All my life, I’ve always erred on the side of playing safe. I am not a risk-taker, I admit that. I have always been the good girl, the meticulous planner, the over-thinker, the worrywart… the girl who is scared of her own beating heart.
Three weekends ago, I couldn’t sleep. The culprit was a ridiculously pressing fear, one that’s also foolishly trivial:
I was scared, dead scared, to bike.
Last summer I attempted, meticulously planned for it in fact, to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge with Housemate #1. Of course we now know the outcome to that – I failed miserably and near-tears, finally asked her if we could please return the bikes and complete the task using what I trust best: my two feet. So we did, but the truth is, the memories of falling off the bike more times I can count in a span of an hour were both embarrassing and traumatic. I told her I would relearn when I return home for summer break, but of course I didn’t.
Summer passed and I made my way here. Within 24 hours, I was bike-pressured. Over here the pedestrian concern is less on accidents due to motor vehicles, rather due to the flux of heavy traffic in the form of bikers. Years ago during my first trip to San Francisco, I’ve already noticed that it’s a bike-friendly city but Stanford, much to my surprise, seems even more bike-friendly. So much so that anyone who doesn’t own a bike is practically made to feel like he or she has committed an atrocious crime. Succumbing to the pressure, I convinced myself that I knew how to bike and that if I didn’t, I would relearn the skill. Easy, cheesy. Owning a bicycle feels too much like trying to buy a vehicle though; the kinds of things one’s got to learn like gears and types and speeds whatnot, the accessories and safety concerns one’s got to nail, the price range of bang-for-buck bikes that one can afford… As if a new setting, courses and faces weren’t overwhelming enough, I obsessively added this to my list, not able to let the fear whittle away.
On the second day of school, I put up an ad on the university web bulletin:
[WANTED] Bike for petite female (5 ft.) for < $200
Fortunately, two people came forward with offers – I took up the first person’s offer and on Saturday morning of the first week, I purchased my first, perhaps only, pair of bicycle. It’s a secondhand bike bought for $100 with a purple frame. Hilariously, it’s actually a teen boy’s bike so it’s much, much smaller and shorter than an adult-sized one. When I brought it to the store, the salesperson insensitively asked me if the bike belonged to my daughter – daughter! – to which I sheepishly denied, clarifying it’s mine. Once I had a white basket installed and purchased a heavy-duty lock, I… walked the bike back to the studio apartment. I stayed indoors after, finishing work.
Finally evening came and I suited up, fumbled with the lock like a newbie, wobbled aplenty as I tried to sit upright on the bike to get it to move with me on it… And then… It happened. I rode like the wind.
There is so much poetic beauty I can milk about this small but incredibly momentous event – a moment of triumph, however small because learning to ride a bicycle, I discovered, is no funny business as an adult. I don’t know about you but for me, the hardest thing to overcome concerned pride and intense nervousness that I’d find myself with broken limbs and bloodied wounds. Internally sirens were practically ringing from all directions that I badly wanted to pull back from going through with the purchase, but I’ve lived through a story – I felt the fear, and did it anyway.
I cycled around the neighborhood both that Saturday and the day after, wobbly as ever but making strides. The weekdays passed by unceremoniously and then the weekend came again. Last Sunday, I decided to finally attempt making my way to the campus. In the end it comes down to just making that dive and learning to swim along the way, you know? So I did, with the help of my discovery of a back route which required me to cross the main road only once.
I flew, and safely arrived at my intended destination.
On my way back, I noticed a pole too late and panicked, tried to swerve away only to hit it anyway, falling sideways. I scraped both my knees, which later turned purple but at that time, I cared little about the pain because minutes after my safe arrival back to the studio… I grinned like a fool. These were battle scars, I thought to myself, and what’s success without them? Success, indeed!
I’ve yet to bike to classes and don’t really intend to do so, frankly. At least not this quarter because for one, my classes are ridiculously early at 8 and 9 AM when it’s still friggin’ cold out and for another, the human traffic still gives me palpitations. I’ll bike during the weekends and in the evenings, but that’s it for now. Just the fact that I own a bike and recently purchased a bright red helmet – they’re already big leaps for this pint-sized girl.
I wish I can wax poetic prose about cycling, because I’m itching to do so. That first weekend when I realized I could in fact do it, that was the highlight of an incredibly long week and a terribly shitty day. That day, the sun shone bright as ever; the weather was gorgeous with the bluest sky. It was a quiet Saturday in the neighborhood with very few people, cyclists included, out and about. The neighborhood complex has plentiful green spaces, which seemed wonderfully inviting and exuded warmth as the sound of children’s laughter drifted to my ears, coming from the playpen and playground areas. It was a beautiful day, made even more so by my small triumph.
“Heed your own advice,” Housemate #1 encouraged, “You can do it!”
For a moment there, when I was on the bike cruising along the flat roads of the neighborhood, my legs pedaling like my life depended on them and the sun’s glare blinding my eyesight – I have never felt more alive. I wanted to weep at the sheer joy of this triumph, of one thing done right following a week’s worth of jagged edges.
Small leaps, little triumphs – so obscure, hardly significant.
But I know its worth, and that has made all the difference in the world.
I am the owner of a courage stone, it sits unsuspectingly on my bookshelf in its pretty, purple box. It was a going-away gift three years ago from who else? Eldest Sis, the soul-sister and former personal mentor. I have kept it close ever since and I’m reminded of it whenever I find myself whittling too deeply within the spaces of my mind where things are safe, familiar and manageable. But Real Life… is nothing like that. Nowhere near, nothing similar and every once in a while, like now, I am hit with waves so strong that remind me of this fact. All because… It is true. It doesn’t mean the adjustment phase is any easier, nor does it make acceptance come by at the speed of light. Life’s like that, maybe that’s really all it’s about – no need for wisdom, it’s just life, plain and simple.
Fall seven times, get up eight. Jump out the window, grow wings on the way down.
Feel the fear… And do it anyway.