Double The Fun

Yesterday afternoon, my fiancé borrowed a tandem bike for us to road test. His selling points were: a) we could bike together AND still have a decent conversation (when we take our separate road bikes, he’s always way ahead of me), and b) being the cyclist behind him, I wouldn’t have to work so hard. “SOLD,” I said.

And so on a sunny Sunday afternoon, we set off for a relaxing tandem bike ride. Only it wasn’t as relaxing as I had hoped. I had gotten used to riding my little town bike for more than a year and a half now, and so I know it’s little nuances. I know how much space I need to make a turn, I know to stand every time I come across a bumpy road. But with a tandem, you can’t work independently. When the front cyclist pedals, you pedal with him. When he stops, so do you. Oh my, this lack of control on my part began to freak me out!

And then there was the issue of the handle bars. They were a tad too close to me for my comfort. On my road bike my arms are at a relaxed, slightly bent angle, but on this tandem I felt my arms were bent at 90 degrees—I was a T-rex on a bike! Oh the panic. And so, the whiny voice box turned on. And every little complaint that could come out of my mouth, unapologetically flew out. “You’re going to make us fall!” “I’m wearing bike shorts, and if we crash, I’ll have no protection whatsoever!” “My feet have come off the pedals!!!!!” “You’re going way too faaaaaaast!”

The unfamiliarity of it all, the discomfort of my arm position, and my inability to work as part of this tandem turned me into this high-pitched, scaredy cat nagger who saw nothing but the negative side of this supposedly fun experience. I didn’t like how I sounded or felt. And so I put an end to it. I asked Stefan to stop so that we could adjust the handlebar distance. He patiently did as I asked. I took a deep breath, and in my most honest approach, told him why I was scared and uncomfortable. He hugged me and promised he wouldn’t go so fast, and that he would warn me if he was going shift gears, stop or start pedaling. I think that was all we needed to restore my head back on my shoulders. That and the now adjusted handlebar distance.

As we started to ride again, this time with more trust on my part, the FUN switch turned back on. Before long, Stefan didn’t even tell me we needed to stop or start pedaling. I only had to feel it, then I knew to stop or start (of course, just to hold is end of the deal, he kept saying so anyway). Then we were laughing and joking, holding hands, and hugging, and the discomfort of the first few minutes of the ride was a thing of the past.

When faced with discomfort, there are two ways to deal: the ugly way (think high-pitched scaredy cat nagger), or the rational way (see picture below of the more rational me). The next time something or someone is upsetting you, take a moment to step back and understand why it’s (or he/she is) bothering you. Talk to the person involved; don’t expect them to guess what you’re feeling. Then make the change to help better the situation—whether it’s fixing the bike or your attitude. I did both and thankfully so, because what could have turned out as a big fight filled with blaming, whining, and possibly tears, turned into a wonderful Sunday bike ride which, true to Stefan’s promise, was filled with conversation and not so much work on my part.

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Okay maybe I don’t look rational, but I do look like I’m having a good time!

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A Piece On Climbing (or why I love this sport so much)

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Breathe, move, climb, repeat.

Yesterday I was climbing outdoors (the attached picture is from another time, though), precariously perched in an awkward position. A host of emotions flooded through me as I worked my way through a long, grueling, and often times terrifying route. But I made it to the top (with falls in between, mind you). As I came down from my climb, sweaty and tired, with leaves, dust, chalk, and spider webs caught in various parts of my body, I could only think of why I love this sport so much.

Many years ago, I was asked to write a piece on climbing, which was published in Cosmopolitan Magazine in the Philippines. Years after it came out, my reasons for doing it still remain true. I’d like to share this piece with you:

Why I’d Rather Be Climbing

“Okay, how do I solve this?” I ask myself as I teeter on the tiny dimples of a limestone rock face more than fifty feet above the ground. I have to find a better place to rest—my hands are gripping small pieces of rock, and my calves are cramping up from the unstable position I’m in. I am craning my neck and scoping the higher sections to find a better, more stable area to rest. The only big piece I see is more than an arm’s length away to my right, which isn’t so far, except that if I miscalculate, I risk falling down 15 feet. The thought of that long fall makes me antsy, but I gather my wits and aim for that big, stable piece of rock. I count to three, and throw my right hand to grab my salvation, only salvation turns out to be a mirage. What I expect is a large chunk of rock, but it’s actually an ultra-smooth surface. My right hand slides right off, my feet pop out of the dimples, and I plunge 15 feet down. My arms and legs are flailing helplessly in the air, and my rope tied to my harness and handled by my trusted climbing partner, finally catches me. I am shaking, then I look down at my climbing partner and friends in shock, look back at the rock face, and climb my way back up.

I’ve been in this sport for eight years. What started out as a weekly visit to the climbing gym developed into to serious training three times a week, joining national (and some) international competitions, and traveling around and out of the country to rock climb. I do it because it strips me down to the raw me. When I’m up on the rock, faced with a sparse amount of hand and foot holds, I have no other companions but my breathing (heavy when it’s a challenging route), my mind (sometimes restless, other times in control), and my body (contorting into positions that help me get through an extremely difficult position). I am vulnerable, and I love it.

Through climbing I’ve learned to take risks, accept mistakes (mine and others’), and realize that it’s okay to fall—whether it’s off the wall (or out of love). It may take me longer to climb up a route than other people, or I may fall more times than others, but in the end, it’s all about taking on something seemingly impossible and making it into a reality.

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Yesterday’s view: lots of green, lots of light, lots of thanksgiving.

Why is it when you’re injured, you want to do that very thing you can’t do? And then when you’re healed, that thing you wanted so much to do but couldn’t because of said injury—you don’t want to do. I remember when my left ankle was swollen last year and I couldn’t run—let alone walk properly. Balance poses in yoga were a nightmare, because as soon as I lifted my right foot off the floor, I would wobble like a building in an earthquake. I was frustrated and kept counting the months when I could finally run again. Then the months of waiting turned into weeks, the weeks into days, and then yay, I was finally running pain-free! I remember the day when I didn’t have to break my 2-minute running stretches with 1-minute walks—it was the day I ran without any hint of pain in my ankle. I felt so accomplished, like I finished 42-K, when all I really did was four.

But now that I’m healthy and injury-free; now that I know I can run any time I want—it seems the motivation isn’t as clear-cut as it used to be. Dare I say, I’ve gotten lazy and have started making excuses not to go out and play. I’ve forgotten how, right after recuperation, each footstep was so precious and highly appreciated.

We tend to feel this when everything is laid out for us. When situations are uncomplicated and things are easily available, it’s so easy to gloss over them and be careless. Then when what we take for granted is taken away from us: our health, our job, our loved one—that’s when we realize how precious that thing or person really is.

And then yesterday afternoon, I went out for a run at a nearby trail. It was a flat course with crowned with a canopy of trees soaring above me. The sound of water flowing through a nearby brook, occasional rushes of cool wind against my skin, the crunching sound of leaves and twigs beneath my feet, the painless ankle, plus the wonderful company of my fiancé who ran with me—I could only dream of this last year, and yesterday I was actually enjoying ALL of it! This realization knocked me back to my senses and made me feel grateful for how far I’ve come from last year’s injury.

We need to look over our shoulder every now and then to see how far we’ve come forward. A glimpse at the past makes us appreciate what we have here and now. After briefly looking back, I come back to the present with a better attitude, with more motivation, and a heart overflowing with thanks.