Monday, June 1, 2015

On biking. And also fatness, accidentally.

Torsten and I had been talking about getting bikes for awhile before we finally bit the bullet about a year ago. We'd even gone to try out a couple models when Callum was a toddler but fallen at the final hurdle of the expense, particularly because we knew we wanted another baby and I was squeamish about the idea of being a novice bike rider while pregnant and also stuck on things like whether to buy a double trailer for the kids under the assumption that we would be lucky enough to have a second kid or not count our chickens and buy a single trailer that might not be sufficient for our lives a couple years later. So we kept talking about bikes and not buying them, until last spring, when Annika was six months old and sleeping well and we were both feeling more human and more up for it.

The thing was, the other reason why I had never been super pushy about getting the bikes was that I had this secret idea that maybe I wouldn't really be able to do it. I had a bike as a kid, of course, and I did use it, but I was... well, I was bad at it. I had one of those 10-speed bikes with a plastic piece on the handlebar that you turned to shift, but I didn't understand how the gears worked, how to shift properly, what gear I needed in any given situation. I would turn the gears at random until it felt like I could pedal, more or less, and then just leave them there. For lower gears, when I shifted into them it felt like my legs were spinning helplessly so I would shift right back out again. Which meant... well, it meant I could never get up hills. Because I wasn't using a low enough gear. Because I didn't know how. We lived on a corner at the bottom of two uphill streets and whenever I went for a bike ride I would just... pedal up the hill as much as I could and then walk the rest of the way.

It says something about my physical self-esteem and general personality at the time that I didn't, I don't know, ask someone for help? Say something like, "Hey when I'm riding my bike I always have to walk it up hills because I can't pedal to the top, am I doing something wrong? Is there a way?" But I didn't ask those questions. I didn't mention the fact that I found bike riding so hard. And the reason is because I thought it was due to the fact that I was fat. I thought I was too fat and out of shape to ride a bike properly and I was embarrassed to tell anyone that I was so fat I couldn't ride a bike like all the other kids and so instead I spent years walking my bike up hills while berating myself for being so fat.

Healthy! I know. And depressing to remember, and also apparently something that stuck with me because when Torsten first suggested, a few years ago, that we look into getting bikes, I panicked and told him that I didn't think that was a good idea because I was bad at riding bikes and too fat to get up hills. (Possible progress? That I was willing to at least TELL someone that I thought I was too fat to ride a bike?) In response, Torsten stared at me incredulously and was like, "What are you talking about? Anyone can ride a bike, even up a hill, if they use the right gear." And I was like, "...gear?"

This is going to sound super froofy, or something, but truly one of the most healing experiences I've had was the time we went to the store and test-rode our bikes, and Torsten explained to me how the gears worked and which gear to use for what, and then we went out and rode them around near the bike shop and got to a hill, and when the pedaling got too difficult, instead of climbing off and walking the rest of the way, I shifted to a lower gear and kept going, and then shifted to an even lower gear and kept going, and got all the way to the top of the damn hill. Me. On a bike. Not next to the bike, but on it. At the top of a hill. It was so FREEING, to realize I could do it.

So a year ago, we bought bikes and we brought them home, and we started using them, and I basically put Torsten's promise of "you can make it up any hill in the right gear, I promise you can" to the test on the very first ride, because we rode over to the High Line Canal Trail, and to get back to our house from the trail, we had to ride uphill, very steep uphill, almost a mile. At the end, no less, after a tiring ride along the canal. Torsten had the kids attached to his bike in a trailer, and I remember both of us staring up the face of that daunting hill, already tired from our ride, and me telling him to just go, use whatever speed he needed to get up the hill and not wait for me, and I would do the same, and we would meet at the top, but I would probably have to walk. And then we rode up the hill. And yes Torsten was ahead of me, and yes I was slow, and yes it was really fucking hard, and yes by the end I was all the way down to the very lowest of all 27 gears available on my bike, but I got to the top of that damn mile-long steep hill without having to walk. Me and all my fat. We did it together.

Since then I've ridden up that hill many times, and while the hill and I are not friends, and riding up it is not pleasant and never will be, I can do it, and I know I can do it, because I've done it every time I tried. I have never once walked my bike anywhere, because I can always ride it, because bikes are a thing that I can ride, even on difficult hills, even though I am fat, and now I know this, and it is an amazing piece of knowledge for me. And I've hardly become a professional cyclist over the last year, but I actually like cycling by now, like it even when it's hard, love being able to go places and see pretty things and use my muscles and get exercise that isn't completely miserable, that is actually enjoyable, and that can be done as a family, and that feels really good.

Next week we are riding in a fundraiser race for Annika's school, just eight miles, not a huge ride, for me probably a little less than an hour of cycling, and when the call for participants came out, I was the one who eagerly went to Torsten and suggested that we sign up, and I've been the one looking for opportunities to get out there on our bikes and train, and explore new places. Me. I'm the eager one, because I like biking. I'm the one who likes cycling enough to sign up for an actual race, albeit a short, noncompetitive one (at least for me). Me, the girl who thought she was too fat to get up a hill, and was too embarrassed to tell anyone.

I didn't actually mean to take the post in this direction--I was originally just going to post about the lovely eight-mile training ride we did yesterday, and how much I enjoyed it, and how when we turned around at the four-mile mark so we could get home before dark I felt like I could have kept going and going, and how pretty it was and how I loved the feeling of the miles just falling away below my handlebars, and it was so enjoyable--and yes, yes, all those things, but I guess this other stuff was still in me and needed to get out.

Revelation: I am not too fat to ride a bike. I love riding a bike. I am so happy.

Me, a year ago, before my very first ride on my bike, 
a couple hours before I conquered that hill for the first time.


  1. This made me get all teary, actually. What a wonderful post!! I am so happy that you have found something you really enjoy, and I am SO DAMN PROUD OF YOU for sticking with it, and for learning how to enjoy it. (And supporting gold star for Torsten for explaining the gear mechanics and encouraging you.)

    This makes me wonder how many things we all quit or walk away from simply because we don't have the right information to be successful.


    1. Thank you, this is so sweet, and yes, that's a really good question! It's funny how domain matters so much. Like, this is so different, but breastfeeding. It seems like advocates and LCs are SUPER aware that some women walk away from it because they don't have the right information to be successful, and so they go really far the other direction with messaging about how everyone can breastfeed! And then some women who legit can't bend over backward and kill themselves trying to make it work, and feel heinous guilt when it doesn't.

      But stuff like this... obviously different ballgame. And agreed, sometimes it's such a simple thing... I could have saved myself 20 years of this thinking! Best not to think about that too hard.

  2. Aww, this makes me happy. I just re-read the posts I wrote after meeting you & Torsten for the first time, where I was very gushy about the love you SO OBVIOUSLY had for each other, and how well you just went together. And I feel like this story where he just sort of matter of factly fixed this insecurity of yours by being like "oh! gears!" is a lovely example of it in action.

    1. Awww well that's the nicest compliment ever! And it makes me really happy because that's exactly how I feel about us, it's very simple, very daily life, and that's how I like it. It's kinda nice that you remember the us of seven years ago and you think it's fitting, because by now us at the beginning is a little blurry for me.

  3. I just came across your blog, and I'm so glad you wrote this post. My husband is buying me a bike soon and I've had these exact, EXACT anxieties about it. Now I'm kind of excited. Thank you for sharing.