“They won’t tell you fairytales of how girls can be dangerous and still win. They will only tell you stories where girls are sweet and kind and reject all sin. I guess to them it’s a terrifying thought, a red riding hood who knew exactly what she was doing when she invited the wild in.” Nikita Gill – Girls of the Wild
With my inherent love for the mountains, how could I say no to our friends asking us to leave town a week before Christmas and camp. Get away from the lead up and the madness? Hell yes. The alternative of staying in the city felt untenable for many reasons. And who could knock back days of swimming in the lake? I was enormously grateful for the invitation as we packed up and left. I had no idea when we booked I would soon be holding a heart laden with grief. This kind of heartache in me belongs in the wilderness, where her tenderness soothes more than any other place I have ever known.
If you’ve read my previous blogs, you’ll know I’m a girl who honors the call to be somewhere out in the wild, and sometimes that shout out requires some serious logistics to pull it off. In recent years, I’ve woken up to how vital it is for me to put my oxygen mask on first. I spent years putting myself second, and um, very last, with everything. Turns out those airline safety announcements have actually come in handy!
I borrowed an old road bike for this camp to decide if I would take on this cycling gig back home. From our site, I watched my lycra-loving friend take off to ride and up down the mountain. I was filled with both curiosity and envy about what it would be like to do this kind of climb on a bike. The thought was enticing and incredibly overwhelming, it had my attention. I already felt its pull.
Already climbing on foot with hiking, I knew the joy and exertion in reaching a summit. As I watched my buddy ride off, I recognized a glint of excitement in in his eyes, and I vowed I’d be back to ride up this mountain as my first serious cycling goal. I hadn’t even brought my bike yet. You’ve got to be careful what you wish for. You might just get it. Another wild call.
The next directed step just appeared. Why am I not surprised? I registered for the women’s supported ride up the very mountain I set my intention to climb. Yep it just came up in my newsfeed. Three months into my cycling life I found myself standing listening to the briefing, softly sinking into the muddy autumn earth filled with the same sense of adventure that draws me out hiking.
Nothing is ever straight forward when you’re a beginner, there seems to be so many small fine-tune ups to this cycling. My very next lesson involved having so much mud in my shoe I couldn’t clip in. I didn’t discover this until I was in the bunch riding. Oops. I had to drop off once I realized what the problem was. Did I mention rookie? Yep.
As I stood on the side of the road trying to fix my problem, more bunches rode past asking if I was okay. Internal groan. There is so much humility in cycling. I needed help. And then he appeared. A very loud and Irish ride marshal ringing his cow bell at me. Couldn’t we just do this quietly? Apparently not. Mr. Charming handed me the bell and instructed me to shake it at the bunches coming. You know I smashed that out. Cool, so that’s now off my bucket list.
As my shoe was inspected, he decided we needed a pointy object to service it. He reached for his pocket and said, “the pen is mightier than the sword”, I giggled as he got to work. As the next bunch came along the now Mr. Swordfighter yelled out, “I’m just seeing if the glass slipper fits.” What a dude. With my problem solved, I declared him my hero for the day, and took off to smash out my first real mountain.
As I cycled up, I called out to another rider to let her know I was passing. Spinning her legs, she puffed, “yep, another person going by me, I think I’m close to last now.” This is where all that math came in handy from high school, I churned the numbers in my head, we were probably in the middle, not the fastest, not the slowest. There was a heap behind us. She seemed relieved.
Fascinated, she told me about a serious bike accident she had just two weeks ago. I told her she was pretty awesome and gutsy. She immediately tried to rebuff it with negativity. I wasn’t having that. I had also come off my bike a week before on the tram tracks. We were both doing our thing climbing that god damn mountain. That’s worth celebrating. And so is reaching the top.
Taking a quiet moment, I acknowledged my efforts to get to this day, and how I am no longer that person who allows fear to tell me what I can’t do. Interestingly, I quickly label fear but I’m starting to see it’s actually excitement. My inner commitment is to find and do what makes me come alive. The strong hold gripping me for years caring about what others might think has all but gone. Now I am motivated by what I believe of myself. This keeps my life continually opening up to more adventure. Bring it on. My part is allowing myself to be a beginner and learner, and that makes me one hell of a happy girl doing her thing.
After rocking that first mountain climb, there was an optional much longer ride the next day so some of us took off early morning. To say it wasn’t daunting or I was very ginger on the huge descent is understatement (think tram tracks) but I still did it. As I pushed myself way out of my comfort zone, I had to trust in the training coupled with the enthusiastic voices I carry within me of my loving friends, and of my own heart knowing I’m doing what I love. The magic for me is in the turning up. Not just with cycling, but everything in my life.
Going back to the top of the first day climb, another cyclist wanted to ride beyond to see what was there. I knew already. I jumped at the chance to ride a few extra kilometers, actually I always do, and yes there were a few eye rolls when I declared a recovery ride for myself later that afternoon. The sun was shining, we were coming down at a cracking pace and there it was, the lake, I almost squealed. I was returning to a place that knew me well. A few months ago, my tears had softly fallen upon this earth and the lake met me exactly as I was.
And here she was again, holding me in another time where my heart was whole and opening to love. This time she received my happiness. I was on my own bike and was reflecting on how I can never know what will unfold at any moment. Through turning up in the messiness, I knew I was finding my way back to trusting in life. I thanked her silently for I suspect she already knew how the timing of my life is always, always perfect.