I think I will have nightmares — like my daymares — from Sunday’s “surprise.”
My husband didn’t have to work — a rarity for a Sunday — and when he said he had a “surprise” for me, I envisioned a day enjoying being together. Perhaps a nice meal somewhere other than my kitchen. A long walk. A rugged hike. A movie, even.
“Nah,” he said, “you won’t like my surprise…”
He then proceeded to whisk the surprise from me — before even telling me what it was — until I was almost desperate to know what it was and do whatever he had in mind.
“Just tell me!”
“Are you adventurous?”
He hemmed and hawed, proffered and retracted his “surprise” until I was declaring myself adventurous and willing, locking myself into accepting his “surprise,” no matter what it was.
He was right. I didn’t like it. But I was already committed. (The man is brilliant.)
His surprise involved riding bikes to the health club, lifting weights, then attending the winter arts festival that was in full swing.
“Parking,” he reasoned, “would be ridiculous, but with bikes we could go right to the door. We could work out and then wander through the arts festival, even eat some lunch before riding back home. I’ll get the bikes ready and carry the backpack with our shoes and my wallet.”
Since I had preempted my desired “no” with a preliminary “yes,” I was stuck.
My husband has bikes that make me fear riding. They require special shoes that clip into the pedals and make me feel claustrophobic. The last time I rode one of his bikes, we rode about 30 miles before we attempted to enter a state park to refill our water bottles — only to find the gates locked and closed, only to make a U-turn, only to find myself in the path of the oncoming ranger in his car, only to hurriedly attempt to swerve and stop, only to forget my feet were clipped onto pedals. I attempted to stop only to tip over without the required foot on the ground. I crashed onto my elbow, which swelled instantly and nearly required an emergency vehicle. (Before realizing I was injured, my husband may or may not have yelled at me not to damage his bike, and I distinctly remember raising the bike like a white flag of truce onto its wheels while I remained sprawled on the ground, scraped and bleeding, and feeling less loved than the carbon-fiber bike I held upright.)
As it turned out, by the time my husband rode his bike the rest of the way home and returned with the van, the ranger’s ice pack had reduced my swelling enough to help us realize emergency care was unnecessary, and I had an excuse to never ride a bike again.
My husband tried to make it easy for me. He did get my bike ready and even gave it a test ride. He added a rearview mirror for safety, gave me shoes and gloves and helmet, chose a route that eased its way through the neighborhood, avoiding “cardiac hill” (a steep incline sure to give me a heart attack from fear), and otherwise protected me while urging me beyond my fears.
For I was fearful. Unlike one of my children, who chatters wildly when anticipating a venture outside his comfort zone, I was quiet as I anticipated the ride.
It began well. We had to stop almost immediately, and I managed to unclip my shoe to brake without toppling. Success! I shakily squeezed through the barriers that prevent automobiles from taking the foot path from our neighborhood to the next and handled the hills skillfully (riding the brakes to slow my downward speed). Outside the calm neighborhoods, I veered onto the bike lane and noticed just how shaky I was. I was trembling with fear, but I rode anyway, following my husband’s lead.
We made it to the health club before it opened and so walked through the art festival, admiring quickly the variety of paintings, sculpture, and jewelry in the tents. The scent of festival foods reached us, but it did not beckon me. Fear had stolen my appetite. I still had the return trip to make.
After we lifted weights for an hour, my husband offered to return to the festival tents, if I desired. I had cycling on my mind — namely, getting the bike trip over and done — and neither artwork nor festival food outranked those thoughts. And so we left.
As we exited the festival area, I found myself saying, “Oh, Lord Jesus.” A tiny prayer of covering for this return trip that likely made all the difference.
We headed down a stretch of road, cars zooming at 50 mph, some veering away from the bike lane as they passed. My husband had told me to “follow his lead” as we came to the left turn we would have to make.
“If traffic is coming both ways,” he warned me, “I usually keep riding ahead until it is clear and then make a U-turn. Just follow my lead.”
So instead of watching my rearview mirror, I watched him. When he waited for the cars to clear and made his U-turn, I began to do the same.
The cacophony of a horn sounding and brakes squealing and tires sliding alerted me I had made a mistake. I quickly veered to the right, pedaled off the road, through the grass, and into a ditch — but before I rolled to a stop, I managed to click out of the pedals and remained upright. Yay, me!
I blocked the obvious from my mind — I could have been killed or seriously maimed or the vehicle could have swerved to miss me and hit my husband or someone else instead, any of which, by the way, would have damaged the bike. But nothing happened. The car (which I never did see) was able to stop without hitting anything and slowed only until it saw I was unhurt. I got off the bike, out of the ditch, and across the grass to the road’s edge, determined I would take the crossing Sara-style: walking the bike across the street.
A concerned motorist must have seen the incident and slowed to a stop, waving me across the street before resuming his pace. Once on the other side, I straddled the bike, clicked in my shoes, and let adrenalin take me home. Though I had hills to climb, the mounting awareness of what might have happened drove my legs to pound those pedals and take flight. My husband, a skilled and strong cyclist, had a hard time catching me.
But at that moment, I didn’t need his assistance, his concern, or even his correction. I needed to “own” this bike ride. I did not want to be on it (especially now), but I knew I had to be “all in.” That meant relying on my senses, fighting my own fears, doing everything I could to get home safely.
When I reached our neighborhood, I felt safe — well, safer. I had hills to climb and slippery leaves and the occasional car to avoid. But I made it home, relieved as I carefully dismounted the bike before walking it down the hill to the garage. My husband did not dwell on my near-death experience, he merely said I’d done well and then:
“Next time we’ll take the rails-to-trails path so you won’t have to worry about traffic.”
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.