It inevitably happens to all of us: we try some activity, fail miserably at it, and then decide never to do it again. But that’s is the easiest option. The hard option is getting back on the horse and trying again, or in my case getting back on a bike.
About two years ago I crashed while mountain biking in Big Bear, CA. It wasn’t anything horrific or terrible, but I did come out of it with some broken ribs and a lot of road rash. After that every time I got on a bike I was plagued with flashbacks to the crash, especially when going downhill, and naturally it put me off biking for a while.
This past year I finally started to get back on the bike, little by little. I’d ride to work, or to the market, but always on the flattest route possible. Then the idea for a bike tour came up. My boyfriend is an avid cyclist and loves bike tours. We would be in Ireland with my brother and good friend in June and a bike tour seemed like the perfect way to see the north west coast of the country.
I was a little nervous, but readily agreed to the idea. I was scared because I still wasn’t feeling very comfortable on a bike, but I was also excited. How could I let an adventure like that pass me by? As the four of us made a plan and mapped out a route, I was also mentally preparing myself for the road ahead. I knew that the tour was going to be both mentally and physically difficult, but I made a deal with myself that no matter what I’d get through it, I’d face any fears or anxieties head on.
That first day on the road was stressful but exciting. There were more hills than we’d anticipated, quite a bit more traffic, and we got off to a later start than we’d hoped to. But I was riding and I was feeling pretty good. Not even the bug that flew into my eye and made me cry could get me down. The up hills were hard on my legs but the views we got from the top never seemed to disappoint, and to my relief the down hills were never very steep. By the time we rolled into town that evening my legs felt like jello and my knee was really sore, but I was feeling pretty proud that I’d gotten through the day. We joked in the pub that night as we drank our much deserved beers, about how many more hills there would be the next day and if the rain would ever let up or whether we’d just be damp the whole time. But I began to get a little nervous, as I iced my aching knee with my Guinness I started to wonder, would tomorrow be even harder? Would I have to face bigger hills?
The next morning I was feeling pumped, the rain that had pelted us the evening before had cleared away and we were greeted with gorgeous blue sunny skies. At breakfast, the owner of the hostel let us know that our route would have more hills, but mostly gradual inclines, then we’d come down through a valley, but the rest should be smooth sailing.
As we set off for day two, the views of the coast were so spectacular it almost made me forget the aching in my knee. We spent the majority of the morning pedaling hard up a tall pass, with me thinking the whole time about the descent on the other side. The idea of long, steep downhill began to set my mind off in a tailspin of flashbacks to my crash, but I put that panic aside and I’d deal with it when then time came. For the time being I had to keep pedaling up.
At the top there was a picnic area off the side of the road with a gorgeous view of the valley below, but I could barely enjoy it as I dropped my bike to the ground in exhaustion, I thought about my mounting anxiety of having to ride down that steep winding mountain road. The thing about fear is that it can take over and rule you if you let it, and I had begun to let it take over. As I sat looking down at the road below I realized I needed to change the way I was thinking, no more, “What if I crash?”, no more imagining worst case scenarios. I was psyching myself out and it needed to stop.
And with a deep breath I cleared my head. I could do this, I would be careful, I would go slow, and I would make it down that hill.
I’d like to say that with some deep breathing and head clearing all my anxiety vanished, but it didn’t. It definitely helped, but as I set off down the road I was still feeling shaky and scared. It was my determination that took over, I was determined to make it down that hill, and I was determined to not let the fear rule me or dictate what I could or could not do. So I focused on the road ahead and biked down. I was probably going slower that what a person could walk down a hill, but I was doing it, and that’s all that mattered.
I was met at the bottom with cheers and smiles from my little group and myself. I’d made it down that giant hill without a meltdown, panic attack, or any tears. I felt relief, but more than that, I felt like I could conquer anything after facing that hill, and my fears. And just like the hostel owner had said that morning, the rest of the day was smooth sailing.
On the last day of our tour there was one more big hill to conquer, but as I cruised down that mountain road I felt more confidence than I’d probably ever felt on a bike. I was still going slower than everyone else, but I knew I could do it this time and it felt good. I sailed down with the wind whipping my face, my hands off the brakes, and a giant smile on my face.