Cycling Stories

3 Checkpoints: A Biking Trip That Changed My Life

January 24, 2020


3 Checkpoints: A Biking Trip That Changed My Life

“That’s the thing about cycling: it makes me happy. I feel empowered. I’m in control, energized. I feel like me!”

Ammar Ali

Overcast weather, gentle drizzle, light wind: the stage was set perfectly for my first bicycle ride in many years.

To be honest, I initially declined. Cold, a cold, six-o’clock-in-the-morning start time, pedaling 24 miles round trip: the mere thought made me weary.

But, Khan, my childhood friend, wouldn’t budge. And I’m glad he didn’t. Because that day—January 27, 2019, to be precise—I exited my comfort zone and haven’t looked back since.

I have so much to say, but I’ll be brief. Let’s begin!

Checkpoint 1: Not Breezing Through the Gears

We planned to ride to the airport, which was 11 miles from our starting point—a big parking lot near the main road, in a metro area where the cycling conditions aren’t exactly ideal.

Still, everything worked out great at first. So much so that, after riding the first mile, I noted, “This is easier than I imagined!” I prematurely thought the rest of the journey would be similarly breezy.

Here’s the thing: I was so inexperienced that I didn’t know how my bike’s gears actually worked. Even if I did, though, my bike was so old and clunky that it rarely shifted well in the first place.

Whenever I brought it up, Khan would calmly reassure me. “Don’t worry much about it,” he’d say.

That’s when the situation got … messy.

My bike’s poor shifting wasn’t much of an issue when riding straight, flat roads. Now, though, I was climbing a small bridge with a steep upward slope, and I couldn’t shift into low gear. Classic rookie mistake.

Still, I persisted.

Imagine a 23-year old guy who sits in front of the computer for 12 hours each day, lives a sedentary lifestyle, and has the stamina of a koala, pedaling like mad with all his might, hoping to defy the laws of physics. It was comical.

Of course, I quickly burned out, exhausted myself, became overwhelmingly dizzying, and started throwing up. Khan rushed over to make sure I was OK, which I was—I just needed to catch my breath and rest my legs.

The group’s ride leader circled back as well, gave me some water, and transported me to the next checkpoint (there was a guy on the motorcycle with us, just in case of emergencies. Lucky me!).

Checkpoint 2: High Fives & Empowerment

Now that I’d arrived at the second checkpoint, the rest of the journey looked like anything but a breeze. Especially riding with a group of 29 mature, seasoned cyclists who were waiting on me to get it together so they could continue.

Their eyes were all locked onto me. More than one recommended that I book an Uber to get back.

I was embarrassed, but this was no place to weep. I didn’t wake up at six o’clock in the winter morning to ride two out of 24 miles, and then give up!

I mustered the energy, stood up from the pavement, took a deep breath, and courageously exclaimed: “I’m not quitting. Let’s go!”

Next thing I know, everyone’s giving me hi-fives.

I felt empowered. Me, an introvert with only a handful of friends and little-to-no regular social interaction, cheered on by a large group of people whom I just met a couple of hours ago. Damn, it felt powerful!

Taking Time & Coffee

From there, I patiently learned how to shift gears properly, and pedaled confidently toward the third—and final—checkpoint at the airport. With proper expectations and skills, this part of the journey actually was a breeze.

The group stopped at a coffee shop along the way, where we replenished our bodies with energy drinks and water. Thankfully, the rain waited until then to pour, although we had to wait for an hour and a half for it to pass.

After launching back out on our journey, it seemed like all the unluckiness had passed. Once again, I thought this too soon.

Checkpoint 3: Pulled Muscles, Pushed Limits, New Beginnings

Somewhere between the eight and nine-mile mark, I pulled my calf muscle and hamstring. The pain radiating through my leg was immense; I could barely stand.

This time, ambition and determination weren’t enough. I had to sit behind a motorcycle throughout the remainder of the trip. Not the happy ending I was looking for.

It was, however, the beginning of a new journey for me.

Cliché? Sure! But it’s absolutely right. Had I chosen the easy route and booked an Uber ride back home, I wouldn’t have had a fantastic experience to share!

I also wouldn’t be in my current situation, 11 months later. I’ve joined a gym, started waking up at 5 AM, taken many more cycling trips, and made some good friends along the way.

It’s funny how an unplanned cycling trip can make such a significant impact on one’s life. 

That’s the thing about cycling: it makes me happy. I feel empowered. I’m in control, energized. I feel like me!

Cycling helps me to remember that as long as I’m pedaling, I will move forward.

In the future, I’d love to visit my cousin in the States and go on a long cycling/camping trip. Maybe, Grand Valley, Colorado? I can only wish!

By the way, did I tell you about the time I fell from the bicycle because I tried to do a wheelie? Perhaps another time!

Ammar Ali is a certified chartered accountant by education and a writer by profession from Karachi, Pakistan, who’s currently studying VFX motion graphics and filmmaking.
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