Every Scary Thing On One Bike Ride

StuntsSo far on the bike I’ve been focusing on training for one specific thing – going as fast as possible on a relatively flat course. When it comes to the bike the biggest thing to overcome for me is fear. When I started I was scared of a bunch of stuff, all of which basically amounted to wrecking at a reasonably high speed and breaking myself (wrecking at a slow speed and just looking like an idiot is something that I’ve gotten used to.)

Part of it is that I’m a total noob and not yet comfortable on the bike, but there are other factors as well. Like a pregnant woman gets inundated with other people’s birth horror stories, telling someone that you are going to be riding a bike in a triathlon inspires them to tell you their worst crash stories. Unfortunately I’ve got a good mind for both recall and association for things like this so often on my rides this type of thought occurs:

I hit 17mph – that’s the speed where my friend told me that she lost control, hit a fence and broke an arm and a leg.

Offleash dog – that’s how my massage therapist broke her back.

Puddle – that’s how that lady from the bike shop skidded out and fractured her ankle.

Then there are the threads in the triathlon communities to which I belong online where people are encouraged to post pictures of their accidents to fill my head when I’m bored on a long ride. (I know, I shouldn’t look at them, maybe someday I’ll find that kind of discipline, but currently I’m using up my supply of discipline on running, biking, and swimming long distances.)

Finally there are my own misadventures.  The one time I’ve attempted to bike since my childhood was when I was going to do a MuddyBuddy with my Best Friend. About 5 minutes into my overambitious first training ride I started to go down a steep hill, freaked out, slammed on the brakes and ended up flying over the handlebars, falling down the hill, and then seconds later the bike landed on top of me. I was still dancing competitively at the time and so decided that the MuddyBuddy, and perhaps biking (with all their possibility of serious dance season-ending injury), were not for me.

So I have this list of things I’m scared of, and as I’m doing my training rides I’m mentally checking off the scary things that I do. Some of them are a little ridiculous when I think about them, but still scary when I actually do them (going over highly textured pavement, puddles, riding over bits of nature in the road, pigeons who aren’t at all inspired to move by a 300 pound woman barreling toward them at them at 15mph etc.)

There are some skills that are scary to me that I haven’t gotten around to yet – doing progressively tighter figure-eights for example.  Then there are all the intricacies of riding with other people. In general there is just a bunch of stuff that freaks me out a little on the bike.  The scariest, the thing that I’ve decided that I simply will not do, is riding in traffic. It’s not necessary for the IM, I have no desire to use the bike for transportation, and so I’ve decided not to do it.  When it’s time for a bike ride I strap my bike to the car and drive it to a trail.

So that’s where I was mentally when, on a trip to the Bay Area last week, I went on a ride with a couple friends.  When they told me where the trail was it became clear that we were going to have to ride through traffic.  It was only a block but I would be lying if I said I didn’t freak out internally.

We made it to the trail alive and the first thing I saw was a big hill. Well, a big hill for me, probably not even considered a real hill by people who actually ride.  To this point I’ve only trained on flat trails and I proceeded to do absolutely everything wrong – I didn’t get any extra speed/momentum, when I finally remembered that I should shift into an eaiser gear I freaked out and shifted the wrong way (my issues with gears will certainly be the subject of a future post).

It was a hot mess and the end result was that I walked my bike up the hill.  Then, seeing how steep the downhill was, I walked my bike down the other side to the nice flat trail that I was promised.  Not an auspicious beginning.  My friends were very kind despite my obvious shortcomings.

The trail was a bit more busy than the one I usually ride and included walkers, runners, other cyclists, and dogs of the on- and off- leash variety. Still everything was going fine and then another hill.  I made it up this one but not without a lot of difficulty  That was the end of the trail so I was planning to walk my bike down the hill and then head back.

At that point my friends gave me a talking to, explained how to brake on a hill in a way that controls your speed instead of sending you flying over the handlebars, and challenged me to go down the hill.  It was super scary.  But I did it, and I didn’t die.  Check another one off the list.

Then we saw a basketball court where people were doing various bike tricks and they suggested that we try to get in there so that I could practice my figure eights.  We weren’t able to figure out how to get in, but there was a big paved area outside and, in what seemed like an involuntary exited utterance, I asked “Will this work?”

Fast forward to me riding around in circles trying to get up the courage to cut through the middle and make them into figure eights. I took a deep breath and silently said to myself what Lisa at The Unlikely Cyclist had told me “Momentum is my friend.” And then I was doing it.  I did a bunch of them, some tighter than others, some that almost ended in disaster but didn’t. I finished much more comfortable with the maneuver than when I started.

It was getting dark and it was time to go.  As I approached the hill from the beginning of the ride I focused on creating momentum, shifting into an easier gear and spinning up – and it was no big deal.  I made it to the top easily – where I had intended to stop and walk down the other side – and decided to ride down it instead.  No big deal.  Checkity check.

Then it was time to ride through traffic again – still only a block, still terrifying to me, but once again I lived. I’m happy to say that I’ll be repeating all of my new experiences but that one – I have no desire to cycle in traffic ever, I’ll stick to the bike trails! But I got to check almost everything off my list so the march (or ride) to the 70.3 in October and the full IRONMAN next year goes on.   I started this whole thing to see what happens when I get out of my comfort zone and I’m certainly getting my money’s worth!

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff!

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About danceswithfat

Hi, I’m Ragen Chastain. Speaker, Writer, Dancer, Choreographer, Marathoner, Soon to be IRONMAN, Activist, Fat Person.
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9 Responses to Every Scary Thing On One Bike Ride

  1. karenashg says:

    Congrats on the big day on the bike! Wahoo! That’s an amazing feeling when something that has freaked you out becomes no big deal. Boo to the people who tell you their crash stories–I hope as the cycling miles accumulate you can start replacing them with your own memories of positive experiences on the bike.

    As someone who 1) is naturally crazy cautious and 2) makes her living teaching dance, descending has always freaked me out (I’ve walked down more hills than I’ve walked up.) The Star Trek-type red alert danger klaxons start going off in the back of my head as I gather speed… Yikes! Over the last few years I’ve made a special point of learning as much as I can about the technique of descending, and that has helped a lot–now when I descend, I focus on a constant checklist of technique, and it’s actually become one of my favorite things about bike riding–even as I am still very cautious about it.


  2. Yay, you!
    If I’ve learned one thing, it’s not to listen to other triathletes’ horror stories. I was at an OWS clinic this past winter (indoor pool, lots of drills and simulations to make it akin to an open water situation – highly recommended!) and before the group of us even got to the introductions and theory in the classroom setting, we stood around awkwardly as a bunch of strangers, and a group (that I would call out as “the popular clique”) started comparing horror stories of OWS during races. One girl was casually talking about IronMan Cozumel and how the ocean swells were so high that she was throwing up. I suddenly felt that familiar flush of “uuggggh I don’t belong here” — until we got through the practical theory part in the morning and we got into the pool and started swimming. Then I realized, I do belong. I swim. They swim. I can swim as well, if not better than some of them (but who cares? I’m not racing them, I’m trying to learn stuff to help me do better in my own open water swims!) and it struck me that people use that shit as a tactic to cope with awkward nervous stranger moments. I prefer to just meet and greet in a warm, friendly manner, but that’s just me.

    You keep rockin’ on and sticking to the car-traffic-free trails. 🙂


  3. lsstrout says:

    You need this shirt: https://www.nerdkungfu.com/i-do-all-my-own-stunts-t-shirt-1/

    It goes up to a 3x, but if that doesn’t suit, there are larger options for other designs.

    Kudos to you for working on your fears!


  4. Toogz says:

    You’re so brave, ragen! I haven’t rode a bike since I was a kid; I’d be way too afraid of falling over or running into people to do an IRONMAN. Keep up the training, we’re rooting for you!


  5. I’ve been riding a bike with shifters since I was a kid (so ~20 years?) and I STILL panic and shift the wrong way when starting a hill. Every. Single. Ride.


  6. CAH says:

    I thoroughly enjoy this blog. HAVE FUN biking! I love that you are getting more comfortable with it – my friend and I mountain bike almost every night in the summer. I sometimes wonder what people think as we go off and I’m ahead of her (she’s size 12, I’m size 20 but exercise more) but I LOVE to bike on trails in nature.


  7. Inchokate says:

    Next dragon! Step up, please, for slaying. Or for wounding, or whatever. Look, we give you proper respect, dragons, but our mission is that way, and we won’t let you stand in our way.


  8. Jessica says:

    Woo hoo for being scared and doing it anyway. Totally impressed.


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