Airing Up My Tires
“Even when I rode into a 25-mph headwind that reduced my progress to a slow grind, I didn’t care: I felt alive again.”
It was a typical dinner on a Thursday night. My 9-month old daughter was chattering in her high chair as my 2-year old son sat across from me, drinking milk out of his sippy cup. To my right, my husband was scooping a spoonful of potatoes from his plate and telling me about his day.
I rested my head on the wall behind me, closed my eyes, and wondered what was wrong with me. I had an ideal life — my family was healthy and eating together, inside our great little house, and we had supportive friends and family. But for the past nine months, it felt like the air was slowly leaking out of my tires.
I leaned forward, took a bite of vegetables, and wondered how much longer it would be until I was utterly deflated.
When I was in high school, my dad asked me to choose an adventure for my 16th birthday. I knew he’d ridden the Bike Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN) when I was young, so I’d grown up curious. So, the summer I turned 16, my family saddled up for a week-long ride spanning nearly 500 miles.
It was glorious. The camaraderie with the other riders, the fanfare of the small towns, the grit and determination needed for mile after mile of rolling hills and headwinds was surprisingly satisfying. We enjoyed it so much that my brother and I convinced my parents to ride the event for the next two years until I graduated high school.
When I moved to Denver for college, I took my bike with me. But, I was terrified of city traffic and, after a Suburban nearly hit me while I was riding in the bike lane, I put my bicycle up for good.
My husband and I were married for seven years before we had kids. It wasn’t infertility or anything like that; we were just busy. During that time, we moved to four different states, got new jobs, gained access to better schooling, and enjoyed new experiences.
But, when we were in our late twenties, all of those moves and jobs started making less sense for our future. I wanted our parents to enjoy grandkids, and someday, I wanted to enjoy grandchildren, too. So, we gave up our crazy career paths, moved back to our hometown, and started a family.
I knew it wasn’t going to be easy — I never was a baby person, even on my best days — but I wasn’t prepared for the total immersion of motherhood. Every day, I dreamed of my old life and mentally recreated what it was like to read a book whenever I wanted, leave the house whenever it was convenient, or not wonder why my toddler was crying.
Obviously, that wasn’t possible, so to cope, I simply accepted the long, hard days of mothering, assumed I could regain my previous life when the kids were older and put everything about “my old self” on a shelf.
But I did it all wrong.
Becoming a mother wasn’t something that was going away. Instead, what I needed to figure out was how to integrate the best parts of my old life with this new one, so that even during the hard, sleepless days when the needs of small children demanded everything from me, I could find a place for myself. The alternative? Slip away and become a shell of my former self.
One afternoon, I remembered the joy I’d felt while riding a bike and decided to give it another try. My parents still had my trusty Trek 420 from high school gathering dust in their garage, but because my short, 16-year-old self needed a custom stem, it no longer fit me.
However, my mom’s beautiful, lightweight Cannondale did. She was only a fair-weather rider (which seldom happened in Nebraska), so I quietly loaded the bike into the back of my husband’s truck, brought it home, and put it in my shed.
I waited until the first calm day of spring and drove with the bike out to our local bike trailhead. I clicked my shoes into my pedals and shifted into a low, comfortable gear.
The Cannondale was like nothing I’d ridden. Its shifting was so smooth, and I quickly glided through the golden sunshine with an effortlessness I hadn’t felt in a very long time.
I didn’t travel far that day — I’d forgotten how uncomfortable a saddle can be during your first time back — but I grinned the entire time. For the first time in many months, I finally felt a release of freedom. It was exactly what I needed in my life.
There are two options as a mom: do things without your kids or with them. The first option involves a juggling act of childcare and planning. The second can be harder — it’ll definitely take longer, be more exhausting, and involve crying and at least one diaper disaster. But, I needed something where I didn’t have to rely on anyone. And cycling offered a much-needed opportunity for me to do something with my kids outside of our daily diapers, naps, and snacks routine.
So, with two kids under two years of age, I decided that biking was going to be our thing.
The next day, I scoured the internet for bike trailers. There wasn’t anything local, but I found a Burley in Omaha — three hours away — for a steal. Fortunately, my in-laws happened to be visiting there and picked it up for me.
It was in nearly mint condition. I set it up in my living room and plopped the kids in. By that time, my daughter was almost a year old, but was still “more squish than support,” so I rigged some pillows to help her to sit up straighter. It worked perfectly.
My next hurdle was finding a suitable bike. Since I was “borrowing” my mom’s road bike, I needed something sturdier to handle the weight of the trailer and my kids. While my husband had his hesitations about his three most important people taking to the streets on a bicycle, he could feel my enthusiasm and wisely supported the endeavor. That weekend, we went to our local bike shop and bought the kids the tiniest helmets I’d ever seen, and a mountain bike for me.
Our first trip was to the library for storytime. I strategically planned our route to avoid major roads and uphill sections and made a trip to the grocery store to find treats that would keep the kids occupied for the 20-30-minute journey. I settled on Twizzlers. “That should satisfy them for a while, right?” I thought to myself.
Then, the night before, I packed water bottles and found a plastic container that I filled with toys and books.
The next day, I let the kids play in the sandbox while I pulled out the bike and trailer, put air in the tires, attached the bike and trailer, and strapped helmets onto the kids. Our book bag to return to the library was probably heavier than both of the kids combined. Plus, with all of the snacks and toys, it wasn’t a light haul by any means.
With everything and everyone in place, I wheeled onto the road and got going. The weight wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, and we made it two blocks at a lovely pace before the crying started: my daughter’s helmet was bothering her.
I pulled over, made some adjustments to her helmet strap, and hopped back on the bike. Two blocks later, and more crying. They’d dropped the Twizzlers. I jumped off once again, fixed the problem, and doubted that we’d actually make it to the library. So, the third time they started crying, I informed them they were fine and sung ‘Wheels on the Bus’ at the top of my lungs.
It worked. Pretty soon, all three of us were singing through neighborhoods, enjoying the sun, and embracing the day.
After that first trip, we biked as often as we could, while I did my best to sneak my solo rides into my schedule. I quit looking at the weather forecast and embraced the wind, cold, and heat. It didn’t matter — my biking adventures were most important. Even when I rode into a 25-mph headwind that reduced my progress to a slow grind, I didn’t care: I felt alive again.
Ultimately, getting on a bike no-matter-what taught me that struggle was OK. Being a mom was OK. It was OK if my whole day was devoted to potty training. It was OK to feel like crap after another sleepless night. It was OK if the days were downright hard and filled with tantrums.
But amidst the difficulty, it was essential to take a moment, appreciate the surroundings — feel the sun and breeze, see the horizon — and then dig deep, keep moving forward, and celebrate my progress, my strength, and my accomplishments, no matter how small.