Fearless is a word I don’t have much use for. Being fearless is sometimes touted as this great character trait, but there are things to be afraid of, things worthy of a shake in my shoes, a shiver up my spine, and a sweaty nightmare or two. I am not fearless, but I’ve got bravery in spades. Or at least I used to.
These past few months I’ve taken care to follow doctor’s orders to rest my heart. While spiders laced cobwebs through the spokes of my bike and my most favorite cycling season fell to the ground in a blush of yellows and reds, I waited for my heart to be sure and steady.
While I waited I pursued my love of words. I wrote a novel. I wrote poetry. I wrote about teaching and life in general. As the air whispered out of my tires, my fingers flew across the keys tapping out this life of a writer. Writing can be a frightening affair and I faced some of my writerly fears head on. When I reached a stuck point in my novel, I tucked my head down and pounded away at the keys until my characters moved my story along for me. I’d heard of that happening, but I thought it was just something writers tell each other to get past the quicksand that secrets itself away in every newborn plot. But no, it turned out to be true, even in my meager novel. I dipped my toe into being published and faced my first rejection letter. With bravado to spare, I tackled two fears at once: public speaking and reading a piece born of my own hand to a large group people I know. It turned out to be one of the most rewarding days in my life as a writer. So this idea of facing fears is one I’ve grabbed hold of with both hands in my life as a writer.
It’s puzzling to me then that this boldness in my writing life would come at a time when I was paralyzed by fear of riding my bike or doing anything else that might press my heart beyond its capacity. The weight of the heart monitor was so much more than the half pound of space it occupied in the corner of my purse. It sat in that dark corner, unwanted and untouched for almost a month. My little heart beat away happily, normally as if my heart knew of the monitor’s presence and decided now was the time to play nice inside my chest. For months I was careful not to strain my heart in the least. Trust me, I’ve got the gelatinous thighs to prove it.
It was at the tail end of this time that a friend asked me “Is this the life you want to live?” Well, not really, but the “live” part of that question was of more import than the quality of living I was doing. On days when my heart was a sloppy quick step and my arm throbbed, living was enough all by itself. Honest to God it was. But is that a way to live a life? No. Definitely no.
Eventually the time came to turn in my heart monitor. Enough days had passed without incident or pain that I was free to resume life. And yet, I was afraid. Quivering in my shoes, waking up in a pillow of sweat, eyes wide as moons kind of afraid.
What if my heart started to race in the middle of nowhere on my bike?
What if I lost feeling in my arm and crashed?
What if? What if? What if?
As I sat on my couch pounding out tales of my brave writing life, my fear of turning the cranks came to a head. I could not stand the stagnation of my life a second longer. It was time. It was time to pump air into my tires, to pull on my gloves and brush the dust off of my saddle.
It feels appropriate that my reunion with my bike happened on Christmas Eve morning, a day full of anticipation. On Christmas Eve Terry and I found ourselves in Sacramento, near my old friend the American River and it’s seemingly unending bike trail.
That morning I pulled on my tights and armwarmers, my nerves bouncing just inside my skin. The what ifs rose to every surface of my being. I forced them back down as I tightened my helmet strap and velcroed my shoes, breathing deeply before facing the morning air.
It was a frigid thirty degrees when I rolled the Rocket out to the street. I said a prayer and watched my words float above me in bleached puffs against the blue sky. I wanted to ride 25 miles. 25 miles is nothing on a bike. Barely long enough to warrant filling a water bottle.
Three of us set out that morning. My legs moved in unsure circles after so many months off. I thought about the time I was cycling in a dream and sleep pedaled my sheets into a lump at the foot of my bed, but this was no dream. We moved onto the American River Trail, the river rushing to the left of us. My heart was steady. Steady and happy. It was a slow and beautiful ride.
After 26 miles I unclipped and rolled to a stop back at our starting point. Steam rose from the vents in my helmet and the morning air was cold on my teeth as I smiled. I packed my bike into the car and breathed a sigh of relief. I patted my heart for a job well done.
A few minutes after our ride, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. These last few months, my increasingly chubby cheeks or my multiplying chins have been the first things to catch my attention when I look at my reflection, but not this time. This time I was taken aback by the expression on my face. It was familiar, but something I hadn’t seen in quite some time. It was the expression of a girl who’d faced fear and found it wasn’t so terrifying after all.
Welcome back, brave girl, welcome back.