It’s a little green monster, that bike in front of me.
“Where’s the brake?” I ask, scanning the handlebars for the metal clutch to prevent me from bashing into people, or giving me the ability to slow down.
“You back pedal,” the man says, tossing me a look of ‘you’ve got to be kidding me, lady.’
I stand there, surveying the bicycle as my friends begin to climb on their own set of two wheels.
It’s only been two weeks since I re-learned how to ride a bike, and the biking I have done has been through the rural roads in Delaware, not bustling California beach cities. For nearly 15 years, I’ve had a fear of bikes. A totally rational feel, I assure you.
It all started one afternoon in Anchorage, when I was camping with friends alongside the pristine water of Turnagain Arm. We had bikes, and after a few beers, I decided it would be a good idea to ride one. Only, I couldn’t maintain my balance. Shocker, I know. From then on out, I was scared to even hop on one because I didn’t think I’d be able to stay on it long enough to get that first rotation in.
I tried to overcome this fear, really, I did. In Chiang Mai, I even went so far as to buy a bicycle. However, the memory of not being able to stay upright clouded my mind and every time I would mount the bike, I immediately felt myself begin to topple over. And, I had neighbors who were constantly outside, just observing the street. When I nearly hit the cinderblock wall in front of my house, I decided it was time to just throw in the bike towel.
But the thing about living, oh anywhere, and not having a car, is that people ride bikes. And, people in my life were riding bikes all around me. I always felt my cheeks get hot when asked to ride a bike and having to give the excuse that D and bikes don’t mix.
When I returned to Delaware in May, it was my mission (other than getting my Spanish student visa). I would overcome this ridiculous bike riding fear I had created in my head.
So, the first day home, I decided I would try again.
I stood in front of the bike, eyeing it up and down, trying to convince myself if I could envision pedaling down the tree-lined street, I could do it.
Once on the seat, my legs refused to lift up to the pedals. I was scared.
“Do you want me to hold the bike for you like when you were a kid?” My dad asked.
“No!” I had retorted, horrified at the idea of reverting to a child who needed training wheels and then someone to hold her steady until she could get balanced. “I’m just going to do it.”
And, I did. Wobbly, but I did. From then on out, I was a bike riding machine. Every day, I would hop on my bike and go explore the quiet farm roads by my parents home, clearing my mind and breathing in the fresh, marsh air.
Then, came the real test. With my best friend in Los Angeles who I knew would laugh mercilessly at me if I got on a bike and couldn’t stay on the bike. The decision was made to go biking from Santa Monica to Venice Beach.
With four other people in our little bike-riding party, I hop on the bike. It’s bigger than the one I ride in Delaware. And, those back brakes? I mean … that’s a spanner in the works for me.
But, I manage to get pedaling and balanced.
The last one in our group, we traverse the curvy path which delivers us from the tranquil Santa Monica Beach (pre-pier) to the crowded and eclectic Venice Beach.
This ride is a test. It’s like an obstacle course with tunnels, bladers, boarders, joggers, people strolling (on a bike path? Come on.), and random ridiculousness.
Somehow, I manage to arrive to Venice Beach unscathed. I celebrate the small victory in my head, but remind myself there is an entire 25-minute ride back to the bike rental shop I still have to endure.
I relish in the moments we walk along the boardwalk, taking in the food, trendy beach shops and marijuana prescription places.
“We should head back,” my friend suggests, aware we only have the $19 bikes for two hours, and we’re coming close to the end of that time.
I silently get back on the bike and begin the journey.
You made it one way, D. Now to make it the other.
Our return trip begins and instantly I feel like Frogger. It’s even harder on the way back, since more people have come out to enjoy the gorgeous sunshine on the Pacific.
We pedal on, rounding little bends, making our way back from Venice to Santa Monica. The wind tosses my hair, and I get a rush of energy to pedal faster. So, of course, I do.
Then, hell breaks loose. Or brakes. Whichever. As I round the bend, I feel myself going just a little too quickly for what I’m comfortable. Instantly, I back pedal, but the movement sets my balance off, and I begin to teeter.
Instead of falling, I end up crossing in front of oncoming bikers, terror in my face as I imagine the huge pile-up I am about to create as these innocent victims careen into me and my horrid attempt at biking.
“Not cool,” says the a sunglass-clad man whom I cut off.
“I’m sorry!” I shriek as my bike comes to a halt in the soft sand.
I stand there for a minute, slightly on the verge of tears because really? Did I just really do that?
I collect myself and get back on the bike because I’ve got no choice, even though I am horribly embarrassed and shaken up about the damage I could have caused.
I continue on, adrenaline pumping through my blood.
A few minutes later, a little girl drops her skateboard and goes running after it, cutting me off on the path.
Fortunately, I avoid crashing into her.
Then, a man decides to cross the path, on his bike, and stops in the middle.
“Go! Go!” I urge him.
“What the hell, lady?” He yells. “I’m just trying to get over.”
“I know,” I say. (“But, please don’t make me stop and fall,” I think to myself).
Finally, we are back through the tunnel, back into a quiet area where the only people we have to contend with (or, I should say I have to contend with) are tourists lugging their suitcases on the bike path. Because of course that makes so much sense.
When I see the little bike shop in front of me, I breathe a sigh of relief.
I’m safe. I’m sound. I’m off the bike.
For now, I think sticking to flat, uncrowded paths is probably my best idea. Although, I do have to say, Madrid has those cool electronic bikes …