The Joy of a Bad Ride
I was the wind. Or so I felt, glued atop my bicycle, accelerating wildly on my way down the rocky hill, my hair frantically waving behind me as though trying to grasp something mid-air, lest I break the laws of physics and fly off the pebbled path into space.
I was wide-eyed and stone frozen. My sweaty hands curled around the bars and into my palms, and my heart was racing in rhythms my ears had never felt before. The landscape zipping past had numbed my mind, and the beads of sweat materialising on my skin were evaporating so fast that the coolness gave me chills.
All sense of time and existence were suspended. I was trying to think, but no thought came. I was trying to scream, but no sound arrived.
One meter to impact
In the far distance behind me, I could hear someone wailing. Until all I could listen to was wailing—an internal and external auditory prompt to hit the brakes. But it was too late. My reflexes and hypnotic speed coalesced into an exploding moment of dread and fear, my collision imminent.
One centimetre to impact
In the seconds right before the crash, I was fearless. Not courageous or brave. I was empty, yet I felt overcome by a tremendous faith in the fierce wheels that had razed the meadows and stones behind me, and carried me this far, possibly even to my death. Doom seemed to await me at the end of the track, which I prayed would be prolonged by a few more seconds so I could conclude it in my head. Nevertheless, the end seemed to race towards me as swiftly as I was riding towards it.
Crash-blackness. Then, a bokeh vision—scattered lights and pigments. And a pulsating head.
I dared not open my eyes to the Grim Reaper’s awaiting scythe, who would conclude my dear life. I had lurched forward from inertia, head first, into a run-down wall, and missed some contorted rebar sticking out. Another few inches and I would have been left with some nasty scars on my face.
But before I could heave sighs of relief, the unattended anxiety blew up. My consciousness kicked in, flooding my brain with an array of potential endings; the bloody “could haves” and “what ifs.”
Almost immediately, I commenced a subsequent session of bawling. Legs shaking, standing over the sturdy metal body that had protected me from the crash’s recoil, and hands burning from the handle grip biting into my sweaty palms. I cried, and I cried some more. Partly, because of how scared I was, but mostly in overwhelming gratitude for the bicycle that protected me from a 12-year old’s likely childhood trauma.
The bicycle was a gift from my parents for my persistent good results in school. It was my first exposure to independent and self-reliant transport, and I felt a little too excited to be called “a big girl” any longer since I now owned a pair of shiny-rimmed wheels. I was eager to set a tiny foot in the grownup world of freedom.
Ah! The taste of evolution, progress, and achievement. I perched myself on a seat a few notches above comfortable and readied my stance. As I initiated my first step towards launching Mission Independence, I pushed hard on the left pedal, dipped with its drop and rose with its reemergence, and listened to the chain’s raspy hissing encouraging me to pedal faster, stronger.
Before I knew it, a world I had only walked in was pacing backwards under my pedaling feet. With the building kinetic energy of the chain, my happiness went beyond the meter.
My expectations met with a harsh reality when I lost control on some stray rocks, detoured from my sandy course onto a pebbly path, and horrified a novice, as unfurled above. Although, as a grownup, I’d like to think the scene looked much more comical than my description.
It is not often that I look back on my cycling fiasco (especially when I’m on my present bike). Still, its failure sure did leave a hint of nostalgia—like the taste of my least favorite flavour of assorted candy after unexpectedly crunching down. But, I mentally grind it down so that I can
quickly pop in the next flavour awaiting at the bottom of the jar.
So, my memory of the accident is like my least favorite candy: it’s not the best part, but it’s a precursor to the next-possible best.
A memory I often recall, now that I’m in quarantine and have ample time on my hands, flowed like pink dusk on a hot, stuffy afternoon:
I’m dragging back the bicycle up the slope, and I see my mother standing outside beaming brightly as if she had not witnessed one of the greatest free pedaling failures.
I lug my tiny body, fatigued from the sudden spike and fall of adrenaline, to stand in front of her, with my bicycle leaning awkwardly midway between my waist and shoulders. I sniffle my runny nose.
My mother stands there, smiling, not reaching out with a single finger to caress my tear-smeared cheeks or to set my stray hair, which stands around my forehead from the humidity. No, she just looks down, glances over my body checking for bruises, gently places her hand on my head, pats it lovingly, and expounds the single most effective failure treatment in my mental inventory:
“I hope that you understand that the joy of doing something is not in fulfillment of our expectation, but the wondrous and adventurous journey that awaits us as we learn it and overcome the obstacles that prevent us from doing it correctly.”
As I realised throughout my next adolescent and young adult years, growing up and experiencing freedom and independence is, frequently, not a fun project. But the dawn of a new understanding in the dusk of failed attempts has always lent a golden light and a glimmer of hope to my successive shortcomings.
Every new experience, victory, and disappointment falls in line with the cyclic motion of bright-rimmed wheels rolling on a sandy path. Will they detour again? Or, perhaps, I will have learned the nimble ways of the bar, and thread skillfully onto a new quest? Will I maybe run into another wall; a ditch, if you will? Or, will I return home with just a scratch and stories to tell of the wonderful people I met?
Maybe, I will be joined by others, and we will share our bittersweet challenges and move on with more wisdom in our hands and tunes on our tongues.
Life is a cycle, and as you move forward—whether stumbling or swinging, crashing or rolling—taking the time to build kinetic energy in your chain will send your happiness beyond the meter.
In time, we can be the wind, and perhaps sweep up a good storm.