I don't know where I acquired my deathly fear of biking, as I spent most of my childhood riding my bike around the streets of our suburban neighborhood, usually pretending it was a racehorse. My fear mostly pertains to biking in traffic, and I think, to some extent, that this is logical: bicycles require coordination, especially around cars, and I'm clumsy. This past week alone, I've randomly dropped the books I was carrying, spilled my classmate's coffee cup, fallen down a flight of stairs, and somehow gained nine (nine!) fairly substantial bruises on my shins and calves alone.
(I went to the doctor this morning, to complain about how my knees have been hurting for the last, oh, month. I offered, as evidence, the bruises surrounding each kneecap. "Mmmm-hmmm," the doctor said, skeptically, and we both looked at the bruises covering the rest of my legs. There was a long pause, and when I added, "then again, I bruise easily, so maybe the knee ones don't mean anything," the doctor was quick to agree.)
So maybe it's no wonder that I'm absolutely convinced that the instant I get on a bike I will fall into a pothole/be hit by a car/ride into an open car door/be struck by a meteor. Wonder or not, however, G.K. Chesterton's maxim that "no man should leave anything in the world of which he is afraid" has been a guiding principle of my life since I first read it in The Man Who Was Thursday; because of it, I've taken multivariable calculus, ridden a motorcycle, gone to parties where I barely knew anyone, crossed busy third-world streets even after getting hit by a car on one of them, and killed countless cockroaches. And now, because of it, and because I live too far to walk, I will be biking to school every day.
(Okay, so I haven't eliminated all things I'm afraid of from the world, but I'm working on it. Today bicycling in traffic, tomorrow Australia, brain damage, and the highway underpass near my apartment!)
Frankly, conquering this fear has been far easier than I expected: after a tense first few ride, where I spent the entire time muttering under my breath, "Please don't kill me please don't kill me please don't kill me!", and after a few embarrassing moments, like, as I've mentioned, falling off my bicycle at a red light--where, of course, both motorists and pedestrians are gathered to watch and mock; sometimes I think I need a "student biker" sign, or maybe some flashing yellow lights, which could notify everyone that I'm a danger to myself and others right now--I'm beginning to relax and, strangely enough, enjoy myself. I'm still thinking about death, but now it's a mental game: how will that car try to kill me and make it look like an accident? What about that car over there? I remember why I spent so much time on my bike as a child: it's fun! It doesn't hurt, of course, that I've completely fallen in love with my bicycle. I think it's beautiful, absolutely beautiful; it's my baby, my darling, my one true love, and I tell it so every day--multiple times a day, even. Actually, every time I return to it after hours apart, during which time I'm usually stressing about whether it will get stolen or damaged. (I'm pretty sure I would cry.) I also greet it when I come home, and apologize to it when we go over bumpy portions of the road, though perhaps I should be apologizing to my butt instead, because, wow am I sore.
So I'm a bicycle commuter now, I guess, and I should hurry up and resign myself to the fact that I will never again arrive somewhere with cute hair. I should also, of course, develop more of a system for doing practical tasks on a bicycle, as I've had some, er, interesting experiences with that. This past Sunday morning, I woke up several hours before church dying to make zucchini bread; realizing that I didn't have eggs or flour or sugar, I decided zucchini bread was an ox in the mire and headed off to the grocery store nearby, where I bought my ingredients and picked up some cereal that was on sale. So the I walked out of the grocery store to my bike and realized, uh oh, I didn't quite think this one through: here I was with two plastic bags full of cereal, sugar, flour, and eggs, and I have no backpack or basket on my bike.
It was a tricky situation, but I figured out how to loop the handles of the plastic bags around the (curved) handlebars of my bike, and began very carefully riding home, with, of course, the bags swinging around and, of course, bringing the front of the bike with them. I'm lucky it was 7.30 on a Sunday morning, because I was wobbling and veering all over the road; that would have been a really easy moment to kill me and make it look like an accident. As I serpentined, too, the bags with the sugar, flour, and eggs hit against the front wheel. I didn't pay much attention to it, all my concentration instead on incorporating the rhythm of the bag hitting into the rhythm of my steering, but was forced to notice when the bag hit against the wheel and bam! exploded into a giant one-pound pile of sugar, right there in the street. When I stopped to deal with it, I looked back and realized that every hit against the wheel had torn the bag a little more, and that I had left a trail of sugar behind me for the last, oh, half-mile. That's me: a modern-day, biking Gretel. I just wanted to make sure I could find Safeway again, you know?
(The best part of this story? The eggs made it home perfectly intact.)
Ridiculous rides like this are raising my confidence, though, and I'm gradually improving on the road. Someday, maybe, I'll even be able to ride to school without imagining every passing car swerving, ever so gently, to bump me off.