I am always ‘the bonkers one’. Fancy meeting at a pub two towns over? Sure, I’ll run there. Looking for accommodation for a weekend away? Let’s sleep at the top of a mountain. I’ll explore the wilderness alone, will sleep wild in pretty much any safe conditions, and I will jump out of planes quite happily, but there’s something I’ve always been scared of: something that could not be more normal for loads of people. I have never been a person who rides a bike. I would ride for hours in figure-of-eights around the garden at home, but I never went any further. I have always thought it reasonable to assume that, if I fell off – which I would – I’d definitely break my leg and probably would die. At the age of 25, at a team building event with work, I almost cried because I had to ride a mountain bike so our group could complete a challenge. I walked the bike up the first hill and, later, wobbled right over into a thorn bush. I don’t ride bikes, and I had made my peace with that.
Then, in January 2018, I went to two events: the first was the Ordnance Survey GetOutside champions launch event; the second was the first Adventure Queens community campout. Over the course of four days, I met more than a hundred unbelievable people. There were people who are full-time adventurers, working with brands and travelling around the world to spread the #GetOutside message; there were authors and TV presenters; there were people who lead expeditions in Nepal. There were people I met over those few days who had never put a tent up before but who had borrowed one and headed out to meet a bunch of like-minded people anyway. Somewhere in the middle, there was me: pretty comfortable with what I was doing, but acutely aware that it had been a long time since I’d tried something I didn’t already know how to do.
So when Debs, Jayne, and Britta all asked, “You don’t cycle? Why not?” I found, as I tried to respond, that I didn’t have a good answer. ‘Because I’m scared’ wasn’t going to cut it around this group. Jayne had cycled twenty miles to get to the camp, with all her gear on her bike; Debs took a year’s sabbatical to cycle around the world. They each must have had a first ride on the road. They must have started somewhere. It was time I found my somewhere to start, too.
The next week, I went to my parents’ house. In the garage, it didn’t take me long to find what I was looking for. My bike was the cheapest one I could find in Halfords, and I bought it ten years ago for no discernible reason other than I thought it would be a good idea at the time. I distinctly remember riding it into town once, and walking it virtually all the way after deciding that the hill between my parents’ house and the town centre was too steep to cycle down and too hard to cycle back up. When I got home, I put the bike in the garage, never to be used again.
My bike was covered in dust, and the brakes stuck and squeaked as I wheeled it into the light. Both tyres were flat and the rubber was cracked with age. The front light wasn’t working and the rear one was missing. I’m now not sure why I thought it would be easy to get it ready to go again after so long, but I was disappointed. Phil helped me to take a wheel off and we shoved it in the car: this was a job for a professional.
A week later, The Village Cycle Centre texted me to tell me the bike was ready. I covered myself in hi-viz yellow and got Phil to drop me off at the shop. With new cables and tyres, my bike looked like new – but now I had no excuses. There were no barriers left between me and doing the one thing I’ve said ‘no’ to for so long. There was nothing else for it: I wheeled my bike out of the shop, pointed it towards the road, and got on.
Just like that, I cycled nine miles home. And I haven’t been off the bike since.
Making that decision to do something that scares you is the hardest bit. The second-hardest bit is accepting that you will be doing something that you probably won’t be good at right away. Cycling has got a lot easier since Debs taught me to…uh…use my gears the right way around, but it’s still pretty scary when lorries hammer past on fast roads. I’m not going to be winning any prizes for speed, and I get a bit wobbly if I take my hand off to signal when I want to turn. But there are so many other things that make it fun, as well as challenging. I love freewheeling downhill along the cycle path back to my village; I love getting to look at things I never noticed when I was driving along the roads in the car. I love being able to ride straight into the town centre without worrying about parking, and I love the sense of achievement I get from pedalling all the way to the top of the hilly bits. It turns out that some of the best cycling in Leicestershire is right on my doorstep, and now I get to enjoy it – all because I got over myself and allowed myself to have a go.
If you feel like you’re stuck in your comfort zone and are wondering how to break your way out of it, I will leave you with some words of wisdom from my favourite philosopher: Winnie the Pooh.
“Supposing a tree fell down when you were underneath it?
Supposing it didn’t.”