Zen. I’d tried to get that word in my head for several days following the talk that I’d had with my coach on Saturday, when he told me to relax on the bike, to breathe, bend my elbows, and just have fun.
“You don’t have to travel in a perfectly straight line,” he’d said, acknowledging my worries about wobbling. “The more you stiffen up and try to control the bike, the more you’ll wobble.”
It’d been rainy and wet for the last few days, so practicing this new serene cyclist persona had been put on hold. Today was dry, however, and my butt was slated to be (serenely) in the saddle this morning, no excuses. For some reason, the pressure to enjoy the bike took hold of me and I was inexplicably more anxious and fearful than ever before. I began to think, “What if I just don’t like the bike? What if I can’t do this?” I felt swallowed by irrational fear. I reluctantly tugged on my spandex, grabbed my gear, and headed out to the Marina Del Rey Dock 52 parking lot.
There’s a secluded boat launch lot next to the place where everyone in the know parks and meets up for rides, where there are few cars and a person can freely wheel themselves around the parking lot to try new equipment (or, in my case, new mental states) without looking foolish in front of the whole world, or endangering life and limb.
As I walked Shadow Comet into the lot, a swarm of female seagulls rushed at me, like a scene out of Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” They landed in a small cluster, encircling me and the bike, occasionally emitting high-pitched peeps at me, and eying me curiously from one side. Great, now I’m going to humiliate myself in front of a bunch of birds, I thought.
Whatever, ZENNNN. I mounted my bike and pushed off, pedaling forward with surprisingly minimal wobbling. The bike continued smoothly under me. Aha, thought I, Not as bad as I’d imagined at all. I swooped around the lot, came to a smooth stop, and started again, still with much less wobble than ever before. Turns, speed, stops and starts felt much, much easier. I was ready for the real ride.
I took a deep breath and made my way onto the bike path, which joined a road with cars ever briefly before it became an actual bike path. The bike rolled silkily beneath me as I kept an easy cadence. I looped onto the path and made my way beachside. The fear that had gripped me before had almost dissolved away, and I began enjoying the scenery. The clouds were beginning to overtake the sky a bit, but the cool 60-something air felt refreshing. The ocean seemed tame today, even though the winds had picked up and were kind of pushing against me.
Everything was going well, until big orange signs indicated that the regular bike path was closed for maintenance. The signs pointed to a detour route. I froze. I had no idea where this detour would lead me: into traffic or a horrifically rocky or sandy path? The white-knuckled wonder in me started to resurface and encourage me to turn back, even though I was only fifteen minutes into my ride. I refused that wussy alter ego’s encouragement, however, and began to press on, through narrowly spaced poles, onto a short neighborhood street, through another narrow opening and back onto a car-friendly bike path, complete with speed humps, for the next couple of miles. Oh, looky, I did it!
I began to pick up the cadence and suddenly the bike felt like air, like it was a part of me. No longer did it feel like this unwieldy hunk of aluminum that was trying to ram me into any stationary (or non-stationary) item it could, or run me off of cliffs. We sailed smoothly and climbed a few smaller hills until we reached an oceanside cafe/rest stop. This was my midway mark. I got to turn around here, but first I took a moment to enjoy the view and to pat myself on the back for coming out this far.
The way back was a piece of cake, although, admittedly, I do need a good bicycle fitting, because certain–ahem–parts were not enjoying the ride as much as I was on the final mile, as well as my hands, which, in spite of my attempts to relax, were still hurting to some extent. I am beginning to feel more and more like I am going to need a shorter stem (mine’s pretty long), but we’ll see what the fitter says, when I eventually get that taken care of.
All in all, I pedaled a nice 13-15 mph, which isn’t awesome, but not bad for a white-knuckled newb. I look forward to seeing how I improve this season. Finally! Another week and I think I’ll be ready to get clipped in (yeeks).
To top it off, I returned a Bellflower cycling jersey I bought from Cynergy Cycles in Santa Monica, and I received a store credit, with which I was able to buy a new, similar jersey, plus arm warmers, for the exact same price. Is this a great day for this cyclist or what? Whoohoo!