You can learn a lot

You just rode a bike 18 miles! Eighteen miles. That’s pretty far.

He looked exactly like I did as he walked out of the driveway and ‘attempted’  to balance on the bike for the first time. I suggested he go up the street to get comfortable balancing. Thank goodness no cars were coming in either direction. I rode next to him and could see his hands with a strangle grip on the bars, and the front tire was weaving because of it. We, thankfully, made it to the top of the hill (the first mental obstacle) without hitting anything or falling. Next it was time to learn how to use the brakes because the next 1/2 mile is downhill. We practiced stopping completely and stepping off the bike (a very important… step). The reminder of standing on the pedals, moving hips forward off the seat and then stepping off after stopping was repeated quite a bit.

We crossed Elm St and headed toward the curb cut for the path. Oh boy, I thought, this may be tough. I went first then looked back and saw his bike take a very smooth turn behind me. I was impressed. Since it was a very nice day, there were a lot of people on the path. I suggested he ride in front of me because I felt more comfortable about being able to avert trouble if any arose, plus I could ‘teach’ him about the gears (how and when to change them).

“We’re only going to the office and back, right?’  The fear of going further, without even knowing what 10 miles felt like, seemed semi-paralyzing. “When we get to the office, we’ll decide”. I remember being concerned that first day too. I wish someone would have told me not to worry about miles the first time I went, because thinking about distance when I’ve never gone that far before seemed really really far. Ten miles can be done in less than an hour at a leisurely pace, anyone can ride a bike for an hour, right?  That thought just changed the equation. If we commit to a time and not a distance, you’ll be surprised how easy the distance will add up in no time. I don’t know if that lesson was translated properly or even accepted if it was.

When we stopped at the office for a drink break, I told him about the canopy of trees over the path in Valley Forge. I told him it’s about 2 miles away (he just did 5) and 2 seemed easy. Since 2 was a much smaller number than 10 (minutes), I went with 2 as a comparison for the ease of getting there. So what if I contradicted myself. The goal was to think differently than ever before. We’re only riding bikes, but it was an obstacle and sometimes you need encouragement and a different thought process to overcome obstacles. So, we continued on to search for the tree canopy.

Right at that moment, there was no fear, no fight, no worries about not making it. We passed people and people passed us. “Pretend you are playing the piano as a reminder to yourself not to strangle the handle bars”. The goal was not to go fast, it was to reach the canopy…. and there it was! “Another 1/2 mile and we hit Valley Forge, wanna see it?” A surprising “yes” was the answer. In what seemed like a minute, there was our turnaround cut out at Valley Forge. You made it! In just over a half hour of riding at a leisurely pace. That will be like a warm up for you in 2 months.

Heading home is always like riding downhill regardless of the terrain. The anticipation of reaching home along a familiar path (because you just saw it) away from the unknown makes the time go much faster. Before we knew it, we were at the office again. This time, we just stopped on the path, took a drink and kept going. That was important, we didn’t ‘need’ to stop and rest we just ‘needed’ to make it home. In less than 20 minutes we’ll hit the bottom of the hill in Conshy (then we’ll figure out how to get up that hill). We hit 23 mph on that path without me ‘pulling’ him. We caught faster riders and got more comfortable with speed. We said ‘on your left’ and had fun passing other riders.

“After the bridge, we have a sharp left, then a sharp right, make sure you signal in case there is someone behind you.” Once we got to Maple Street, I had him follow me. We had to find the easiest hill to climb. There’s an alleyway between third and forth that I chose. ” You can do this, switch to the big gear in the back and stand up on the pedals if it gets too hard.” He stayed with me and we made it. That was a hard way to finish. We crossed Fayette St and coasted home. One last reminder about how to stop and dismount and our ‘lesson’ was over.

Later that day, I thought about all the things I learned by telling someone else what I knew. Steve went a total of 18 miles on his first bike ride in years. Now he knows he can go ‘that far’.

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