What a Bike Tour Taught Me About Life

East River Picture

“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Michelangelo


I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination. I only passed my high school swim class because I showed up. I spent the entire semester floating by the ledge, in the kiddie section of the pool. Don’t judge me. During college, no one ever wanted to be my partner in tennis class and the poor souls running on the track above us dodged the fast hard balls I swung their way. Okay, now you may judge me. During law school, I convinced my fellow summer interns to join the gym and take a lunchtime Pilates class. A few minutes into the class, I just sat there and looked at everyone else. “Jodi, you are so trifling,” my friend Tracy told me, thinking she could guilt me into exercising. “Yea, I know,” I replied. I’ve learned to accept my flaws and shortcomings. I never returned to the gym that summer. So it was downright hilarious when I took up the pastime of biking last summer. Guilt-tripping Tracy and I had just finished roller skating, when we discovered that the park also rented bikes. “Oh, that looks fun,” I told her. “No, it doesn’t,” she answered. We rented bikes a few weeks later, and I fell in love.

 Riding a bike is relaxing, like a form of meditation. There’s nothing more beautiful and peaceful than rolling along the bike path with the wind blowing on my face as I speed by the beautiful trees with foliage of varying hues. Reds, yellows, golds. Sometimes I stop to take pictures. Biking reminds me to pay attention to the beautiful world around me. And it’s a great workout. Remember, I hate gyms. Biking also brings out the carefree little girl in me. It makes me feel free, light, and invincible. Whenever I ride down a hill, I’m always tempted to stretch my legs out and yell “Weeeeeeeeeeee.” But, I resist the urge. As with all physical activity, me and biking had an uneasy start. When I first started biking, I used to get off and walk up the hill. Even with my bike on its lowest gear, the uphill struggle was real. My endurance and strength were running on empty. Because I was a novice, I’d cause near-collisions as I dismounted in the middle of the road. I ignored the other cyclists cussing at me. “Awww, come on,” a guy yelled at me when he saw me dismounting to walk up the hill. “Hey, I’m not in shape like you! I’m just tryna do the best I can,” I yelled back. Ain’t no shame in my game. But, I kept at it, riding a little further up the hill each time. When I finally rode all the way up the hill without getting off, I hollered and raised my fist as if I’d just won the Olympics. Go Jodi! It’s ya birthday! Shake ya tail feather!

While on the Alzheimer’s Association’s website one day, I learned that they participated in the TD Five Boro Bike Tour, an annual 40 mile bike ride across NYC’s 5 boroughs with over 30,000 other people on the first Sunday in May. That seemed like fun. So I signed up, and convinced my friend Sherri to participate as well. Of course, I’d never ridden more than four miles at a time. Minor detail. I figured I should probably train in some way. So I biked outside until December, thanks to NYC’s global warming-inspired warm weather. And then I started taking spin classes in January, so I could keep cycling throughout the winter. Me and spin class had a sordid history. I’d last taken a spin class in 2009, which I’d walked out of a few minutes after it started. That class was hard for no damn reason. None at all. Fast forward 7 years, here I was again. But thanks to my leisurely bike rides, I made it through the entire class and actually enjoyed it. As with biking, I find spin classes to be relaxing and exhilarating – even while sweating an ocean and churning your legs into jelly. I didn’t strive to be a spin superstar. I always picked a bike in the back and went at my own pace. I went a few times a week until April, then life got in the way. A few days before the tour, I figured I should probably ride my bike and make sure everything was working. The Thursday before the tour, I biked 11 miles after work. And then I got tired, it got dark outside, and Scandal came on. Still, there might be hope for me yet.

The night before the tour, I almost flaked out. The weather forecast said it would be cold and raining the day of the tour. I’d never biked in the cold or the rain. I’m not about that bike-all-year-round-in-any-weather life. But Sherri reminded me that I’d talked her into signing up and she’d even bought a bike for the tour. Yup, she guilt-tripped me. Not to mention that we’d bought gear for the tour at the Bike Expo that day. So, I set my supplies and clothes out that night and prayed that I’d wake up at 5 AM the next morning to meet our group Black Girls Do Bike (BGDB) at 7:15. I felt like I was preparing for finals or the first day of school.

I woke up in time, made it to meet our BGDB group and it was awesome. This group of Black female cyclists from all over the county had converged to ride it out together. We took pictures, introduced ourselves, and our organizer Kathy went over some rules of the road before we headed to the starting place. Our wave of the tour was set to roll out at 8:10 that morning. It was amazing to see so many fellow cyclists. 31,999 other folks who were just as excited as me to be riding 40 miles in the rain and cold. Folks were friendly and encouraging. They played music, laughed and talked, tried to beat their own records, or just strolled merrily through the city. My initial goal was to just make it out of Manhattan and not embarrass myself. We biked from lower Manhattan uptown through Central Park. I rode up the hills in Central Park without getting off my bike. A gospel choir sang for us as we rolled past 125th Street. We yelled thanks to the choir and bystanders on sidewalks. Before I knew it, we were in the Bronx. I’d made it out of Manhattan! I’d surpassed my goal. We rolled along into Queens, still in the cold and rain. We didn’t care. We were having fun. I walked up part of the Queensboro Bridge. I’m still a work in progress. We marveled at the amazing views from various bridges. We cried foul when we realized we were less than halfway through. “We want a recount,” I yelled. The Verrazano Bridge is the devil. I had dreams of biking up the bridge, but both my legs cramped up on my way up. I rotated between riding and walking the rest of the way up. I’m convinced that most of our Brooklyn miles were spent on that long bridge. Every time I thought we were on the actual bridge, I learned that we were still “on the way” to the bridge. Pure evil. But the fast ride down towards the finish line in Staten Island was glorious.

 Our smaller subset of the BGDB crew, dubbed the “Creepers” because we were self-admitted slow pokes, rolled four women deep – Sherri, Donna, Emily and me. We stopped at rest stops for snacks and bathroom breaks. We stopped when one of us got tired or cramped. We even stopped when my fingers were so cold and numb that I couldn’t change my gears while going downhill. We took pictures of each other and our great city, parts of which I’d either never been to or hadn’t visited in years. It wasn’t always a pretty sight. Bent over, I grunted and breathed hard as I struggled up some hills. “Keep at. You can do it,” a guy yelled to me as he passed me on one hill. We finished and made it to Staten Island. I made it. I did it. For a chick who once walked out of spin class and used to walk up even the smallest of hills, I did it. Even with rain pouring down, frozen fingers, and lopsided rain-soaked glasses. I did it.

The Five Boro Bike Tour expanded my realm of what is possible and what I can accomplish. In many facets of my life, I’m fairly confident that if I work really hard I can excel at those things – some of which come relatively easy for me. If I study hard enough, I can memorize and ace an exam. If I edit enough, I can write really well. If I practice enough, I can give a great speech. But, what happens when we tackle something outside our comfort zone? Something that doesn’t come naturally – like riding in a bike tour in the cold rain? The same principles apply. If you work really hard and keep at it, you can break through the barriers of what you previously never even considered possible. And if you have a tribe of supporters, you can go even further. It made me wonder, what else am I capable of accomplishing? What else can we push ourselves to achieve?

 I plan to bike in next year’s Five Boro Bike Tour and other bike tours. I’ll be sure to wear full gloves and drink more water. I also plan to work on my hill-climbing skills. Maybe one day I’ll bike all the way up the Verrazano Bridge. I’m inspired to bike more and dream bigger dreams. I’m excited to see what other accomplishments lay on the other side of my fears and perseverance.

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