Friday, 13 April 2012

What was I thinking?!

                                                here it is. My new bicycle. I won't lie to you, it's been about 11 years since I've had my fat ass on a bike, but it's a new day and time to get myself around town. Or at least be able to ride to the store for milk & bread instead of trudging there on foot. Now, I've explained what driving is like here in Wallington (England)- with the tiny, narrow streets and the little nugget-like cars zippin' around with drivers and their subtle waves & weaves, so I don't know that this is the BEST option, but it seems the lesser of two evils. 

I'll be the first to admit that I know NOTHING about cycling. I didn't get this bike to become a rabid, spandex wearing Lance Armstrong. I haven't mastered hand signals, I didn't run out and buy a hi-visibility vest, I didn't buy gloves, a rack or a neon aero-dynamic helmet. I bought a lock, a gel seat cushion and a tire pump. At the store, I did see the numerous accessories that "seasoned cyclists" must get rock hard boners over, but I wasn't going gung-ho here, I just wanted the basics.  Clamps for your pant legs, really? Oh, come on. Biking "goggles"? Lights...HORNS?!  Jeesh, I just want to have a good time, not look like some kind of nerd with elbow pads, a pretentious sporty waterbottle strapped to my seat, flashing reflectors or a mileage calculator around my ankle. 


I began to feel like Dorothy when she left Kansas, ...only my thinking was, "This isn't 1981 and you're not 13 anymore."

 As a kid, your bike IS your primary mode of transportation, and your pretty fearless about everything anyhow, so there was no thinking required. I grew up in upstate NY (in a small town area- right near the mighty Niagara Falls) Our house was on a dead-end street, with 7 different relatives living on that same street. There was never an issue about hopping on my bike and riding over to my cousin's house or to the park, or to 7-11 for Razzles. As a kid, I didn't have to lock my bike up. I rode up the porch, dumped it in the grass and forgot about it until sun down. I didn't buy the bike with my own my money, my parents did, so I wasn't concerned about it being stolen, or scratched up. I was 12! I didn't have a wallet, tools, a lock, or a helmet. My three dollars and 67 cents was stuffed into my pocket. I could carry a bag, a bat, or a basketball and steer with one hand, and sometimes even no hands! There were no massive potholes at that time, the biggest vehicle that was going past me might be a Ford Ranger pick-up truck. There were no SUV's. Even at this moment, when I think back, I can't remember one concern about riding a bike as a teenager. It was just a no-brainer. For years and years.  It was only when I started driving, I thought "I'll never need a bike again!"  as I backed out of the driveway in my mother's 1978 white Cordoba (and hit our mailbox..but I digress)


As an adult, in my thirties, was the next time I got the idea to ride a bike. I had just moved into my condo and there were shops, restaurants and stores all within a mile of my building. So I bought a second hand bike and for about a month, would take it out once or twice a week for a spin. Well...that was in Florida, where it can be 87 degrees AFTER the sun goes down and the humidity is 98% pretty much all the time. So the novelty wore off pretty quick.

I really don't know what I'm getting myself into here in England, at 43 years old, but I thought I would give it go once again. Nice and slow. The weather is getting nicer. I'm home alone a lot. My wife travels for work. Hazel travels for work and although I've walked to the newsagent, park, post office, or gas station, I thought this would be a decent mode of transportation, because in all honesty, I'm never going to learn the bus or train schedule, nor do I really care for public transportation. People. I don't really care... for people. That's a better way of putting it. Besides, it's not like I'm going to ride far. Sometimes, I don't even have a destination in mind, I may just want a bit of easy exercise. Down the street and back up the street. That was basically my entire thought process when it came to even getting the bike. 


Housemate Hazel, put it together in the middle of the living room on Tuesday evening. We went to the store to get a few things (lock, pump, etc) and came home, finished pumping the tires, parked the bike in the hall and ate dinner. I swear, I just kept looking at it like, "Cool!.....I think".  Then we proceeded to watch UEFA Cup Football until bed time.


So, let me tell you how this has gone so far (7 and a half hours later)....

Hazel left for her work trip at 6:30am on Wednesday morning. I didn't even wake up until 7:15am. Once awake, I made coffee, caught up on Twitter, had some toast, and walked by the bike 3 times, as it sat in the hallway by the front door. I could smell those thick mountain bike tires, just like when you walk into "Tire Kingdom". Out of nowhere, I decided I should try my first spin in the backyard. Since it's been a while, I didn't want anyone to see me-especially if I fell off. We do have some nosey neighbours, so I checked to be sure they weren't out yet- and thankfully, at 8:20am, there was no sign of them. I wheeled the bike through the house to the backdoor. Awkward. Did I mention it doesn't have a kickstand? Also, the son of a bitch is HEAVY.  This wasn't some skinny light weight 10 speed, it was a big ol' mountain bike, complete with dual suspension and a solid frame. 

Anyhow, I was totally aware there isn't much room back there but I really just wanted to get on, peddle, sit, steer and not tip over. In my plaid, flannel pajama pants, a t-shirt, and my fuzzy slippers, I gave it a go. This is the space I was working with:


The first 2 attempts went like this: wobble, wobble, feet out, then one foot on the peddle, one foot out for balance, switching intermittently, but never actually getting both feet on the peddles and actually riding. The third time was a charm and I did a full circle from the backdoor, to the deck steps, turned, rode back and used the brakes for the first time. In 11 years. Boy, do those work GOOD. No issues there, as I almost flipped myself over the handle bar before coming to a sharp stop an inch in front of a huge potted plant. That was enough for now. Exhilarated, I brought the bike back inside and put it back in the hallway, thinking, "Not bad. Didn't fall."  I don't know what was fueling my fire about this. Maybe it was all those tampon commercials that used to air on TV, showing women horseback riding, jogging and biking during their menstrual cycle. What? Fun? When it's THAT time of month? Clearly, I was going to do fine, I finished my period last week.

I was determined to take it on the street, though, and really give it a go. After my shower, I changed into my jeans, sweatshirt & sneakers and awkwardly got the bike out the front door(s) into the driveway. I remembered to be sure I had my bike lock, key, housekeys, some kind of tool that came with the bike to fix it, should something come loose (uh...okay)  and my wallet with me. I even had a little pouch that velcro'ed to the bike frame to take along. I had a plan in mind. I would test ride down the street, turn around and come back. 

I expertly wheeled the bike into the driveway, and checked the gears, seat and chain (not really- I was totally faking it and checking to be sure there were no people around). The coast was clear, so I hopped on and off I went. Hung a right out of the driveway onto the sidewalk and practically coasted the whole way downhill, thinking, "I got this!" I even gently used the back brakes to slow up a little before turning around on the street and rode back up. I definitely don't understand the 21 gears on this mountain bike because it sure seemed like I was peddling a lot on the way up and not moving too quickly or getting very far, but far be it for me to change anything in the middle of my first ride and fuck everything up.

I was doing so good, I decided to pass the house and make a full on spin up the road to the gas station and get milk. My first bike-errand! As I rounded the corner and made my way up the street, the sidewalk was clear, and I felt a lot more comfortable being farther away from cars. The only problem was, when someone would come out of the driveway, on foot, and begin walking on the sidewalk. I would veer down onto the street and ride there til I passed them and then made my way back onto the safer (in my mind) sidewalk. This wasn't working great, as there was always someone walking on the sidewalk, so I bit the bullet, and stayed on the street all the way to the main road. I felt a car approaching from behind, tightened my grip & just prayed as the car went around me, non-chalantly. Ahhh. Alright. That went well. Then another, then another. Mind you, when I was a kid and riding all over creation on a 10 speed bicycle, a car MIGHT go by every 10 minutes or so. 

Now, my dilemma kicked in. I made it to the corner. I just had to go about 50 more feet to get to the gas station, but I would be on a very narrow and busy High Street for those 50 feet and I completely panicked. I hopped off the bike and instinctively acted like I was checking my tire pressure, so all the pedestrians & drivers passing by would think nothing of it. I was still safe on the sidewalk.  Once I "checked" the tires, I walked it the next 40 or so steps to the gas station. Ok, no big deal. I didn't look stupid or anything (in my mind). I walked the bike up to the entrance, and noticed there was no bike rack. I looked around and saw a post, so I opened my pouch, took out my lock and wrapped my chain expertly around the pole & bike and locked it. I stood there for a moment, realizing I had the key in the pouch. So, I un-velcro'ed my pouch with my wallet, key and tools and just brought the whole thing in with me. Nothing about this experience was easy, and I was a little bit stunned at how much thinking was going into this "errand".

Not wanting to waste my time, I browsed the gas station to see if there was anything else I needed besides milk. No on the pre-made sandwiches. No on the hot coffee from the machine. No on the magazines. I got an energy bar (afterall, I was riding!), a Diet Pesi and a half gallon jug of milk. I paid the man, as sweat formed on my brow. It's funny how the sweat starts once you've stopped riding. He handed me my bag of goods and off I went. Back outside, I walked up to my bike (with no kickstand) and tried opening my pouch to get the key, holding the chain and lock, to unlock it, holding the bag...and....Oh my god. This wasn't working. I set the bag on the ground, unlocked the chain, put the lock in my pouch, put the chain back around under the seat, put the pouch back on and velcro'ed it to the frame, picked up my bag, held up the bike from falling with the other hand, and then figured out, getting on was going to be extremely ungraceful. So, once again, I walked the bike through the gas station parking lot to the corner, where my street was and decided this was a much better spot to get on and get started. The only problem was the very slight incline of this street. Because of the bag I had wound around my right wrist in order to hold the handle, I was totally off balance. I stood there with this brand new shiny mountain bike (not a mountain in sight, by the way) between my legs, bag dangling from my wrist, the slight incline of the street facing me, flat footed, then trying to manuever the peddle into a good push-start position. At this point, I was completely exhausted from all the fear, thinking, and awkwardness that went into this "journey" up the street to the gas station. 

I mustered up the "Ummph!" to get moving, and peddled, jerked, and swerved my way back down the street to my corner. I was wobbling all over, even ringing the bell as I worked at trying to steer (bell? when did THAT get there?) Not having mastered the 21 gears, I know I was in the complete wrong gear to be going uphill, even as slight as it was, because my thighs where now starting burn. As I approached my corner, I braked cautiously, saw that no cars were coming, and was about 6 houses from mine, plus it was downhill- thank God. The bag was dangling from my wrist and smashing into parked car side-mirrors, but I didn't care.  I had made it to my driveway and hopped off the bike. I rested it on the fence and caught my breath bent over, hands on my knees, wincing and panting. Now I had the challenge of getting it back into the house. Getting it past the breezeway, and into the hall was a pretty big deal. I rested it there, threw the bag in the fridge and collapsed on the sofa, thinking..."When did bike riding get so hard?!"  Did I think that riding a bike would be easier than walking? Maybe so, but I've learned that a hill is a hill, and it sucks going up a hill no matter what. Did I think it would be good exercise? That it was, because I was sweating, heart racing, and thighs burning. Just then I happened to look at the clock, and saw that the whole thing- from start to finish took a mere 17 minutes. That's odd felt like 2 fucking hours. 

The bike is now in the shed, which was no easy feat, either-up the steps, cramming, stuffing, grunting like a dude.  I have to re-think how to make this whole bike riding thing EASIER. The temperature has dropped from a comfortable and sunny 62 degrees to a gray, rainy, gloomy 44 degrees. I feel like this is God's way of saying "You know what? Let's take this even slower.....I'll give you a week or so to recover and start over again. And next time, maybe consider a backpack."

Quick update: The sun peeked out for an hour, my wife got home- I showed her the bike. She immediately hopped on in the backyard and tried it out. She went twice around the yard, then said "Your turn," so I hopped on, and promptly crashed into the barbeque grill.