because I couldn’t feel the hand I used to check, or my face. Next thought was, “I’m in the road and I should probably move before a car comes.” I got to the side of the road and with the help of some of the cyclists around me, I dusted off, got back on my bike and rode 15 miles to the next aid station. My knee was swollen, my face was bleeding. my jacked was so torn up I couldn’t unzip it. The women at the aid station were tremendously helpful. They covered me with neosporen and ice (just like my mother would do after I crashed in the driveway). They helped me into the van that took me to the finish line, and they wished me a healthy recovery. I knew that I would heal, and that I would be fine. What I didn’t know is that the crash had imprinted an involuntary fear of riding.

Since the accident, I’ve been slow to get back into riding as aggressively as I did before. The surprising thing is that I’m not afraid to ride, I’m just afraid to ride around anything that could get in my way. A casual, conversational ride between friends has become a stressful experience. It’s not because I have images of crashing flashing before my eyes, it’s a purely physical reaction as if my body remembers what it felt like.

Over the last few months I’ve been riding more often, and pushing myself to try some of the same things that I used to be able to handle on my bike like taking a turn a little too fast, or riding next to my boyfriend instead of on the opposite side of the street. It’s been challenging, and I often have to force myself to do things that are uncomfortable. I feel as if I’m learning how to ride my bike again, and I’m lucky to have met people through dailymile who have been helping me feel comfortable as I start to challenge myself more and more. For a while I thought I would give up on cycling all together. My love for mountain biking hasn’t been affected by the accident, and so I’ve been using that as a fall back. Who needs cycling when I can go fast over knarly rocks and roots? But with the help of my friends, I’m beginning to remember what it’s like to love going fast on a beautifully paved road.

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