June 02, 2010

Just Like Riding a Bike

What's more intimidating: doing something for the first time, or doing something for the first time after a long time of not doing it?

I thought skydiving was actually quite stress-free (despite some worries about getting motion sickness and possibly blacking out), because I really had no idea what I was in for. So, doing it for the first time, I didn't even try to imagine it. I just crossed my arms, closed my eyes, and fell out of the plane.

My friend James accompanied me because he'd had a relatively similar first go at it. The second time was much harder for him.

I think if you've done something, or used to do something, and then take a long break, the pressure of doing it again increases dramatically. First off, you'll know if you're doing it incorrectly, rather than the blissful ignorance of a first-timer improvising their way through it. Imagine having a boyfriend for a couple of years, breaking up, and then being single and celibate for a couple of years hence. The next date, and God forbid the next sleepover, is going to be a pressure cooker of self-criticism, stepping out of yourself and directing your actions, tsking when you get it wrong and throwing your arms up in the air when the audience doesn't respond well.

If you're lucky, you'll get right back into the groove of it with the new person because it is, as they say, like riding a bike.

I rode a bike for the first time in over 15 years today, and I was surprisingly stressed out about it. I have a lot of deep, recessed stresses associated with biking: it was my one escape from my parents' house as a child, and a frequent source of strife when I would return three minutes late, want to ride my bike farther than the allotted boundaries, or fall off, skin my knee and - worse yet - rip my pants. Freedom always came with a price. Ultimately, I had to completely lose my parents in order to be completely free.

But I'm a grown woman now, and after years of riding bikes as a kid, I should be able to get back on one. The Ace Hotel in Palm Springs has really cheap room rates, but they charge you an extra $20 "resort fee" to cover free parking, wifi, spa/gym/pool access, rentals. Edith and I didn't have enough time to take advantage during our last one-night stay, so this was my first opportunity to get my money's worth out of that extra twenty bucks. Quite frankly I would have preferred my first time back to be with a trusted friend, but who knows when I'll be back? Today was the day, if I was ever going to do it.

I wasn't sure I was actually going to go through with it. I called yesterday to ask how the rental works. I again inquired at the front desk when I checked in. And I stood in my room, surveying the inviting pool outside, calculating my energy level vs. the outside temperature, and finally just cross my arms, closed my eyes, stormed the front desk demanding a bike.

My initial shakiness was surprisingly all in the arms and not the legs. Sense memory is a powerful thing, and my lower half remembered the feeling of the seat, the pedals, the strides, and the backpedaling brakes more than sufficiently. My arms, however, spread wide by the cruiser-style handlebars, shook with anxiety, turning the front wheel left and right uncontrollably while I pedaled steadily. My palms were sweating on the rubberized handles, constantly grasping for brake handles that weren't there.

The Electra bike I was riding was a sturdy, turquoise cruiser, with big wheels, fenders, real structure. The seat was a bit too high, sending my legs dangling in mid-air, toes pointing down towards the pedals just as they had when I got my first bike. Back then, my father had to strap red wooden blocks to the pedals in order for me to reach them. I needed training wheels then, but today, I was not only on a bike for the first time, but on a busy street - nay, a highway - for the first time, riding in the road rather than on the sidewalk (though also on some sidewalk bike lanes).

I followed one of Palm Springs' color-coded Bike Routes down into a residential neighborhood with little-to-no traffic, and regained my confidence. I pedaled like mad, and cruised even better. Although steering - and stopping - were still a challenge, I commanded the open road in a new, rediscovered format: faster than walking, more agile than driving, heated by the late afternoon desert sun but cooled by the breeze cascading across my sweaty, reddened face.

I got a little cocky crossing a multi-lane highway, overestimating the speed at which I could cross, and almost got hit by a truck. I literally screamed out loud, loud enough, apparently, to make its driver take notice and come to a screeching halt as my screeching flew by it. I just kept pedaling. I think I apologized aloud, maybe to the truck driver, or maybe to myself. But I kept pedaling.

Lucky for me, a lot of the area around the Ace is littered with abandoned housing complexes - despite all the nearby new developments - making it not only extremely bike-friendly, but also scenic for a gal like me.

I quit after an hour, but really just because of the heat and the overwhelming desire to jump in the pool. I could have kept pedaling for a lot longer. Maybe I will again tomorrow. And if not then, hopefully very, very soon.

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