Saturday, July 30, 2011
I hadn't ridden a bike in more than twenty years. My last bike was a brown ten speed that I rode in my early teens after I could no longer fit on my beloved pink Huffy with its long leather seat and pink tassels. While I loved riding as a youngster-- starting as a pig-tailed 6 years-old on my Huffy-- bike riding was no longer an interest after turning 14.
My break-up with bike riding signified a new phase in my life. For, other than swimming and dancing when going out to a party, there were no other forms of exercise that I engaged in any more. Pretty soon, after I stopped bike riding, I sort of lost interest in sports. I had gone from being engaged in everything-- from roller skating, and soccer to double dutch and kickball-- to really not doing much aerobic activity.
One hundred pounds later, at 37, I was invited to go on a bike ride by my spouse. Heavier, and shamefully out-of-shape breathing-wise, I was a bit hesitant but agreed to go. My spouse, who has been biking regularly this past year--recently purchasing a second-hand professional bike that usually runs over one thousand in cost, was supportive. He wanted me to come out to ride the trail we've walked and run in the past and offered his old bike for me to use. He handed me a bike helmet that reminded me of a soldier's helmet one straps on for war. And, how appropriate. I didn't know then that this bike ride would be continuing a war I had been having with myself for years now.
The ride started out easy enough. I still had my balance and was able to begin riding quite easily. Once my feet found the pedals and my butt got acclimated to the seat's raised position, I shot off down the path, giggling at how good I was doing already. I didn't pay attention to how my spouse paced himself and rode carefully behind me. I didn't pay attention long enough to the deer and birds who stood on the wooded sidelines, staring at us as we rode by under the blazing hot sun.
"You shouldn't ride so fast," my spouse cautioned.
I heard but didn't quickly reply. I didn't slow down either. I thought about how impressed with myself I would feel reaching the end of the five mile trail. I thought how cool I must look on my bike, representing for the full-figured women. I forgot to breathe.
Yes. Typically, I don't breathe regularly. As weird as that sounds, it's quite normal for me to say, often when I'm explaining why I don't smell something that everyone else smells or why I'm so tired after a day of not really doing anything but sitting in front of the computer. I don't exhale. I often go for thirty seconds or more without breathing. For swimming, it's a pretty useful technique. Out-of-water activities typically require you to breathe, though. Stress has primed me for breath-holding as of late. High stress over the past years of my life has basically conditioned me to hold my breath when upset, when worried, when busy and, ultimately, when just being.
One mile into the bike ride, a shot of pain tore from my chest. My lungs were ready to explode. I began to breathe in ragged, sharp breaths until I braked. I wasn't fatigued, but I couldn't breathe. I gulped in air and looked around me. As I paused, the beautiful wooded area around me came into sharper focus. I didn't even notice as I whizzed by earlier. Now, struggling to breathe, a baby deer who had been staring at us trotted back to its hiding place.
"You want to rest some more," my spouse asked.
"Uh-uh," I replied.
I could breathe, took a large inhale and hopped back on my bike. Embarassed that I was holding him up, I wanted to get back on the trail and get to the end. I broke into high speed, learning nothing from my earlier breathing pain. I was doing good as I made it up inclines and avoided opportunities to crash or wobble.
"You hear the babbling brook," my spouse asked from behind me.
Rushing water could be heard as a small brook now ran besides us. He rode ahead of me, suggesting that I follow his pace. It helped as I fell back and decreased my speed a bit. Somehow, I was ahead of him soon, focused on the end goal, oblivious to the scenery around me or the journey there. The pain from my starving lungs forced me to stop again. This time, dizziness accompanied the pain. The 90+ weather outside now felt like 200 degrees. I felt like I was dying.
This time, I had to find shade. I laid down my towel I had brought along and lay on my back after throwing up a little. On my back, I could feel my chest heave painfully and my heart beating to catch up. The heaving and my heartbeat slowed down considerably as I peered up to the sky while on my back. A bug eaten leaf caught my attention immediately. At the tippy top of the tree it grew from, the bug-eaten leaf looked like a green snowflake. Light streamed through its holes and gave it a halo-like effect that mesmerized me. I could hear the rustle of the wind through the trees and fell intrigued those that blanketed me in coolness, shielding me from the heat. In this moment, I was fully present. I wasn't thinking of any end goals, wasn't racing toward a meaningless end point. Wasn't obsessed with anything outside of the Now.
The full realization of that moment swept over me.
Snatches of past actions of me busily engaged in everything, enjoying nothing, tore into my thoughts. As I lay on my back gazing upwards, tears fell from my eyes. My spouse lay beside me and together we listened to the wind and watched the varied leaf patterns above us.
To him and to the Spirit, I whispered, "I get it. I get it."