Wednesday, October 16, 2013

What Riding A Tandem Taught Me About Life

I'm married. Yep, officially a Mrs. 

Ten days also, I held the hand of that trusty fellow who first won my heart by leaving me a scribbled good luck note and CD at my work the day before the Hampton Half Marathon in 2009, and said, "I do."

Yes, that trusty fellow who's followed me around on his bike while I plodded my way through marathon training, who acted as Head Sherpa for long runs, who never failed to be on the sidelines or the finish line with a smile, hug and a cowbell. 

That same trusty fellow who's challenged me to get onto two wheels, to tackle the climbs I don't think I can do, to take far-fetched bicycle adventures through new parts of the country and to think it's totally normal to walk into a restaurant clad head-to-toe in spandex.

I've never been happier and more at peace with my life. Things are just so right.

Four days into our new marriage, while on our honeymoon, we decided to put things to the ultimate test by renting a tandem bike. Yep, that thing known as a "marriage wrecker" in some circles.

But it just seemed so perfect, so metaphorical - joining together, literally, after joining together, figuratively (and legally).  Yes, yes, the bicycle-built-for-two challenge would be a fitting way to celebrate our union, our partnership and test our ability to work as a team.

We both feel confident on our individual bikes, pedaling thousands and thousands of miles over the years. Riding has become second-nature, no longer having to think about balancing or pedaling or steering or any of the mechanics that consume you when you first start riding. I suppose that's why we were only mildly worried about the tandem bike.

We probably should have been more worried.

After a quick intro to the tandem road bike by the bike shop guys and, of course, signing the liability waiver, we were off. Or at least we tried.

We walked the tandem to the side of main street in Calistoga, the northern part of Napa Valley, and jumped on - totally ready to roll. Jeff rode in front with the brakes, shifting and steering. I was in back, facing my fear of not being in control in a very real, very scary way.

We pushed off, like we normally would when starting a ride, and lasted about, oh, 2 seconds before harshly slamming our feet back on the ground and tipping the bike, pretty much uncontrollably, to the side. Hmmm, this would be harder than we thought.

Almost immediately, and probably not surprisingly, we started coming up with systems and processes. Count to three when "launching" or stopping, communicating when Jeff planned a shift in gears. Everything required a plan. Everything required us to be in sync. Everything, everything required communication.

I won't lie. That first 10 minutes was killer. I felt like we would topple at any moment. The bike seemed absurdly heavy and hard to handle. I was tense. I was afraid of falling. I thought we'd never make it all the way to Yountville, about 20 miles away.

We continued to tweak our riding methods and, bit by bit, improved. Sure, we only rode in a straight line for the first 20 miles - yes, we walked our bike across the street to avoid turning -  and sure, we took breaks every five miles or so give our brains a break from concentrating so much. But slowly, very slowly, we got the hang of it. 

As we rode, and as I relaxed enough to think about anything other than the fact that we might completely wipe out on this thing, I started to think about all of the things that riding a tandem bike can teach you about life. And marriage.

COMMUNICATE. Every little thing had to be communicated. Everything. We first found this out the hard way when Jeff, up front, decided to stop pedaling momentarily. I, in the back, continued to pedal at my regular cadence - or tried to. You know that feeling when your chain jams and you're suddenly met with extreme resistance when you try to push forward. Yeah, like that. As we rode, we got into a rhythm, communicating the most comfortable pace, when to stop and start, how to lean into turns. When we communicated everything, it was smooth sailing.

IT'S OK TO RELINQUISH CONTROL. Okay, this is a hard one for me. Really, really hard. As the backseat passenger, I had to come to terms with the fact that I wouldn't be steering, shifting or braking. I had to completely trust someone else, trust that they would take care of me, do the right thing and get us where we needed to go. 

YOU DON'T HAVE TO SEE WHERE YOU'RE GOING. I love a plan. I like to know what's in front of us, what's around the corner. With everything - work, life, training - I like to know and see where I'm going. I spent the first few miles trying to peek around Jeff's shoulders, to alert him of road hazards up ahead (like he couldn't see them) and to see where we were going. It was an exercise in futility, and if anything, just continued to throw us off balance as I bobbed side to side around his shoulders. Once I realized I didn't need to see where I was going, I could relax and enjoy the moment, to enjoy the blue Napa sky, the rows of grape vines and the peaks of mountains in the distance. 

TAKE BREAKS. The tandem was way, way harder than any regular bike ride - especially mentally. We took far more breaks than we normally would on any ride to give our brains a rest from concentrating so intently. It also gave us a chance to stretch a bit and recap what we'd learned along the way.

KEEP GOING. Yes, keep going even when things are hard. Especially when things are hard. A few miles in, both Jeff and I were ready to head back to the bike shop - not ready to commit to the full-day rental we signed up for. Solo bikes would have been a lot easier, a lot more relaxing and, perhaps overall, more fun. But conquering a new challenge, especially doing it with someone, is particularly satisfying and well worth it in the end.

DO THINGS THAT SCARE YOU. Yes, Eleanor Roosevelt was right. Do one thing every day that scares you. Riding this tandem qualified for a week's worth of scary things. It pushed us way outside our comfort zones and made us question our ability. Sometimes we need that.

EVERYTHING'S EASIER WITH WINE. It might just be coincidence, but we got notably better after our lunch break in Yountville that included a glass of wine. (Hey, we were in Wine Country!) 

We wrapped up the ride with a lot more smiles - and confidence - than we started, gliding to a stop in front of the bike shop and congratulating each other with hugs and high-fives. Heck, we finished the ride with 40 miles under our belts. Tandem riding, I think, has some dog-year conversion chart, so surely that was the equivalent riding a century or so.

We'd done it. We'd taken on a new challenge together and figured it out ourselves. We'd worked together and we didn't give up, even when we both wanted to.

I think we'll do just fine together. Forever.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific lessons, applicable to so many of life's challenges (big and small) and I love that the retelling includes the inevitable humor that comes from those moments when life and experience remind us control freaks that the control we assume is in in our hands is often an illusion. Thanks for sharing!


You can post a comment here by selecting any of the options below. If you do not have a gmail account, choose "Other User" or "Anonymous." All fields are optional.