Lessons learned on two wheels
For the past seven months, bikes have been a constant theme in my life.
When the magical ofo bikes showed up on Vanderbilt’s campus this spring, my friends and I joked that it was the start of my "year of the bike." That semester of zooming around Nashville - cruising across the bridge to Commons at midnight to climb trees, racing to cheer on the marathon, and wheeling our yellow bikes down to get pancakes at Fido - served as the perfect prelude to my current two-wheeled season of life.
Although my year of the bike seemed to officially start when those yellow cruisers popped up on campus, its wheels had already been turning - spurred on by two important moments.
1. The night I spent five hours in the Grand Rapids Airport on my way home for Thanksgiving due to a fifty-minute flight turned into night-long adventure thanks to some unseemly weather conditions. With five hours on my hands, I filled out my very first Younglife Summer Staff Application: a moment of faith that landed me a position at the Malibu Club as a Mountain Bike guide for the month of July.
2. My interview with the DIS representatives from Copenhagen, where I learned all about a colorful city halfway across the world- full of bikes and an academic program that I had been hopefully eyeballing for the past semester.
I didn’t know it at the time, but these two days were nudges towards my future – a season full of exploration, wonder, and lots and lots of pedaling. Between the mountain bike wipeouts, and Danish cruiser commutes I have learned a whole lot.
Here are some lessons I’ve learned, from opposite sides of the globe, on two wheels:
Malibu Club, British Columbia (Summer 2018)
1. Don’t fixate on where you don’t want to go.
“If there is something in the middle of the trail – like a stick or a rock – don’t focus on it, because where your eyes go, your bike will follow. Keep your eyes where you want to go – when it gets steep, look at the bottom of the chute, not the ground.”
This was the first thing the campers heard during their pre-ride talk, a monologue I got to rehearse multiple times a day. Although this tip is helpful in mountain biking - and receives all the credit for my eventual mastery of a downhill bike – I think it rings true for our lives as well. When we are more worried about what we want to avoid, rather than focusing on the good we hope to create around us - we are destined to crash. You might be headed full speed in the direction of your goal, but fixating on a tiny bump in the road can lead to a full on wipe out. I’ve seen it on the trail, and I’ve seen it happen in people’s lives too. Keep your eyes fixed on where you’re going.
2. You’re more capable than you think you are.
Signing up to be a mountain bike instructor was a real bold thing for me to do this summer. Not because it’s dangerous and kinda muddy, but because I had never been mountain biking before. Not once. I mean, I knew how to ride a bike – I learned that when I was like six years old – but mountain biking is a wholeeee ‘nother game.
I showed up on the first day with a huge lump in my throat, feeling like the least capable person to be sending kids hurling down a mountain that I couldn’t conquer myself. I wiped out the first day, and then I wiped out again. For the whole first week, I would ride the course, thanking Jesus every time I made to the bottom in one piece. As the summer progressed, my legs became a constellation of mud splotches, scrapes and bruises, but the same ride that had ones left me weak in the knees began to fill me with joy by the time I rounded the last turn. The first time I rode the course flawlessly, I giggled and couldn’t stop smiling as I braked at the bottom, because I never thought the day would come.
We don’t give ourselves enough credit, people! The world tells us things about ourselves - things that make us feel small - and we listen. I had learned somewhere along the way that I wasn’t athletic, that I was going to royally suck at mountain biking, and I believed it. That is – until it became untrue. What lies are keeping you from becoming all of who you were made to be, right now, today? Go prove ‘em untrue.
Copenhagen, Denmark (Fall 2018)
3. We were made to do this together.
Copenhagen is known as a biking city, but I don’t think I realized how true that was until I got here and witnessed it myself. Y’all, everyone bikes. Like - If you are in the right neighborhood in the mornings, you can catch a glimpse of the Danish royal family biking to school – kinda everyone. It’s such a good example of the communal nature of Danish living. People just do life together over here, and I think that’s really lovely.
In my psych class yesterday, we were talking about the concept of social facilitation – the phenomenon that occurs when we complete ordinary tasks alongside other people. Did you know that we work better together than when we are alone? This concept was first noticed by a guy named Norman who was watching people bike in 1898. He noticed that when riding together, bicyclists rode faster than riding solo. How cool is that!? We do better at the little things in life when we invite other people into them. We were created to do life together, to bear each other’s burdens, and celebrate each other’s successes. It’s just more fun that way.
4. You’re alive.
This one might seem a little funny, but hear me out. There is nothing like biking up a slightly uphill street for ten minutes to remind yourself of your humanity - a racing heart, aching legs, catching your breath moment of sheer humanity.
Or when you’re flying down the street at 10pm without another bike in sight - the bike lane declaring your momentary freedom. Headphones in as you pump the pedals furiously, catching wind, gaining speed, unable to resist the instinct to belt out out your favorite song in a moment of deep gratitude for the beautiful unfolding of the messy life around you.
Or in the morning when you feel small. Just another bike in the daily hustle, instinctually following the pack as the light turns from red, yellow, GO! The sun warms your face and the wind rustles your hair as you bike over the river. You feel at peace among the strangers around you, and even though they don't even speak the same language you feel at home next to them. Pedaling alongside them, your differences seem smaller, and your shared humanity a bit stronger than the labels we assign to one another in our minds. Just humans. Here together for the journey - alive.
I’ve still got a lot of rides left in this year of the bike, and I am thankful for it. I’m looking forward to all the lessons I’ve still to learn as I pedal around this cozy city alongside its big ole biker gang. In the meantime, you’ll know where to find me – exploring my world on two wheels.