It’s just like riding a bike

I have been riding my bike a lot lately. (With the price of gasoline currently $3.75/gallon, who can blame me?) It is fun, cheap exercise and it makes me reminisce about my childhood, the good ol’ days I spent cruising around the neighborhood. It got me thinking about when I first learned to ride a bike. And then I remembered that biking is not all fun and games. In fact, I have many, many, many cringe-worthy bike experiences. So, I figured that I would share some of them with you because everyone can use a good laugh on a Sunday morning.

Think back to when you used training wheels. Is there anything worse? Those wheels are a physical mark of immaturity, lack of skill and general incompetence. They are awful inventions, yet completely necessary tools. They are the scarlet letter of bicycling and I loathe them.

Bike riding was a touchy subject for me when I was a kid, especially when my sister was around. This is no ordinary sister—this is the sister who, despite being two and a half years younger than me, did everything first, including riding sans training wheels.

I have no clue who this child is, but this is the only image I can find of the Pocahontas bike. I had this bike! I loved it!
I have no clue who this child is, but this is the only image I can find of the Pocahontas bike. I had this bike! I loved it!

I will never forget the time our family went for a bike ride at Ft. Kearney and I saw one of my classmates. My face flushed, mortified that my kid sister was (literally) riding circles around me. I just knew that he would see the training wheels, call me a baby and (gasp) tell everyone at school that I was a big baby! My legs pedaled with thought that if I went fast enough that my bike would become a blur and he would not be able to see them. I was ashamed, assured that I would become a martyr for late bloomers and those lacking bodily balance everywhere. The worst part is that I genuinely believed I deserved this fate, because my Pocahontas bicycle would not have stayed upright even if I could somehow have summoned each and every color of the wind.

My family went on a lot of bike rides. I hated when we would go on the trails out to Cottonmill park. The cement path is flanked by tall grasses, which was a breeding ground for evil incarnate grasshoppers. (As a strange and neurotic child, I hated grasshoppers and basically all bugs. As a strange and neurotic young adult, my sentiments have not changed.  Grasshoppers are my kryptonite.) They would be spread out on the trail, perhaps to enjoy the sunshine, perhaps to mock the bikers, bladers and runners. I attempted to avoid every single one, which ended up like a real-life game of Frogger, only the stakes were higher than a smushed-up frog. Skinned knees are no joke.

My fearless sister, who always rode in front, had a different idea. Instead of avoiding the insects, she tried to play a version of chicken with them. The only difference was that she was never the chicken. Once she had a target locked in her sights, she would barrel down on the creature and nearly crush them. At the very last second, the grasshopper would spring into the air and land in my immediate area with the pinpoint accuracy of a high-tech missile.

This caused me to FREAK. OUT.

There are two types of panic. The first is outward panic, which comes with screams, twitches, sobs, etc. This is the version that is perpetuated in horror films. The second kind is inward. It is similar to when you awake in bed late at night convinced that there is an ax murderer in your bedroom. You lay there, frozen in fear, petrified and playing dead, with your heart pounding out of your chest and your breath coming in short and uneven gasps. Whimpering, you are incapacitated and unable to move, not even to wipe away the single tear that streams down your cheek.

The second type of panic is what I experienced on that bike trail. (Let’s be honest— there was some of the first type too, because what is life without a few theatrics?) I was convinced that if one touched me, my limbs would fall off and I would die a slow, painful, grasshopper death. Add in trying to stay upright on a moving object, and it amounted to a rolling disaster. I was like Godzilla, if Godzilla were a scrawny tow-headed 8-year-old girl who rode a Pocahontas-themed bike (with training wheels) and would run over any toe in sight while trying to avoid grasshoppers and silent panic attacks.

Me riding a bike in Versailles, France, circa 2011.
Me riding a bike in Versailles, France, circa 2011.

Once I entered the upper years of middle school, I rode my bike less frequently. It wasn’t cool anymore. I had better things to do with my summer, like attempting to tan or watching “What Not to Wear” with my mother.  I re-fell in love with the bipedal beauty during my first collegiate trip to France, when our group rode rented bicycles around the grounds of Versailles.

Now, I am trying to get back in the saddle, which means basically riding around the flattest sections of my neighborhood and cursing whoever decided that bicycle seats should be extremely uncomfortable. Hey, it’s not like I’m training for the Tour de France. After all, we can’t all become an iconic cycling figure like Lance Armstrong unless we take illegal steroids.

Thus is the tale of my sad, embarrassing and terrifying love affair with the bicycle. Let’s hope I don’t encounter any grasshoppers anytime soon. I don’t think Omaha is ready for Godzilla.

Do you remember my “Fogger” days? Do you like to ride your bike? Is this is as embarrassing as I think it is?

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