I am getting a new bike today. It is being assembled as I type. A 2008 XtC Alliance to be exact. I am told it is the “perfect blend of composite and aluminum to create the ultimate hardtail experience.” I am told it will make me fly.
As a child, I imagined having the ability to fly as the ultimate superpower. As a teenager, I likely would have elected the power of invisibility. Especially when I was still getting used to a nose that was no longer the nose of my childhood. Now at 30, I am thinking the most advantageous choice is accelerated healing. I guess it’s kind of odd that I am now just learning how to ride a mountain bike.
I admit I have been a bit slow to incorporate new athletic pursuits into my exercise repertoire. I have been a runner since I was 14. It’s pretty much the only sport that ever took.
Consider me at age 3 when my parents enrolled me in ballet classes. Now I am not sure if they signed me up because dance classes were something I asked for, or if it’s just something parents of little girls in the 80s did with children who had a penchant for dress up. And too much energy.
For my first—and last—recital we were teddy bears dancing around at some magical picnic. From the get go I didn’t really buy into the concept. Then the costumes arrived. They were brown and yellow tutus which we were forced to wear with fuzzy, glittery hats. With ears. They said we looked cute. I looked for another word. But I didn’t have the vocabulary for it at the time.
My debut was rather forgettable until some toddler failed to turn right, leading a train of tutus the wrong way, and forcing our teachers to fix us onstage. The audience chuckled at our mistake. I was horrified and quit immediately after the performance. My mom tried explaining that they all just thought we were adorable. The nerve.
Next I tried figure skating. I loved the costumes. I needed to wear the costumes. I wanted to be Debi Thomas in the Campbell soup commercials. But I was average (at best) at skating backwards, timid about anything involving jumping or twirling, and rather unimpressive in my ability to do anything that required balance. So I ditched the sport, saved the outfits, and grabbed a hockey stick to play games on the frozen marsh behind our house. At least I looked cute.
Soccer wasn’t much better. While I excelled at running up and down the field, I was not so great at making sure the ball came with me. In four years, the only goal I ever scored was an assist when the ball bounced off my ass.
In middle school I tried softball. I batted ninth in the order and struck out almost every time. But I loved it. Then we moved to a new town and a new league where suddenly they trusted me to pitch. And I was pretty good. When I wasn’t hitting batters or walking them. Then we were supposed to learn how to pitch windmill. My glory days were over.
Before high school my mom suggested I join the cross-country team. “I think you run in the woods,” she said. I liked the sound of that. The first meet a few girls went right and I went left and I wound up on Varsity. So I stuck with running. For 16 years.
I guess it’s time I finally shook things up and actually learn how to fall down. Which when you think about it is kind of a strange and valuable thing to have to master. How to not get hurt when you falter. How to get back on the bike when something kicks up from underneath you and decides you should come with it. But as previous record shows, I have never been very good at not being very good.
D says that riding downhill is the closest we will ever get to human flight. He is still as enraptured with the idea as a kid watching Superman. I am not sure when I stopped feeling the same. Nowadays, whenever I fly I start praying every time we start descending. I guess that’s why I am a climber. I value controlling how hard, how high, how long I will go. Plus crashing doesn’t usually occur when you’re going up. I guess that also explains why I am a poor downhill runner: fear.
I should probably work on that. So I am going to try to embrace the eventual fall. Because it will happen. I will get scratched up, bruised up, and banged up riding my new bike. I just need to not quit or throw a temper tantrum when I do. I need to view falling differently. Not as failing to stay up. But a reason to try. Hopefully one day I will think of falls and the scars I earn as beautiful badges of learning. Of effort. Of flight. Or something like it.