See that phrase “It’s like riding a bike – you never forget” ?? Huh! That is SO not true! I never rode a bike as a child (yet another totally unnecessary restriction imposed on me because of having epilepsy) and don’t recall any particular trauma learning for the first time in my early 30s, but I do know my bike didn’t have gears and I never went far.
I didn’t cycle again for another decade and getting used to it that time round was horrendously traumatic. Eventually I coped and my late husband and I went on cycle tracks all over Scotland and a couple in England. I managed the gears OK though was never too keen on anything very steep, and could even signal (!) but very rarely went in traffic . I loved the Sustrans tracks where there was a scupture every mile – it made the rides so enjoyable. I have such fond memories of those journeys. Here are some scanned images from those days – Cycle Route 75 . I had forgotten where the foot soldiers and centurion could be found but a friend told me they are between Bridge of Weir and Kilmacolm . The other one was taken the same day but I’m not sure exactly where.
We did a lot of the long distance tracks in all seasons. I used to go shopping occasionally with panniers on the bike and have toured along English waterways, again with panniers and with a rucksack on my back – so I did get fairly competent. We highered my saddle over the months until I could cope with just toes on the ground which made pedalling more physically economical. By gum, I need my full feet firmly on the ground now and cannae even push off, I have to scoot to get going! That is what hurt me so much when I found myself back to square one when it came to riding this last time. Thank goodness for two albums of photos proving that I had been on these trips – otherwise it would seem like I was completely havering. I suppose that was my biggest problem – it hit me really hard when I realised I had lost so much confidence that it belied the belief in my own history and memories.
You see I had a very nasty fall from my bike early 1999 on the Bathgate to Airdrie cycle track – out in the middle of nowhere. Although I had to get back on my bike to cycle back to my car thence drive myself to hospital – I hadn’t ridden since. I did not realise how severely I’d been affected by the accident until a few months ago when my partner decided to get a bike. I knew I would need to get back in the saddle if I was to join him but when I accompanied him to the bike shop I felt physically sick and had palpatations – just in the shop – how pathetic is that! I tried to brazen it out and get back in control by getting my bike serviced but inside I was terrified. Anyway, another friend told us about cycling training sessions being run for older folk by Ageing Well at Meadowbank so we registered for them and went along. (It puts a whole new perspective on ‘recycled teenagers’ ) .
The tutors understand how hard it is to get back to cycling after decades away from it and take things from absolute basics. I borrowed one of their small bikes and spent ages just scooting with it before being able to pedal but, once I did, I was proper chuffed and thoroughly enjoyed myself. At home I enthusiastically got my bike out of the shed but I couldn’t even mount – I was completely inhibited by it. So….I decided to buy a folding bike like my partner’s, so it’d be convenient to carry in the car and more importantly, easier for me to ride by having a smaller frame.
At Meadowbank the following week I reverted to feeling very stressed by the effort of cycling with my new bike but I kept control of myself……just. Walter’s bike got a puncture so he took the chance to get some snaps – here I am attempting to steer round a slalom. (that’s me on RH side in a blue top)
However, gradually my voice was becoming higher pitched again – a sure sign of stress. I didn’t go back to squeaking but it was noticeably higher. Then, this last week the tension built up to boiling point and I had to let go. It might seem embarassing for a 65 year old to be in tears about riding a bike but I wasn’t fazed by that happening per se because I know now that repressing it is what does the damage. Walter was so supportive and the others all understood because they had fears of their own to tackle. After I had ‘let go’ I did my own thing rather than join in with the exercises. The previous week I had so much tension in my arms and hands that it caused quite a lot of discomfort/muscle pain so I practised riding with relaxed hands and very soon I felt a whole lot better. And low and behold my voice went lower too!
I am fairly sure that next Monday I will be able to ride far more confidently. In any case I won’t give up – I am determined to conquer this. It may be wheelly, wheelly scary but there’s only one way round it and that’s to push on through the fear barrier.