I’m not an athletic person. People who read my guidebooks on outdoor recreation and follow my progress on peak-bagging sites are usually surprised to hear that, but it’s true.
I’m not athletic, but I am adventurous, so when I got asked to do a 17-mile bike ride for a story I said “Sure, why not?” I hadn’t been on a bike in more than 40 years, but I remembered that old saying, “It’s just like riding a bike,” and figured I’d be fine.
Saturday morning, driving out to meet the guide from Pikes Peak Bike Tours at Cheyenne Mountain Resort (the resort is offering a fall foliage bike tour package through the bicycle outfitter) I had a thought: “What if ‘it’s just like riding a bike’ is just a saying and it’s not really true? What if riding a bike isn’t ‘just like riding a bike’ at all?”
I pulled over and Googled it on my phone. Opinions on the matter were mixed. My muscle memory should kick in and keep me upright…but maybe not. I thought about my situation and the best and worst case scenarios. Best case was I would be able to maintain my balance, keep the bike up without humiliating myself too much, and complete the ride. Worst case was I would be walking my bike for 17 miles, from the Saint Peters Dome Overlook at 9,000 feet down to Old Colorado City, 3,000 feet below…past other bikers, hikers, dogs, strollers…toddlers on tricycles. I had a big pair of sunglasses and a ball cap to hide under, and a backpack with 3 liters of water – I could survive that. Okay, I’m going to do this.
Scott at the bike place gave me a tall, skinny-looking bike to ride. “Too high,” I said. “It’s the right size for your height,” he told me. “I don’t care,” I said. It was the right size for my height, but it had nothing in common with my stumpy legs and oversized derriere. He went back into the shop and came out with a burly blue thing, short and fat-tired – like me. I walked the bike off the pavement to a gravel lot, figuring that when I hit the dirt, the rocks would cushion the blow.
I hopped on, put a foot on one of the pedals, and pushed off. And did not tip over. It was amazing! The bike stayed up, I stayed up, and kept going! After circling the parking lot a few times, I backpedaled to slow down but there was no resistance. Then I remembered that bikes were different now and brakes were on the handlebars. I pushed some buttons, pulled some levers, and finally came to a stop.
Before “the big ride,” Scott explained the gears and brakes to me, and even followed alongside me for the first mile to make sure I could shift gears, slow down and stop.
The ride was a blast. I did not fall off a cliff, hit a tree, or run over any dogs or children on the trail. I managed to get my sunglasses off before plunging into the dark tunnels along the route and get them back on again as I emerged into the sunshine on the other side (yes, you heard that right – I rode that bike with one hand!). I navigated the bike lane on 26th Street and crossed Highway 24 without incident.
“Big deal,” you’re probably thinking, “she rode a bike.” Well, to me, it actually was a big deal. I’m not athletic – or young. I hadn’t been on a bike since I was 14 years old, and it was borrowed. I had my own bike when I was about 7, a rusty old thing my dad had picked up at a yard sale. We moved the next year and the bike didn’t fit in the car, so it was left behind.
I guess that always stuck in my mind: Bikes were a luxury. They were for rich, athletic people – people who stayed put and didn’t move every couple of years. Bikes were for people who had nice things, not people like me. It was good to get on that bike and not fall down.
Life’s a bike. And bikes, I learned, are for everybody.
This column first appeared in the August 31, 2016 Woodmen Edition of the Gazette Community News.