"Buy the bike" he said. I ignored him for about 5 minutes, as I usually do. Chris was persistent, he usually is. The idea took shape and blossomed, not a seedling but an oak tree and in the space of the next two weeks I became the owner of a Diva Avalanche Mountain Bike.
The beginning of the story took some introspection and a laying out of the soul and I will give you the abbreviated version here: I was fat, depressed and sedentary. But I bought the bike.
The first time in my life I got on the bike, I was 47 years old. Full of absolute terror and self-doubt. That I fell off and scraped my arm on the first day was an indication of how unprepared I was to do this. The next few days were just as bad, I was bruised, body and ego. I remember standing in the parking lot of our complex out of sight of the residents, every single day, crying and thinking I would never get it right. I reached out to Chris who was climbing in Moab at the time. "Hi, I'm struggling a bit". Sheer baldfaced lie, I was flattened by this challenge. He sent me the following text:
"Do it again..."
"With no bobbles"
And so it went. That he could take time out from his vacation to write to me about riding was my motivation to get this right. I’d love to tell you that from that day I rode and was happy and carefree and found my zen. In fact, I took around 2 weeks to stay upright and get both feet on the pedals. I remember watching a YouTube video of a man named Brian who learned to ride in 20 minutes. I grew to hate Brian with absolute venom. Every day I started to head out at the same time in the evening clutching a printed version of the text from Chris. I found a grassy slope. The next week was spent on the slope. And slowly, painfully, I started to ride.
I texted Chris every day and his faith that I would get this right never waivered. He couldn’t see me though. The tears and frustration and wishing I was better...
We spoke about bikes and riding, he would send me screenshots of the routes he took and sometimes the scenery. I had progressed to the bike path in my suburb, a strip of tar which runs for about 20 kms and this was becoming my routine every evening. It was work. My first day saw me ride a total of 500m and I was furious at finding out it was so short, convinced by the pain in my legs and my burning lungs that I must have gone, easily 2kms. He asked me one day if I was enjoying it. I said no. I told him that I would find the joy when I knew what I was doing. When I had mastered technique and I felt skilled enough to relax.
I still fell and I crashed. I broke and buckled bits of my bike but every day I was outside, riding and sometimes crying and wishing I was better.
Around a month into my new "hobby" I remember that it was a beautiful evening, calm, wind-free. I had stopped to take a photo of the sunset for Chris and I started smiling. Then grinning and then, finally, laughing. You see.. the joy had found me!
I may never be my ideal version of a cyclist. I wear whatever I want and I bark at dogs on the route. I veer off the path and ride the verges and servitudes and I have discovered the love of dirt and of stones and roots.
But the joy has me now and I am happy.