Friday, August 29, 2014

On Touring Fears (Or, What Do I Call This List?)

I didn't always want to ride a bike.

I mean, I don't think I did. That's certainly what I told myself for a very long time, so long that I can't remember if it was ever really the truth or just a convenient excuse. Likely, it was a little bit of both. However, for the purposes of this story, let's just go ahead and assume that it was (mostly) true.

Attempts were made to teach me. They did not go well. Even now, in my mind, I can very clearly see the white seat and long handlebars of my sister's bicycle and remember the instant dread. I didn't like the sensation of going over - the second I started to list or tip, my stomach dropped and my feet went down. Every. Time. There was no self-confidence that kicked in, no trust that I could exert any control over the foreign object upon which I was seated - just the extremely uncomfortable feeling that it was controlling me.

My parents - my dad, in particular - were determined. I was the youngest of three, after all, and the other two had learned. Eventually, I wore them down. In one last-ditch effort, when I was maybe eleven or twelve, they tossed some training wheels on the bike with the hope of tricking me into relaxing long enough to find my balance and sent my teenaged sister and me up to my grandma's house. But I'd almost hit my full height by then, and $5 training wheels were not meant for 5'9" kids. They bent, I started to tip, and my feet went down. Again and again and again until I lost it and started to cry. My aunt was visiting that afternoon, and she came out to save both me and my poor frustrated sister.

"Honey," she said, "This is supposed to be fun. Are you having fun?"

Tearfully, I shook my head.

"Then get off the bike."

And I got off the bike. For fifteen years.

I never had the sense that I was missing out on anything, but every once in awhile, I'd feel a little bit of shame about it - a sense that I had failed at doing something I should've been able to do, and was thus less of a functional person. Which, by the way, is ridiculous. Plenty of people can't ride bikes - I know, because every time I met one, I was thrilled - and they're every bit as awesome as people who can.

What started to bother me was the feeling that I hadn't even really failed properly. It wasn't that I straight up could not ride a bike, it was that I was afraid to really try. That didn't sit right.

"But," I reasoned, "It's a moot point now. You're too old. You've missed your window to learn."

Yeah, I know. It's one of the worst excuses ever, right up there with, "I'm just too busy." And it's so easy to lean on, because science and psychology and stuff.

In spite of all that, a few years ago, something major changed: I started to want to learn. Unfortunately, the little bits of shame I'd been feeling had joined forces to become a Great Big Shame, which not all people were sensitive to (pro tip: If somebody asks you for advice on learning something - anything - maybe don't respond with, "You seriously can't do that?" Jackass.). My cause, though noble, was in danger of being relegated to the land of Unrealized Dreams.

Then my Big Life Renaissance started. I've written about it a bunch here, so dig through the archives if this is your first visit. Long story short, I started working through some stuff, and one of the byproducts of the whole process (which is ongoing, by the way - this is not my announcement that I've figured life out and have become the Perfect Person) has been an absolute unwillingness to be owned by my fears anymore.

So I did some research. I found a learn-to-ride class for adults through the ridiculously amazing  SF Bicycle Coalition. I signed up. I lost my nerve and missed out. I got it together and signed up again. I showed up.

The first step? Gliding down an incline with no pedals. Heart in my throat, I got myself going, started to tip and...turned into it, as my instructor had suggested. I didn't get far, but I didn't go over. On the walk back to my starting point, I felt something new. Self-confidence. On the next go, I lifted my feet and told myself that I would keep them up and that everything would be okay. I trusted myself. I found my balance.

An hour later, I had earned both pedals back. I was riding a bike.

That was a little over four months ago. Not only can I ride a bike now, it's become one of my favorite things. It's also got me thinking long and hard about all of the things I've avoided doing or, worse, convinced myself that I couldn't do because I've been too afraid. I've tried a couple - rock climbing, donating platelets at the blood center. Driving is still an ongoing process, but I haven't given up. I started calling this series of mini-adventures my, "Fear Tour." After awhile, it occurred to me that I should start making a list of things I've been too afraid to do but would like to - big, small, realistic or otherwise. So I pulled out the fabulous Hobbit Moleskine notebook that I received for my birthday last year, happy that it finally had a glorious purpose, and I started writing.

I keep that notebook with me all the time now, just in case I think of something new (latest addition: "Ride a ferris wheel every chance you get"). Now, when I refer to something being, "on the list," I can back it up. "Like a Bucket List," a few people have asked. Not really. That's no slight on Bucket Lists, and I guess it is a similar concept, doesn't feel like the right sentiment. This is not a list of things that I want to do before the looming specter of death robs me of the chance. It's a list of things that I think will help me feel like I'm finally taking proper advantage of living.

It's a list of things I might love or loathe. Either way, I'm not going to let fear keep me from finding out.

I'll keep you posted.