Three Stories about Three Bikes
In the words of Dr. Seuss, “Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won.” Join us this week for a few stories about bikes, and the lessons they taught me about life.
Stories are our lives in language. Welcome to the Love Your Story podcast. I’m Lori Lee and I’m excited about for our future together of telling stories, evaluating our own stories, and lifting ourselves and others to greater places because of our control over our stories. This podcast is about empowerment and giving you, the listener, ideas to work with in making your stories work for you. The power of story serves you best when you know how to use it.
A bike is a little like a dog. You are companions. Together you go places, you see things, and though you hopefully aren’t walking your bike too often, you are taking each other out and about for a little bit of exercise and scenery. A bike needs a ride like a dog needs a walk—okay, granted, I’m stretching the simile here. The bike needs TLC: oil and wipe-downs after a muddy day out. It is through this relationship, this closeness, that I can tell you some stories of exploration, escape, and thrill. Though the bike wasn’t always the same, it is the bike beneath me that allows for the adventure, the experience, and the lesson.
The Traveler’s Bike
Do you believe that if you think about something with enough intent that it will eventually come to you? After my divorce, I watched the movie, Under the Tuscan Sun and fell in love with the idea of Italy. I’ve learned that I can’t travel to new places without a mountain to climb, a trail to bike, or a river to paddle. For me to truly feel a place, I need to hear the voice of God in the natural environment-I need to sweat and interact with the land, and so I began to picture myself biking across the Tuscan countryside. I didn’t picture the details of how it would come about, just the nodding yellow sunflowers, the ancient olive orchards, the expanse of leafy vineyards, the rolling Tuscan hills, and century-old, rock farm houses that dot the crests in the photos of Tuscany.
Before long my chance manifested in a writing assignment for a magazine, and I ran my hands along the walls of the Tuscan Brunello wine cellars, sat at authentic Italian7-course dinners, took elementary language lessons from our Italian guides, enjoyed Italian cooking lessons from Italian locals, and took in the IlGran Fondo de Brunello (which I’m probably totally slaughtering the pronunciation)– a 36 kilometer mountain bike race whose 1021 participants that year, consisted almost completely of men. And instead of getting a t-shirt at registration you get a bottle of wine—so very Italian.
This was Italy. The cars so tiny, the washing machines so tiny. The old stone cities so empty. The countryside so rich and vast and beautiful. This was definitely not America. But, American women cluster the Italian kitchen in our old rented stone farmhouse. We slice tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, beets, parmesan, basil, and cucumber. The soundtrack to Mama Mia plays behind us while Federico Marconi makes pizza, and the deep, reverberating hum of the women all talking at once takes stage front. Corks pop and trays of food are laden with the colors of red tomatoes, white mozzarella, green pesto, and golden breads. One woman wears a t-shirt with a bike across the chest, another has wet hair from her shower following the daily ride along the roads that pass vineyards drooping deep purple grapes that await their transformation into Brunello. We dance, swing our hips to the music while we work.
Each morning we bike down a steep gravel road that leads from our stone apartments, past carefully groomed vineyards, to the paved road below that winds through the Tuscan countryside. We bike to thermal spas, to old, stone, neighboring cities, to café’s for thimbles of coffee and gelato, to an abbey that hails from 1100 A.D, to wine cellars with grand barrels made of special woods, and back to the steep dirt road and back to the farm house. One day we found Antonello, the handsome Italian doctor, at the thermal spas where we donned swimming caps and floated in the green mineral waters while looking across the valley at the Roca D’Orcia. In theory, all romantic trips to Italy should include some handsome Italian man. We found one. Clad in his European Speedo®, stretched out in the fading sun his tan body drawing stares. He spoke no English and I no Italian, so over his coffee and my juice we lilted through language lessons and found a few words we understood. I learned the Italian equivalent of 911 is 118. I learned how to say red and green in Italian. I learned how to pronounce valley and river, and that no matter how efficient one might be at witty repartee in their own language the skill evades you when you can’t speak the language of another. When he left he grabbed my face and planted a kiss on each cheek, followed by a purposeful kiss on the mouth. Ahhhh… Italian gifts.
I do a lot of observing. In Saint Augustine’s words, I read a new page of the world. I watch these women, ages 36-72. They are quirky. Their marital status varies. They are blond, gray, brunette. Some have conservative views, some liberal. Body shapes vary, jobs and experiences are vastly different, and they hail from different parts of the U.S. But what they have in common is the way they pour themselves into this time and place. They are all bright in their individuality and each is richer because of all the variety that surrounds them in their comrades. Over dinner, Rosetta, our Italian cook, tells us her story of young marriage, years of servitude in her in-laws home, a son with cancer and a husband who keeps her young because every day he “brings her the water she needs to be a flower.” Before she leaves she stands near the fireplace, and unprompted, opens her soul and sings to us in Italian with a voice of power and beauty no one expected. The applause rocks the old restored farm house and we beg for another. I reverently applaud the sharing. The sharing going on between everyone.
A bike is made up of an axle, bar ends, bar plugs, bearings, bottom bracket, brake, brake lever, brake shifter, cable, cassette, chain, a chain ring, a cog set, a derailleur, a down tube, a fork… I could go on all the way through the alphabet to wing-nut, but you get the idea. Lots of parts and pieces come together to make this thing we call a bicycle, and then we get on, ride like hell down the mountain, bouncing or jumping over rocks, roots, and logs, hoping to stay seated. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. I have the scars to prove it. When I’m on the road the obstacles are less invasive, unless you count all the cars and bad drivers. One must keep an eye out for stray paraphernalia tossed into the street, for pot holes and ground-hole covers. I learned the hard way that gravel on the road is not my friend. At 10 years-old I saddle up Tiger Lily, (the name written on the side in swooping black letters) and take off from my house, on the one-mile ride to school, racing my father in his old Chevy truck. The wind blows through my long brown curls and my pink bell bottoms flap against the chain cover, my legs like pistons. I am ahead! As my father catches me and pulls up beside me I increased my speed, giving it my last and best effort while I guide my bike off the road and onto the shoulder to let him pass. Here, my tire kisses gravel, meets one big rock that I thought I’d roll over but didn’t. Here, I do my first face plant sailing over the front of my handlebars, body skidding across the gravel, my Holly Hobby outfit dirty and torn, my face streaked with blood and tears. Dad picks me up,—a crushed sparrow–loads me in the old truck and takes me home for first-aid and repair. My days as a bicycle racer screech to a halt.
We learn to fly in different ways. Unfortunately, mine is still often over the front of my handlebars. After the “Tiger Lily fiasco” I didn’t ride a bike seriously again until I was in my 20’s. It was the mid 90’s and mountain biking blazed onto the scene as the cool outdoor thing to do in college. My future husband, two mountain bikes (mine desperately old, his hippy chic with stickers and a collage of parts) and the wide mountain roads pulled me back onto the saddle. He patiently watched me ride my brakes when he could have been speeding down hills, but this push, this faith, this desire not to be the weak link kept me riding for the next 20 years–road and mountain bikes–finally ending up at the place where a good downhill speed run over roots and rocks and switchbacks is the reason I get on the bike. This is where fun and I embrace. But it is also on those tight switchbacks and rock covered trails that I find myself, seasonally, flying over the handlebars and onto the trail ahead. It’s been suggested I must not have the skill to stay on my bike, while I suggest that if they are always astride their bike they must not be pushing themselves hard enough. I’m sure they are right, but so am I. Overcoming fear to feel the thrill of living at the edge of your ability, to feel the wind across your skin, to engage with life. This is mind, body, and spirit engaging in living and there is no other way to do it. All that being said, given my choice I’d rather stay on my bike.
The Old Red Bike
I wrangled the old bike, too large of a frame for my 5’6” body, into the back of our old van. This guy I knew had an older sister who used to ride, or some such thing, and this old piece of metal and gears was sitting in his parent’s garage unused and unloved. It was a bit antique but appealingly red, and free. A road bike with gears and all the things it needed to work, it found a new home, a new chain, and a little elbow grease. Nothing here oil and water couldn’t clean up. I hauled the bike 30 miles to the little, rural town my young husband and I had moved to, the rural town that was driving me nuts with nothing to do and people I didn’t know, who knew way too much about me. Population 4371. Maybe the bike was about picking up a new sport, or finding things in common with my friends, but I suspect it was really about escape – escape from that little town on the Idaho border .
On went my black spandex shorts, my less than chic helmet, and off I rode down the two-lane highway, away from Hickville, 30 miles to my mother’s house and the “city”. My husband picked me up there on his way home from work on the days I rode in. “I’m impressed,” he said one day. “I think it’s really cool that you get on that old bike and ride so far. That’s a serious workout.” And one day he surprised me with a bright yellow road bike, not excessively fancy, but it was new and it fit. No more standing on my tippy toes to straddle the frame, or swinging my leg over before the bike stopped and I accidentally landed a bar to the crotch. I was touched that he was impressed, touched by his support, and touched by the new yellow bike that we couldn’t afford.
I kept riding that bike until I was writing articles and bike reviews for the trade industry magazine and I finagled a discount on the latest and greatest women-specific road bike of my choice. I road to keep my sanity until I left Hickville. I sometimes still ride to keep my sanity when my children have my insides all tied in knots. But now I mostly ride for exercise, speed, the thrill and the bragging rights. In fact, it’s gotten to the point that if I don’t ride I feel guilty. –I still haven’t figured that one out. It’s come full circle, from Tiger Lily and the thrill of speed to my Specialized bikes and the thrill of speed. But there is something else the bike has taught me. When teaching someone to ride a bike one of the first jewels of information you crown upon their helmeted heads is the concept of looking where you want to go. It sounds simple, but when you’re riding on a thin trail and there is a drop-off to the side, be it 3 feet or 100 feet, don’t at the drop-off. The simple fact is that your bike tire tends to follow your line of sight. If there is a big rock in the trail, for heaven’s sake don’t look at the rock, look at the path you want to take around the rock. Look where you want your front tire to go. Look ahead, think forward, the bike moves fast and your bike will follow the path you focus on, just like life does. If you don’t want to hit the tree, don’t look at the tree. If you don’t want to go off the cliff, don’t look off the cliff. I think this is a universal law that rears its head in every self-help book, video, and workshop on the planet. But with a bike you see immediate, and I mean immediate results.
When I looked for Tuscany I found it—on a bike. Without a dividing car window I saw the rich eggplant purples, the sunflower yellows, the burnt sienna and baby blue skies first hand, felt the warm Italian air across my face as I peddled through the summer afternoons, touched the cold, hard cobblestones that have snuggled the ground for at least twenty of my lifetimes. My bikes help me push limits, engage with space, time and living. Finding speed, learning to get up when I get bucked off. This is also a way of engaging with life. When I looked for a way to save my sanity I found that old red bike, my ticket to a hundred other days; a hundred other rides; a lifetime of pushing myself over broad expanses of road; and of exhausted legs and lungs that made me feel like I’d done something worthwhile. I’ve learned not to look off the cliff I don’t want to ride off – instead I look at the trail ahead, the one that takes me up the mountain, to the overlook, the one where you can see the sunrise over the world or the view over the valley, or simply the view you actually want to see. The bike is the partner, the means, the vehicle, the tool. It IS about the bike for me, and it isn’t.
This week I challenge you to look forward – look where you want to go. Stop thinking about the past. Don’t look at the root or rock in the path – look around it. Push yourself a little and enjoy the ride. Have fun out there creating adventures and stories – they are the same thing really. We’ll see you next week on the Love Your Story podcast. Please head to www.loveyourstorypodcast.com and leave us some feedback. We’d love to hear from you. Share your stories – Maybe we’ll use them in a podcast.