Sunday, August 9, 2009

Back in the saddle

About 15 years ago, I had a bad accident while biking home from a friend's house. As I was riding along, my bike ran over what I swear was at least a pebble and hit it the wrong way so that the front tire stopped. I didn't, though, and flew over the handlebars, landed on my jaw, and skidded on it halfway into the street. Thankfully, there was no traffic, and although I was in bad shape my bike was fine. I was halfway between my friend's house and my house, so I decided to continue on home. Cars flew past me, and I saw people looking at me, then wincing when they saw the blood and scraping on the side of my face. No one stopped to help. My mom thought I had been in a fight until I explained otherwise. She took me to the emergency room, and somehow my jaw had not been broken, but lodged out of place. Because of the accident, my jaw still doesn't align quite right; the doctors said I have TMJ. However, it's not quite bad enough to warrant surgery, and they gave me a retainer to try to get my mouth fit back together properly. It helped and I do still wear the retainer, but sometimes the pain returns. Advil does the trick. (For those who are wondering, I was wearing a helmet.)

The real lasting damage is that I have never since ridden a bicycle, and have never been motivated to get back on, until now. New York is beautiful when seen from a bike, but it can also be a dangerous place for cyclists. Like any other city, there are plenty of idiot drivers, and a person on a bike is considered by most people to be not quite a pedestrian (and so does not have automatic right of way) but not quite traffic either (so they're expected to yield at all times to all things). Despite all of this, a bike is a great way to travel, providing freedom to travel without buying a subway card or a tank of gas, and it's good exercise besides. My sister just completed two triathlons, and since my man and I moved to a building closer to the park, he's been riding his bike more often. For these reasons and more, I decided it was time to get back in the saddle, and today was the day.

We went to Ride Brooklyn and rented a bike for me to ride for the day. It actually felt good to be back on a bike, and after practicing a little in a nearby schoolyard, we left to meet up with my sister and another friend to go to Red Hook and check out the food vendors. It was a great ride. I gradually got more comfortable, and I had never seen so much of the Red Hook waterfront as I did today. Since Ikea and Fairway landed in Red Hook, the area has gone through some major renovations, but remains largely inaccessible by subway. We rode past boutiques, cafes, art galleries and garden centers that I never knew existed and thought I might like to visit again. There was not much car traffic where we were, so I could relax and remember what it feels to tool around on a bike. I had a great quesadilla from one of the food vendors, and thought about how much easier it would be to come do this if I owned my own bike. All things considered, it was great, and I realized how much I'd been missing by not getting back on a bike.

The ride from there on out was different. We went down Clinton Street, where there are parked cars on one side of the bike lane and traffic whizzing by on the other. I started to feel claustrophobic and spooked about my abilities to maintain balance, then began imagining what would happen if someone opened a car door or tried to leave their parking spot, leaving me with no place to go but headlong into traffic. I got anxious and had to stop a few times. I biked on the sidewalk and that was easier, but obviously there are still plenty of obstacles like strollers, pedestrians, gates, etc. When we returned the bike, I was definitely done for the day.

For all of that, however, I do still want to keep riding. (There's a pink Electra cruiser which caught my heart and eye at the shop, plus it's on sale.) One of the central tenets for me of being a pinup is that you only live once. Just as there's no reason not to look and feel your best every day, there's no reason to let one experience, however tragic, hold you back from exploring. I figured that if I'm brave enough to look the way I want to look, and to be going after my dream of performing burlesque, then surely I'm brave enough to conquer my fear of a bicycle.

As I was practicing in the schoolyard, my man was working with me to get me in a comfortable place. A man and his son were there too, playing with a soccer ball. The son couldn't have been more than 4, and was in his own little world. I tried to stay out of his way, and the father tried to get him to do the same, saying, "She's practicing...bicycling." But, eventually, they left. The father went to say a few words to my man, who explained to him that I had been in a very bad accident and that this was my first time on a bike in many years. My man told me later that the father said he too had a bad biking accident and hadn't ridden since. He said that I was an inspiration to him.


Marie 'entrain said...

Good for you! I tried riding my bike the other day after about a 5 year break. I was scared to death that I was going to fall off and break something! I forgot how wobbly that they are. It might have helped if i was riding on the pavement, but my house is surrounded by dirt roads and rocks do not make good riding companions as you pointed out in your post.

Rapunzel said...

I, too, just started biking again after many years! While I didn't have an accident such as yours, I was never all that steady on two wheels and am even less so nowadays. I'm not giving up, however, thank you for the inspiration!

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