My first big purchase when I came back home from Israel was a road bike.
I also bought clip-in pedals and bike shoes, things I had never had to worry about before, on my mountain bike-hybrid. “Clipping in” allows for more efficient energy usage when riding, since you get both the push down on the pedal, and the pull up. Your feet are attached to the bike pedal the whole time.
I am new to the world of clipping in, though, and also new to the world of road bikes, period. Super thin tires, a forward-leaning body position, brakes and gears in different places on the handle bars… So, my shiny new bike simply sat for a couple of months, while I waited to find both the time and the courage to get out and actually ride it on the street.
I did a few small test rides – got semi-used to the clips, the brakes, the gears. And then I decided I was ready for the next level. I decided to ride my bike to a meeting being held only 2.5 miles from my house. The roads were nice neighborhood streets. Light traffic areas. And the distance was easily manageable. It seemed like the perfect plan.
So I got everything ready: water bottle, helmet, new bike shorts with extra padding. I reviewed the map of which streets to take where, and off I went.
I was terrified. But I looked really cool. A special bike-jersey came free with the purchase of my bike, so that combined with my new bike shorts made me look legit. But I didn’t feel like it. I concentrated on my feet pushing down and pulling up. I tensed every time a car passed by me. I reminded myself to keep my back straight, my arms loose.
I stopped at a red light and had my first moment of panic: I had to stop. Which meant I also had to unclip so as not to fall over. So I slowed, unclipped my left foot…then stopped, and instinctively leaned to my right.
WRONG SIDE OMG I’M GOING TO FALL OVER.
I quickly unclipped that foot, too, and managed to reach my toes to the concrete just in time. I breathed a sigh of relief; I’m ok, I’ve got this.
Light turns green. I continue on my way, feeling more confident as I go along. But then I glance at my phone attached to my arm and see that I’ve already gone 2.5 miles. And I’m not where I’m supposed to be. I’ve missed a turn somewhere along the way (navigation is not my strong suit). I decide to pull over into someone’s driveway so that I can safely check my phone and figure out where I need to go next.
So, I slow down, turn the handlebars to steer myself into a stranger’s driveway…and my tire twists on the small incline up. The bike twists with it, quickly – too quick for me to even think about unclipping my feet from the pedals. The bike goes down, sideways, and I go down with it.
My right arm and palm take most of the impact, scraping along the concrete drive. We slide a few feet together, my bike and I, until the momentum stops and we stop and I lie there, shocked by the sudden crash. I unclip my shoes, shakily stand and lift my arm to inspect the damage. My palm is freely bleeding, the drops big and red and splashing onto the concrete below me. I cup my hand, as if in an effort to keep the blood from pouring out. My arm is in bad shape, too, the cut deep with tiny bits of gravel inside it.
My head is still spinning, ideas running through of what I’m supposed to do now. Then I see two cars stop across the street.
They roll their windows down, ask if I’m ok. I tell them “yes” in the automatic way we say, “good” when someone asks us how we’re doing. One car drives off after my reply, but the other stays.
“Do you need anything?” he asks.
“Um…maybe a napkin?” I reply, my hand still cupped with collecting blood.
He puts his car in park and walks up to me with a package of baby wipes. Hands me several so I can stop the bleeding. I thank him profusely, then he goes back to the car and returns with an empty plastic grocery bag, “for the used ones,” he says.
He drives off and I manage to get back on my bike. I clutch some of the baby wipes in my cut palm as I look up my destination on my phone and figure out where my missed turn was. I backtrack in order to get to it, adding about a mile onto the journey. This time I pedal slowly, my gears messed up from the fall.
Long story not so short, I get to where I was going, albeit 15 minutes late. I call my mom and ask her to come pick me and my bike up after the meeting ends, and she helps me to patch my arm and hand up once I’m home. I’m (mostly) healed now, and I got my bike back from the shop today, so we’re both ready to try again. Maybe this time with no driveways.
But this experience made me think: I was so focused on being careful while riding on the street – not getting hit by cars, avoiding potholes, pedaling correctly, using good biking posture – I never imagined turning into a slightly-inclined driveway would do me in. I knew to worry and watch out for all of the big picture things, but hadn’t given any thought to the smaller stuff.
And I wonder how often we do this in life, too. We focus on all the big picture stresses: work, family, life transitions. In my own life I’ve been focused on beginning a new job, moving to a new place, figuring out how to be a working adult and not simply a student anymore…and yet, sometimes when we spend all of our time focused on these larger pieces – getting the pedaling down, figuring out how to brake in time, how to stop at a stop light – it’s the smaller pieces that ultimately trip us up. The unexpected things that end up knocking us down in such surprising ways that we don’t even have time to unclip our feet to pad the landing.
Maybe it’s a loved one getting sick. Or an increase in the monthly utilities bill. Maybe it’s a stray comment overheard at work, or a slight frown on a friend’s face when you expected a smile. Or maybe it’s something you thought was going to be a new beginning, turning out to be an ending instead.
We can’t anticipate these seemingly small things. That’s what makes them “small;” they are things we would never expect to have the capacity to knock us down. But they do. Maybe because we’re so focused on those big important tasks. Maybe because pedaling alone really is hard work. And we just don’t have the mental capacity to do both that and be prepared for every bump in the road.
And, though that feels awful sometimes – not being in control, not seeing things far enough in advance, crashing our bike – the good news is that there are people out there who are equally unexpected and unanticipated in our lives. People who don’t know us, who don’t owe us, but who will stop simply to pick us back up. To offer us baby wipes and a kind word, and send us on our way again.
I am grateful for these people. And I hope I can be open to being one of them for another.
Roger Smithson on August 6, 2016 at 5:44 pm
If we are lucky we learn from our misfortune. I enjoyed your story and how you related it to a life lesson. I was a tad disappointed that your injuries weren’t earned in an MMA sparring match with Chuck Norris.😖
Paula Ford on August 7, 2016 at 7:58 am
I’m glad you are home safe (at least to some degree😍) and I know your Mom and Dad are happy you are back home. I enjoyed all your posts while you were in the Holy Land and will continue to tune-in to your blog. Best wishes on your new appointment!
Leta Robideaux on August 7, 2016 at 10:26 am
Enjoyed your Israel blog and look forward to more of these, with hopefully no more pain and blood involved. How did your pup make the transition to a totally new world? If you are wondering who the heck I am, I am Joseph’s mom.🐶😊