My Freedom Ride

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Cracked shells crunched beneath my feet. I approached it apprehensively but with resolute determination. I promised myself that every year since I turned 40, I would tackle one physical thing that scared the hell out of me. Today was the day to conquer a lifetime, immobilizing activity.     

The shiny metal had seemed menacing in the past. I decided to shift gears. The rubber wheels, triangular seat, and hearty handlebars would support me like a parent holding a  toddler who is taking her first steps.     I walked the navy blue bike toward the asphalt road. I heard an encouraging voice behind me shout, “Ok. Get on it!” I froze. I truly have not ridden a bicycle in nearly two decades. I did so once in Colorado and another time in Vermont. My being felt like a human earthquake; I quivered the entire time. And those were barren bike paths; I, of course,  intentionally chose a time in which the “no cars allowed” paths would hopefully be nearly empty.     

Before I continue, let me explain the reason for this paralyzing fear. Before I was born, my young cousin was hit by a car and killed while bike riding. Then when I was five months old, my uncle also died while riding his bicycle.        

Understandably, my mother feared losing another person. We rode bikes occasionally; but then my brother had a minor accident when he was in elementary school. After that my mom forbid us to ever bike again. As the first-born child and perpetual rule follower, I listened with my whole heart and honored her wish.     

My mom repeatedly spoke about the dangers of biking, how many head injuries she (and my dad) saw in hospitals, and she was downright petrified. I had and continue to have compassion for how her past, like all of ours, shaped her present.     

When I got engaged, I told my now husband that when we have children, they will never ride bikes. Ever. I deeply empathized with my mother’s anxiety about loss when I was young, and I continued to as an adult woman. But when Alec turned four, I woke up one day and said, “Honey. Let’s get him a bicycle soon.” My husband’s eyes widened in utter surprise. Quite frankly, I was shocked as well!   

 Long story short, both of our children are competent and mindful riders. I still do not permit them to ride in the street; only in areas in which cars are prohibited such as parks and trails. Thankfully there are many. Our kids ski, hike, zip line, and other physically risky/challenging activities that I didn’t experience at their age.   

I am going to be brutally honest—I am not nor likely will ever be completely at ease when ANYONE I love rides a bicycle. In fact, I have lovingly motioned drivers to slow down and implored even strangers to always wear helmets. This is much to the mortification of my family. I realize I cannot save everyone, but I suppose I still try.      

As I consciously break other familial patterns and “stop the cycle,” I have decided debilitating fears are unhealthy. They are also unfair to impose on my family and future generations. So I got on that foreboding bicycle last week in Martha’s Vineyard during our family vacation.     

With each turn of the pedal, my confidence accelerated along with the speed at which I biked. How ironic that I chose this week to ride during America’s celebration of independence? I felt liberated and lighter.     

As I continued, I calmly maneuvered around other riders. (This has been another intense fear the few times I have ridden; I freak out and get right off because having anyone nearby makes me nervous.). I rode to and through the town, and I am here to share about it.     

Most of all, I did not once panic. My hands are a bit clammy and shaky right now. I suppose as I write about my journey, I am more deeply processing the magnitude of this moment. I can’t wait to ride again soon. We walked the Freedom Trail in Boston a few days later. We listened to tales about our country. And now my ride of liberation has become part of my history, too.

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