It was around May of 2018 that I did my first cycling group ride that started from our bicycle shop. It came with a little bit of coaxing. At that point in my life exercising with other people didn’t particularly interest me because exercising is such a release for me. I get time to think or turn on music and not think, but I don’t have to interact with anyone else. I can work out all of my tension and the workout can begin and end when I determine. It was something I considered as “time alone.” Although I did, on occasion enjoy riding with my husband or my kids as it was a fun way to spend time with my family.
But I was very new to riding a bike. Sure, I had learned to ride a bike as a kid. It was transportation to a friend’s house or the candy store, and sometimes my family did rides around town, but it had been years since it had been a regular part of my life. In the first few years of starting the bike shop when asked if I rode bikes, my standard reply was, “Yes, my bike has a basket and it can carry a quilt, a book and a bottle of wine.” That was my idea of a ride.
As I started to show a little more interest in riding for fitness, I didn’t get rid of my basket bike, but in addition I inherited a hand-me-down from a cyclist in our community. A bike with gears and better positioned for longer endurance rides. We affectionately called it Ol’ Blue. My husband gifted me a pair of Rapha cycling shorts for Mother’s Day. Knowing enough from his riding that Rapha was an extremely nice, high quality brand, I told him, “I haven’t ridden enough to warrant these.” To which he told me that was exactly why I needed them. “If I can keep you comfortable, I can keep you riding.” I cherished those shorts and wore them on rides by myself or with him and/or my kids. I feel this is important backstory so it is clear just how little I personally was into bikes.
So here is how my first official group ride came about. A woman cyclist and racer named Katy, whom I had never met before, but knew my husband and our bicycle shop, had a Women’s Cycling Club she led for our city. She offered through that club to lead an every-other-week Monday night group ride for women only. It would begin at our shop, ride with traffic on the road to a nearby lake, do one lap on the trails around the lake and then return back to the shop with traffic on the road. I think the distance was around a 12-13 mile ride. My husband told me Katy was starting it and suggested I give it a try. Which is of course the precise moment when I started thinking about how exercise is my time alone, and I didn’t grasp the desire to ride with other people. I wasn’t looking for social time.
BUT, on the other hand, I did have a bike, nice cycling shorts, AND I had ridden just enough to have my interest peaked, both as an athlete and as a human being who loves a personal challenge and an opportunity for growth. What would it be like to ride in a group? On the road? With women cyclists? Independently from my husband? What would it be like to take my own personal step closer towards that progression with cycling I had watched my husband go on for the past 10 years?
What was hardest for me to come to terms with was that below the very true layer of “I don’t want to exercise with other people” there was an even deeper layer of “Oh my gawd, I know enough about this cycling world to know that there is TONS that I don’t know. And it is really easy to speak the language and play just wise enough to blend in like a wallflower in the cycling world from the sidelines, but it is an entirely different thing to suit up and throw yourself as a participant into the spotlight which harshly reveals just how clueless and helpless and fearful and oh yeah unfit you are.”
Here is where my Ghosty comes to play. Starting something new is terrifying because as a beginner you <gasp> look like a beginner. I was scared that the other women would be mean, catty, experienced, cliquish. Scared that a lot would be expected out of me if people knew I was the shop owner’s wife. Scared that I would reflect poorly on the shop. Scared that I would wreck. Scared that I would cause other people to wreck. Scared they would go to fast. Scared that my tire would go flat. Scared that I didn’t know how to take a drink from my water bottle while I was riding. Scared that I had regular tennis shoes and flat pedals (I didn’t know they were called flat pedals then) instead of special clip in shoes with clip in pedals. Scared that I was too scared to learn how to clip into my pedals, and therefore couldn’t save face even if I wanted too. Bottom line? I was scared that I would look stupid.
I never thought about this so systematically at the time. These were all very separate anxious thoughts that would hit me at random times and stack up like a leaning game of Jenga. It was like my Ghosty showing up to rattle chains in my attic or knock, knock, knock in my basement, or moan in the walls of my mind, but every time I’d start to get close to the source of the noise the noise would stop and I’d go back to other more pressing moments of my day that needed my time, energy and attention. I guess what I am saying is for all the fear there was, the fear was manageable. It didn’t stop me from going on that first group ride with women.
This is why writing is so therapeutic for me. To write all this out. To tell the story. To see how this piece fits with that. To pick a theme, like this - my theme of making friends with a ghosty. To focus in on this aspect of fear in my life and see why it is so prevalent, when it occurs, what it causes me to do and what happens as a result. To help me reverse engineer the past, so I can accept the now and change the future. Writing has for years been the powerful tool that gets me to push through my fears, but as writing at some point snuck in as one of my fears, I wasn’t writing at the time this cycling journey began. I know I found other creative ways to befriend my ghosty because there have been so many fears faced along the way. For whatever reason, a year and a half into this cycling journey, writing became a necessary tool that had to be re-summoned and with it a whole surprising suitcase of fears handcuffed to it.
I love the parallel stories here, as I share with you what led me to my first group ride, and as I simultaneously share my first “group write” in sometime (which is just a punny way to say “publicly shared piece of writing.”) Writing is helping me keep riding. And riding is helping me keep writing. Also funny if you know about my history with trying to figure out these two pieces of myself that have often felt at war - the athlete and the artist.
This is why I love the idea of thinking of fear like a ghosty friend instead of a blood hound hunting you down. Because if you can just hang on long enough to let each fear take you where it wants to go, it turns out to be one step closer to you becoming your most glorious self out loud. This is not towards death, as it can feel at times, but towards life. This is all towards life.
I rode that first group ride because my curiosity won out over fear. I was hungry with the desire to be better on a bike. I was pacman eating up the ghost of I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t remember everything about that night, but here is how I remember it. I remember before the ride I was introduced as the bike shop owner’s wife (so much for being a wallflower.) I remember sharing verbally out loud how scared I was. I remember I had my fashion sunglasses from Target on and someone complemented me. I remember a woman on the ride fell on a hill at a stoplight because she failed to unclip from her pedal. She was not hurt, but I remember being validated in my decision to NEVER clip in. I remember the local police helped us get safely through traffic on the busiest road, thanks to my husband asking ahead of time if they would be willing to do so. I remember the ride being chaotic at first with nothing really explained and everyone going different speeds and riding different distances apart from each other and carrying on separate conversations. That part was unnerving. It made me feel out of control and I didn’t like that feeling. I didn’t like not liking that feeling, and so that gave me a new fear to overcome. (A reason to return!) I remember everyone was kind. I remember still not being sure if it was preferred exercise, but I had a sense of personal independence and accomplishment in doing something I had never done before on my own albeit in a group. (Another reason to return!) I remember being relieved that I made it back without needing a drink of water because we never stopped to get one.
Sometimes I am still so shocked that I was brave enough to ever go on that very first ride because I know how heavy the leaning tower of Jenga was stacked against me, and I know how noisy that moaning, rattling, knocking ghosty had become. It didn’t matter how much expectations others or myself had of me, I still had to be a beginner and to feel like one. That is such a crucial point of awareness for me to uncover through writing. To know that my ghosty friend has a pattern in where it shows up. Beginner’s Bend, I might mark it on my Landscapes of the Abyss map. It is The Fool card in the Tarot. It is where the ghosty shakes my hand and says, “How do you do?” Time after time after time.