Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us. – Thomas L. Holdcroft
So, at 48 years old, I’ve started riding a bike.
I mean, I rode when I was a kid, but not since then.
I have this nebulous goal of participating with my sister in a mini-triathlon, or sprint, next June. I’m not a good swimmer and my knees aren’t happy about running any more, but I figured I could probably bicycle.
Many of the races allow relays – a 3-person team does the triathlon with each person doing one leg of the event.
My sister is like a fish in the water so we’ve got that leg covered. We’re pretty sure we can find someone to run a 5k. And that just leaves the biking leg. My part.
I don’t even own a bike.
But Andrea, my partner, said she had one in the basement I could use so I went down there and hauled it up. After dusting it off and pumping up the tires, I took it out for a spin.
I’ve been on the road with it for a couple of weeks now and here are seven lessons I’ve learned about biking that – go figure – seem to work pretty well in life, too.
- You don’t need a bunch of fancy gear. Just start with what you have.
I live in Woodside, California which is one of the bicycling meccas in our country. Perfect weather for year-round riding, beautiful scenery, and wide bike paths all contribute to a large bicycling community.
And, these are serious cyclists. They have all the best bikes, colorful shirts, aerodynamic helmets, and special shoes that clip onto their pedals for more efficient motion.
I have a 20-year-old mountain bike and good intentions.
I flirted with feeling intimidated by these advanced riders with all of their cool stuff. I thought I’d stick out like a neon sign in the dark that screams “I’m a beginner!”
But then I thought, “Who cares?”
Maybe someday I’ll want and need all the fancy stuff, but to get to my goal of riding a thirteen-mile course in the sprint, I just need to start with what I have.
Maybe that’s what you need in your life right now, too.
Just start with what you have.
- It’s okay if people pass you by.
I guess you know that the people who have the high-tech bikes and all the right riding gear are zooming past me each day when I ride.
That’s okay. They’re supposed to do that, they’ve been at it longer. It doesn’t mean anything about me other than that I’m a beginner and they have been practicing this sport longer.
If you’re starting a new practice or have a big change coming up, remember that you’re a beginner, too.
Comparing yourself to more established people will only result in you giving up faster.
Allow yourself to be a novice. Learn to be okay with others passing you by.
- Smooth tires help you on the road.
The first day I went out was very rough. My goal was to ride a mile down the road to a stop sign and back.
I made it, but it was hard!
Later that day, I took the bike in for a tune-up and the mechanic advised me to change the rough, off-road, knobby-tread bike tires for smoother road tires.
The next time I went out with my new smooth tires, I rode ten miles! Those little bumps on the tires were really slowing me down and making me work too hard for what I was trying to accomplish.
Do you have little bumps in your life that are slowing you down? Making it hard to move forward?
Maybe you need to change something to make your journey smoother and easier. Is it a relationship? A job? Maybe you’ve just taken on too much and need to let some things go.
Or perhaps your bumps are the little things that worry you all the time. Is it important to hang on to those?
- Never spit over your left shoulder.
There’s no life lesson here.
Okay, maybe to be polite.
If you spit over your left shoulder, you might end up hitting a fellow cyclist who is passing you.
- You might surprise yourself and go farther than you think.
The past few times that I’ve ridden, I’ve been elated to find that I can actually go much farther than I thought I could.
I think I was setting my sights too low.
After the first couple of days of just getting used to the bike, I started to try to go beyond my initial goal for the ride. If my goal was a mile, I’d get to the mile point, check how I was feeling, and keep going.
Soon, with my new tires and the belief that I could go farther than I was originally planning, the miles began to add up each day. First two miles. Then six, then ten, and, most recently, sixteen!
Not bad for a middle-aged woman who sits for a living!
Do you limit how far you go in your life? Whether it’s a career goal, a spiritual practice, or exercise, maybe you’re selling yourself a bit shorter than you need to like I was.
When you get to whatever your comfortable point or goal is, see if you can push a bit farther.
You might be surprised at what happens.
- Hills can look very intimidating. Unless you use this approach . . .
One of the main reasons I was underestimating how far I could ride was because of hills.
I had it firmly in my mind that I was not ready to try to climb a hill because I wasn’t strong enough yet. So I limited myself to the mostly flat areas of a beautiful ride on Cañada road.
One day I decided to pedal further than usual and noticed that I was going down a long slope. It was very pleasant, but I was also a little concerned because I knew I’d have to come back up it.
When I turned around, I looked at the long, long incline in front of me.
I realized I would become too discouraged if I kept focusing on the top of the hill. So, as I started my ascent, I said to myself, “Just get to that next road sign.” When I reached the road sign, I said, “Great! Now just get to that tree stump up there.”
And so it went. I broke up the long hill into smaller parts that I knew I could accomplish.
I made it to the top!
I was so encouraged by this approach that I began to expand my route, tackling hills I never thought I’d be able to climb at this point. It’s been hard – I won’t kid you or I about that – but the feeling when I reach the top makes it all worth it.
If you have some kind of hill you’re looking at in your life right now, perhaps you could break it down into smaller parts, too.
This approach helped me in another part of my life many years ago when I was grieving the loss of my partner to breast cancer. The emotional pain was so intense I sometimes ended up on hands and knees on the floor, sobbing.
But I learned to say to myself, “Just make it through the next five minutes.” Then, as the pain subsided, I would expand the time to an hour, half a day, and so on.
Still, there were many times I would have to start at five minutes again.
Breaking it up into smaller, feasible pieces got me through.
It will for you, too.
- There’s no shame in gearing down.
One of the things that has helped me both physically and psychologically in conquering hills is something my triathlete sister, Susie, told me:
“There’s no shame in gearing down, Bobbi.”
She said this in response to my initial fretting to her about trying the hills. Susie went on to relate how she and some of her fellow triathletes have noticed how some riders are just determined to make it up a hill without having to submit to shifting into a lower gear.
The riders strain and grunt as they work against their bicycles.
Susie told me with a laugh, “We all just shout at them, ‘Gear down! Gear down!’”
So now, when I’m feeling that I’m straining against a hill, I hear Susie’s words about gearing down.
So I do.
And, gosh, that makes that hill so much easier.
I wonder if there’s anything happening in your life where your pride might be causing you more resistance than is necessary to make it up the hill in front of you?
Is there any way for you to gear down, to take a simpler approach? One that might take some humility but that will get you where you want to go even if it is a little slower than you’d like?
Remember, there’s no shame in gearing down.
I never knew that getting a dusty old bike out of the basement would not only help me become more fit physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well.
I hope it does the same for you.
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