For a well-balanced life
Kermit at rest. (I named my beautiful green Trek bike Kermit. I have a habit of naming some of my things. For example, my Mac has a name and now my bike. Why do I do this? I don’t know. Because.)
So there I was, nervously perched on top of a big green bike, seemingly miles off the ground, and navigating through Sentosa’s three beaches, which were filled with gawking tourists, trams — and horrors! — little kids in scooters and bikes and families with pets. Why oh why didn’t they all go home?? More to the point, why am I here? I could be home, reading a book instead of trying to navigate through Sentosa’s crowded beaches on a weekend! Instead, I still can’t believe that I am indeed riding a bike. On my own. Without training wheels…. How did I get here?
It all started because I told D once that I wanted to learn how to bike. D, an avid cyclist, and more importantly, a guy who likes do things instead of just talking about them, promptly got me a bike. That’s done it, I thought then. Better put my money where my mouth is — better, put my bum on the bike seat, pronto. The thing is, I didn’t know how to ride a bike. I never learned. When we were kids, my brothers all had asked for and were given bikes, which they used to go around the neighborhood with other neighborhood kids after school was let off for the day. Meanwhile, I, the only girl stayed home on the couch and read a book. It got so bad that my mom at one point would call me from the garden (where she’d putter about) “para makilala ka ng lupa” (to let the earth get to know you) as she put it, rather poetically. I never did. Don’t get me wrong. I was no wilting lily. I did my share of running and rough-housing with my brothers, but just never got around to learning how to ride a bike. I wasn’t interested, I guess.
So fast forward to November 2014 with D attempting to teach me — “attempting” because expert cyclist though he is, he doesn’t know the first thing about teaching a grownup how to ride a bike. I think this is one of those skills you needed to learn as a kid, when you think nothing bad will happen to you while balanced on a contraption on two wheels, going down a hill. As kids, we think we’re immortal — before we all learn that we’re not.
Two weekends of me nearly crying and him almost pulling his hair in frustration because he couldn’t understand why I couldn’t just “balance and go”, we ended up with a cycling instructor. There is such a thing, apparently. Coach Edmund has been teaching cycling to people of all ages — from kids to older people — for over a decade. On my first day, I watched as he finished his lesson with a 60-something woman, which did wonders in allaying my fears. I had secretly been thinking that l just had a lousy sense of balance and will never be able to learn how to ride, and thus wasting the beautiful bike D got for me. Seeing an older person learning how to ride gave me confidence that I too could learn. And guess what? I did learn. It took three one-hour sessions to get me from clutching the handlebars in a death grip while being towed around the block by Edmund to actually riding on my own (albeit still with the occasional collisions with railings, a billboard, stupid people who won’t get out of the way). I haven’t looked back since.
When I was young, I used to hate stories that had a “moral lesson”, as if stories couldn’t exist for their own sake. But now, I always look for what my experiences have taught me. So here’s what I learned, in learning how to ride a bike:
1. If you want to do something, just do it. Nike was right. If you want to learn, then go figure out a way to learn. You’ll fall flat on your face, it won’t be easy, and you may even fail. But that’s ok. Just get back on again.
2. Gripping the handlbars too tight won’t help you control the bike. In fact, having a death grip will make you lose control faster. As it is with life. Sometimes you need to let go to be able to steer.
3. A light nudge works better. Early in the lesson, Edmund told me to turn left, so I swerved the handlebars to the left… and fell down. His advice: I don’t need big movements to steer the bike, just nudge it in the right direction. I think it’s a good metaphor for many things — a project, dealing with problematic colleagues, customers, employees, loved ones.
4. To maintain your balance, you need to keep moving. When I was learning how to ride, D would always urge me to just push off and pedal and assure me I wouldn’t fall. I couldn’t bring myself to, which of course, made me fall several times. Slowing down made the bike wobbly and harder to control, while speeding up made it balance. Sometimes to maintain control, we have to seemingly surrender control. It’s a good lesson to learn.
5. Sometimes it’s all in your head. During what must have been my second lesson, Edmund would let go and get me to pedal on my own. You can imagine how nervous I was! I’d moan that I would fall without him to guide me and he said: “Don’t worry about falling. It’s all in your head. When your head figures out how to do something, you’ll get a little click and you’ll realize you had known how to do it all along.” (Something which D also tried to tell me when he was teaching me but he says, “You don’t listen to anything I tell you!”) I still remember that every time I try something new — whether it’s mastering an incline (and let me tell you, inclines are a bitch!), trying an off-road track to cycling on the road with vehicles (which still freaks me out). I realize that I only needed to attempt it to be able to do it. Once that barrier is breached, I always wonder why I didn’t try it sooner. Now to conquer that zig-zaggy hill in Sentosa…
6. Straight ahead, no distractions. First few times I ventured on my own, I’d take a quick glance to my left only for my bike to follow where I was looking — and collide with something. I once ran into a billboard, a man who couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, a group of teenagers who were not paying attention even when I hollered for them to get out of the way, a tram… you get the idea. I had since learned to just look straight and go. Conversely:
7. Don’t forget to look around. The beauty of being on a bike is that you get to see many things that you might not otherwise notice had you been walking. I am still learning this, as trying to steer and look around does not come naturally to me. But it’s a good exercise in keeping your mind on the goal, without missing out on the wonderful things along the way.
8. Pay attention. D still teases me about this: So we were comfortably cycling on Sentosa and here I was thinking I had finally gotten the hang of cycling, when I noticed that I was slowing down and it was getting harder and harder to pedal. “Hun, something’s wrong.” I was panting and struggling to get the bike moving. “I can’t seem to get the bike moving faster! What am I doing wrong?” He looks back at me and says, “Honey, we’re going up an incline. Change gears.” Argh. I hadn’t noticed. I still don’t know how he managed to maintain a straight face that day.
9. Pick a direction and go. Or, as the travel writers say, it’s the journey, not the destination.
10. “Just keep pedaling.” (D paraphrasing Dory.)
The man who taught me how to ride a bike was Edmund Lee. His website: http://www.cyclinglessons.com.sg