Learning to Ride a Bike before the BIG CROSSING!

Thanks to Gears Bike Shop in Toronto for loaning us a bike to help with our preparation! –http://gearsbikeshop.com

We at Trek and Run have been offered the chance of completing a coast-to-coast trip by bike, canoe and foot across Sri Lanka in 2014, all expenses paid! We’ll be filming and photographing the journey through the remote highlands and lowlands, which is what I love doing when I’m travelling – making photos and films. It’s an amazing proposal with no strings attached, except for me, when I first heard about it, there was one little catch. I didn’t know how to ride a bike!

I thought to myself, well, I’ve always wanted to ride a bike for as long as I can remember. A lot of my friends growing up were whizzing past me on their bikes and I had to run to keep up with them. Around age 12 when I had enough of always lagging behind, I decided to teach myself to ride but it didn’t really work out as I was practicing in the hallways of my apartment building and I hadn’t worked out that strong forward movement is important in staying upright and balanced.

So after many frustrated hours I had put aside my dreams of ever riding a bike and enviously watched people from the side as they happily rode into the horizon. Back to the present, I thought to myself that this is my big chance. I had this great incentive to learn, the trip of a lifetime! I also had a great teacher – David, my husband – had just finished a cycling road-trip across Great Britain, a 450 mile journey from London, England to Edinburgh, Scotland. Who else was better to teach me, I thought. He’s someone I had trust in and he had just done this great cycling trip – perfect, I thought! Now let’s find a bicycle!

I had to pause my excitement for a bit, as it was Ramadan (the Islamic month where Muslims withhold themselves from food and water from after sunrise to sunset) and we were fasting for 17 hours each day! Not eating or drinking for that long meant that our energy levels were too low to take part in such an emotionally and physically exhaustive task. Another obstacle was that we had just finished a two-month trip across England and Greece so we had just enough money to buy food but certainly not enough to buy a brand new (or even a used) bicycle. So we spent our days in Toronto searching for companies or shops that could lend us a bike.

Thankfully, Gears Bike Shop (www.gearsbikeshop.com) who have three shops in the Toronto area, including one at 109 Vanderhoof Ave (half hour walk from where I live in Don Mills), got back to us promptly and kindly offered us a loaner bike for two months. I was very happy at that and was counting down the days to when I would make that purposeful walk down to the shop and finally begin to achieve this monumental feat in my life. I was lucky really. Most people learn to ride a bike when they’re too young to realise what a huge achievement it is. Consequently, maybe they don’t get as much satisfaction as I was feeling – and I wasn’t even on the bike yet!

We went to the shop and I gave my details to the nice man at the counter and in about 10 minutes I had my own (well, temporarily) 15-inch mountain bike all ready for me! I was very nervous and full of anticipation. Thankfully I had a very good coach, my husband calmed my nerves whenever I had doubted myself. I felt quite confident that I could do it, partly because I’m twenty-two years old and I see children three times younger than me riding past me all the time. So I thought, okay I have to learn to ride, otherwise no Sri Lanka!

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We walked the bike over the pedestrian sidewalks, past the traffic and into the safety of a city park, well suited for a learner cyclist! It made me nervous to even walk with it and I was thought to myself, how am I going to mount, balance and actually steer this thing! I felt a bit queasy but the palm trees and white, sandy beaches of Sri Lanka were floating in my vision and that really helped push my anxiety away. I first got comfortable with the bike by just walking with it and then I sat on the seat and walked some more, keeping my feet down on either side and balancing myself that way. Then came those dreaded words. I heard Dave in the distance say okay, put your feet on the pedals and try to go forward. Of course I couldn’t and had to put my feet back on the ground. I was exercising more caution then necessary mainly because I didn’t want to see much blood that day. We tried again, this time Dave held on to my saddle and one handlebar while I tried to balance myself. We tried this technique for one and a half-hour and I was going nowhere partly because I was quite tired by the end from the emotional stress. We went around a few times in a parking lot, all the while Dave holding onto my handlebar and me trying to learn the delicate art of balancing oneself on a two wheeled vehicle. It didn’t happen for me, I wasn’t able to learn to ride on my first day. After about two hours I had had enough and I thought to myself, I’m a bit disappointed but I think I gave it my best, I’ll give it a rest for today and try again for tomorrow.

Tomorrow came sooner than I thought. I had dreams of pedaling, of trying to balance, falling off; it was a very frustrating night in my mind. We went to a park near to where I live and we started the same as last time, Dave holding me by the saddle and onto one handlebar. I felt more confident this time mostly because I was frustrated and it was getting boring, the inability to do a simple thing like riding a bike and so I was feeling very determined this second time. After about an hour of hanging onto Dave for balance I tried to put equal amounts of pressure on each handlebar and I noticed this was helping my balance quite a lot. I’m left-handed which might be why I kept leaning to the left. As soon as I tried this technique, my balance was much better and while Dave was still holding onto my bike, I was feeling more like I was doing it on my own rather than he helping me along. So after about ten minutes of the delicate handlebar maneuvering, I learned that this was my method to success! If I can get really good at this handlebar balance technique, I could learn to ride today, right this moment!

With this new breath of confidence I gave it my best effort and really concentrated. I told Dave to hold my bike in a way so that I won’t notice if he’s let go of the bike. I knew that if I were aware he had let go of me, I’d get nervous and lose my balance again. So while Dave was holding my bike in an inconspicuous way (behind the saddle) I tried to ride the bike as if I was on my own. After a few minutes of trying this, I’m about to tell Dave that I think I’m ready for him to let go of me and I turn my head a little and he’s at least 20 metres behind me! I’ll never forget that moment. The happiness I felt was unlike anything else; it was an amazing feeling! I was still a bit off balance and my husband the long-distance runner was right behind me the whole time. I was so happy! I was doing something I had wished for since I was about five years old. I was riding a bike!

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Of course, I still had to learn to change the gears and turn the front wheel so I don’t bump into things but I was riding a bike and I couldn’t be happier. So now after a month of practicing on the bicycle and after one very painful fall, I think I’ve gotten to a proficient level. I’ve learned some important lessons from my fall and subsequent trauma/injury, that is, always – and I can’t stress enough – always have a firm grip on the handlebars and the brakes. That day, I was feeling a bit too confident and was riding fast down a very bumpy and slippery path. Suddenly, an unexpected downhill and a large bump in the trail and I was off my bike. I flew into the handlebar and everything went stark white from pain. I held back the tears while Dave helped me recover. The injury left a massive and long lasting bruise but I was okay and consider myself lucky to have only had such a minimal injury considering I wasn’t wearing a helmet at the time.

I’ll have to give the bike back in a couple of days, after which my training will be mainly in the gym at my college where I hope to come to a good level of fitness so I can enjoy the trip in Sri Lanka. We’re expecting to cycle about 25km – 40km each day and I want to be fit enough to appreciate the amazing scenery as well as interact with the locals and just have an amazing time but not get too tired from the cycling. So an enormous thank you to Gears Bike Shop for loaning me a bike and helping me achieve my life-long dream. Also, I’m grateful for my husband Dave for continuing to be so patient with me, pushing me forward on those big uphills and encouraging me to always give it my best no matter how tired I might have been. I’m a happy girl now, I can ride a bicycle and I’m ready for my big trip to Sri Lanka!

If you’re living in or visiting Toronto and want to rent a bike, or buy one, have a look at Gears Bike Shop – http://gearsbikeshop.com

If you want to enjoy Sri Lanka for yourselves, then check out SriLankan Airlines – www.srilankan.com

And if you need bikes, canoes, hotels etc sorted  in Sri Lanka, then consider LSR – www.lsr-srilanka.com

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