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Lessons From My Bicycle: Falling Down

February 13, 2014

Falling Down

I have recently taken up bicycling again, for the first time in, oh, twenty years.

It is true what they say – you never forget how to ride a bike.

That first time back on the bike though, I started out wobbly, and nervous. Awkward and a little bit of a spaz, I jumped off at the least threat. I didn’t want to fall.

So I’m careful, and cautious and so far, I’ve kept my seat.

Gabe, on the other hand, is a far better and far more technical rider than I am. He’s teaching me all about when and how to change gears, how to position my feet. Yet, in the space of one ride, he dumped himself five times. Because he’s a bad rider? Hardly – this is the guy who used to cycle 100 miles a week.

Because he’s not afraid.

I’m afraid to raise my seat, because if I can’t reach the ground from the seat, I might fall. But riding so low is harder and requires more energy. My knees ache from the poor position.

I’m afraid to take tight turns, so I get off and walk. I’m afraid to stand on the pedals, because I don’t have my balance down yet, so I lose valuable energy going up hills.

I’m afraid to take risks. To ride off the trail, to get a little dirty.

Gabe is constantly trying new things. He’s trying to track stand (balancing in his clips while the bike is at a stand still.) He’s trying to tighten his turns, and go up steep hills, and blaze new trails.

So he falls down. (Except for that one time when a branch grabbed his handlebars and dumped him. That wasn’t really his fault.)

What would the world be like if we never fell down?

We speak figuratively of failure as falling, but today I’m realizing that the real thing has value, too.

I am loving being out on my bike. I love the cold air, and the scenery. I love the sunsets and the morning mist. I love the wind, and the speed, and the feeling of sneaking around underneath our suburban world, a sanctuary against suburbia that runs under the freeways and along hidden paths. Nature right here in the middle of the Silicon Valley. I’m addicted to this. I haven’t loved a sport this much since skiing. And skiing doesn’t happen very often. You sort of need snow for that, and there isn’t much snow in a drought.

Riding scared, riding careful, isn’t going to get me anywhere. My spin teacher always yells at us in the last 20 minutes of class…”The worst thing that can happen to you isn’t having to take a little off! The worst thing is not finding out how strong you really are! Now, give it a little more!”

Surprisingly, I’ve found she’s right. I think I’m at my max, I’ve given my all, and I give the little knob another quarter turn anyway. And I am stronger than I think.

For now, I’m going to push a little harder, take a few risks. I might fall (note: since drafting this a few weeks ago, Gabe took a major header and separated his clavicle. Look it up. It’s weird, and they don’t fix it. It’s been three weeks and he’s chaffing to get back out there. Will he hesitate the next time he goes down hill at 15 mph over gravel? Maybe, but not much.)

Who will catch us when we fall?

We don’t have an answer, so we stay far from the ledge. Far from the possibility of failure or pain. Because falling without a safety net terrifies us. Never mind that we are equipped with wings on our backs, rusty from disuse. Wings we’ve had since childhood that have been clamped down so long they aren’t sure how to spring forth anymore. We fear they aren’t strong enough to carry us now, so we peek over the ledge at the lush growth and waterfall below, but we wouldn’t dare jump. Instead we toil responsibly in the life we’ve created. Far from the ledge.

Rebekah Lyons, Freefall to Fly

When we stop being afraid of falling, when we start to take a few risks, that’s when we’re really going to fly.

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