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To Try or Not to Try

How cycling reminded me of a valuable life lesson.

All done! After the final ride.

When you reach 45 years of age, a number of things happen. Often they are not the things one would like to happen. In fact, many are downright depressing and irritating, but alas they are completely unavoidable. Until recently however, I was able to avoid one type of phenomena that I have found afflicting the average 40 to 50 year old population. Cycling. Not biking for fun, or a quick out and about with the teenagers, but serious cycling. I am talking about cycling for hours, trips planned to exotic places to cycle, and the necessity to purchase one of those brightly coloured outfits all keen cyclists seem to wear.

I am not bothered any more by the sight of a gang of teenagers congregating outside Starbucks in the city where I live, but rather, as I loll out the door with my latte, I am accosted by large groups of adults clacking along in their clip-in bike shoes as they stop for a “quick” break along their 60 kilometre ride, championing the benefits of non impact sports. In fact, it seems every time I ask someone about a recent holiday, it includes some version of cycling somewhere. I nod my head, give them a courtesy “sounds great”, and swiftly steer the conversation in a different direction. I am the scrooge of biking. Who wants to bike for hours on end without even any music to break the silence?

Then a close friend of my husband’s turned 50 and he wanted to go on a cycling trip to Mallorca. First it was just men, headed off for a week. Hallelujah I thought, envisioning myself seriously slacking off for a week with my husband gone. Love him to death, but those week long staycations are the stuff of my dreams. Quick dinners, hanging out with my daughters, catching up on every Netflix show I can find. Sheer bliss. But then, one of my more eager friends suggested the wives should accompany the fellows. “It is only fair,” she said. “It would be fun.” The idea quickly gained momentum. Ughh I thought, my heavenly planned out staycation slipping silently away. I could have said no, but that insidious mental creature my teens call FOMO crept into my head. If I didn’t go, I would miss out, I would be left in any dust that those skinny little biking tires would bring up.

So I decided to give it a whirl (pun intended). At the very least I would earn myself a new workout outfit from Lululemon. Much more hip than those unflattering padded bike shorts. I researched rides in the country surrounding where we live with my youngest daughter, my new training partner, and was shocked to watch Youtube videos of ironman-ish looking cyclists seriously struggling on a nearby hilly country road mysteriously named the Road to Nepal. We quickly turned off the sound, wincing. I tried a new tack. I peppered my husband, who is a pretty athletic guy, with questions. How should I train, where should I ride, did he think I could do it … until I wore him out. “Take out the hybrid bike and see how you feel,” he said. “You just have to start riding.”

Okay I thought. I had grown up on a bike like all kids born before 1980. My parents rarely drove me anywhere, so I started off pretty confident. I figured I would do a short introductory ride around the reservoir near our house; 22 kilometres in total. I could do that. I wasn’t a superstar athlete, actually to be honest I am not sure anyone would ever even call me an athlete, let alone a superstar anything, but I have been blessed with some good genes and what I hoped was a high dose of muscle memory.

My initial bravado did not last long, nor did my muscles. Hills that barely elicited a huff or puff on a walk, seemed practically impossible on a bike. Even stopping wasn’t a relief because then I had to push my bike up the rest of the way.

But I persevered. I kept training. Somehow I made it up a big hill and I was ecstatic. So ecstatic that I promptly stopped riding for that day and text my three kids and my husband with the news that I had conquered a hill. These small accomplishments egged me on. I continued to add kilometres and hills to my bi-weekly rides and along the path something happened that I had been so adamant would not … I started to enjoy myself.

The allure of the sport began to take its hold of me. I was outside in the fresh air spending time with my family riding to different locations, watching the leaves change colour as fall blew into our city. We rode on provincial park roads outside the city, places I had never even ventured to, parks with great names like Sheep River Provincial Park. As we rode, deers leapt out gracefully before us, and cows roamed freely alongside us, one even having the audacity to trot along faster than I could ride on a never ending incline. Even though our routes were not the Road to Nepal, they were challenging and gave me an unexpected sense of accomplishment when I completed them.

The other day the itinerary for our trip came out. The short rides average 65 kilometres and the elevation gained ranges between 700 metres and 1200m. I quickly did the math, my mind still preferring to measure things in feet. Oh my word…that is a lot of feet. Clearly a lot more than I had trained for…but somehow…it didn’t really matter anymore. I had accomplished something I would never have done but for our friend asking us to go with them on this trip. I might never join the ranks of the crazy obsessed uber cyclists but I now understood the appeal of the fad. I had acquired a new respect for the sport and the cycling community, and ultimately for myself. 

However, most importantly, I once again realized that phrase we so often say to our children…that it’s better to at least try to do something, than to not try at all…is so true. Just trying something new can remind you how much the world has to offer, and  ultimately, leave you feeling renewed and re-energized.

Who knows, one day I might even buy clip in shoes. 

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