Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Just like Riding a Bike...

I go through periods of my life where I have catch phrases. Friends of mine will undoubtedly remember these with pangs of annoyance.
“Anyway, back to me” – Junior year of high school
“No-tuh” – Senior year of high-school
“I do what I want” – Senior year of college
Recently my phrase has been “Who says?”, and I use it to challenge any clichéd truisms that come my way. I always say it in this really sassy tough voice.
For example:
You have to go to work on Monday.
Who says?You can’t eat ice cream for dinner.
Who says?
You never forget how to ride a bike.
Oh really? Who Says??????
I am here to challenge this cliche. Otherwise, how can you explain how I, a one-time bicycling fool, fell off my bicycle TWICE within a 3 hour ride? Ask my BFF Simone how annoying I was back in the 3rd grade. I’d show up every morning at her house, she’d ask me what I wanted to do today, and I’d say “ride bikes” and because she was the sweetest kid on the planet, she would reluctantly oblige. I still remember the day she finally stood up to me and said “I don’t want to ride bikes today”, and thus our Nintendo phase started.
The point is, at one time in my life, I was pretty skilled at riding a bike. Flash-forward 15 years to my husband asking me on our Ireland trip what I wanted to do that day. “Let’s do a fifteen mile bike ride through the mountains. It will be great fun!”
We show up at the rental bike stand and ask for two rental bikes. The guy, we'll call him Mike, let us have our pick and points us to the Killarney National Park.
“We’re not going to the wimpy national park,” I explained/boasted, “we’re going to the Gap of Dunloe.”
At this point, Bike rental Mike gives us a skeptical gaze, pulls out some equipment for us to patch up busted tires, gives us a lecture about if the bike comes back damaged we’re responsible, and gives me a sinking feeling that I’ve just signed up to bicycle up something similar to Mt. Everest.
I was shooting Jonathan looks and sending him psychic messages that said “Get our money back, let’s go get a massage”. Either my psychic abilities don’t work as well in Ireland or he ignored me because he hopped on his bike looking calm and collected. With blind faith I pedaled behind him on the bike trail until the bike trail ended and we were sharing the tiny Irish road with tour buses and 18 wheelers.
I’m getting more and more anxious and my mind races with thoughts like “My car insurance covers me everywhere in the world except for Israel, Iraq, and Ireland; do I really want to ride a bike on these roads?” And, “That bike rental guy specifically warned me not to hit any rocks. It’s probably not safe to bike over these grated drains”.
At about that moment, I had to make a decision, swerve to miss the tour bus passing me, or swerve to miss the grated drain. In my jumpiness I ‘over-corrected’ my swerve, hit the curb and watched my life flash before my eyes. I thought: "The beds sure are soft in heaven" until I realized I had flown about 5 feet onto a delightfully soft spot of Irish Grass.
Immediately, I thought: "Thank goodness I wasn’t bicycling next to one of those stone fences they are so fond of!" (This, my friends, is a little technique I like to call, foreshadowing….)
After convincing myself to get back on the bike instead of taking a nap on the soft grass, we assessed the bike for damages and decided to proceed with the trip. We also decided to ride our bikes on the pedestrian sidewalk.
About 5 miles later, we made it to Kate Kearney’s Cottage and the beginning of the Gap of Dunloe. As we rode our bikes past people in horse drawn buggies we realized that everyone was looking at us like we were certifiably insane. But we were past the point of no return. We were here and we were doing this.
This was the moment where we would discover the honest truth of whether or not our bike trip was worth it, and I have to answer that question with a resounding: YES!
I asked Jonathan if he had ever seen something so beautiful, and because I have trained him so well he reflexively answered with a, “Yes- You”. After a roll of my eyes we began debating if The Gap of Dunloe was more beautiful than the Scared Valley in Peru:
(Sacred Valley in Peru)
I voted yes. I don’t know what Jonathan voted- I was too busy taking in the scenery, which was breathtaking for two reasons: 1) it was spectacularly rugged and 2) I was riding my bike up a mountain.
The ride was challenging, but rewarding. I found my P90x training to be very useful and I whispered a familiar mantra to myself: “Do your best and forget the rest” . When that failed to work, Jonathan yelled back over his shoulder “Make Tony proud!” I reached deep into my reserves and kept pedaling up, up, up as if to say, “Take that-cellulite!”

Once we were done pedaling through the Gap, we pumped our brakes for a 2 mile ride downhill to Lord Brandon’s Cottage. Here we met our boat driver who would take us on a 1 ½ hour boat ride back to Killarney. While waiting for our boat to depart, I enjoyed a snickers bar and have to say that I have never felt less guilty about eating candy. At one point, I even dipped the snickers into our to-go JIF peanut butter as if to say, “Welcome back, cellulite- I missed you old friend”.
As for the views- this was the Ireland of my dreams: Wild, green, juxtaposed. It was almost too gorgeous. By the end of the boat trip we had “beautiful scenery fatigue”. I would ask Jonathan if he wanted to take a picture of a lake with a mountain jutting out of it, and he’d shrug and say “Nah”.
Our boat dropped us off at Ross castle. Did Jonathan want to look around castle ruins? Nah.
Did Jonathan want to stop and look at a family of deer? Nah.
Did Jonathan want to stop in Killarney town to buy my a Guinness t-shirt? Nah.
Jonathan had finally gotten my psychic signals about that massage and was speeding back to the bike rental place.
We were almost there. We were so close. I was feeling euphoric and invincible after my triumphant ride. I was keeping up with Jonathan about to jump a curb with my bike when God chose to step in and humble me. I jumped the curb. My bike did not. I would have flown 5 feet again if a stone wall hadn’t so generously stopped me.
Jonathan asked “Are you okay?” and I had to admit: Nah. Not okay. Bike not okay. Jonathan quickly “fixed” my bike, but we decided to walk it back the rest of the way. We strategically waited for a big group of wimpy national park cyclists to turn their bikes in before we brought ours in. Bike Rental Mike was so busy with the rush of returns that he didn’t “inspect” our bikes like he warned us he would. I’m sure that the mud on the pedals and grass stains on my pants would have clued him in had we arrived solo.
We fled the scene of the crime and speed-walked back to our hotel for a steam, a much deserved hot chocolate and a new found respect for Lance Armstrong.
I may indeed forget how to ride a bike, but I will never forget this day of my life, even despite a slight concussion.

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