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My Turn: What's 'just like riding a bike'? White-knuckled fear.

March 14, 2011|By Stefanie Wass, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Stefanie Wass with both feet on the ground amid her shaky trip down memory lane.
Stefanie Wass with both feet on the ground amid her shaky trip down memory… (Allen Wass )

"It's just like riding a bike."

Supposedly, skills learned in childhood (like bicycle riding) become part of muscle memory. Adults should be able to hop back on a bike and start pedaling — no problem at all. Too bad nobody clued me in that my 30-year bike-riding hiatus might be beyond the statute of limitations. Too bad nobody reminded me that the last bike I pedaled in recent memory was a neon blue Schwinn with a flower-covered banana seat, its metal basket proudly holding library books from the fourth-grade summer reading club.

"Sure, sounds like fun," I casually replied when my husband and two girls suggested renting bikes while vacationing on Sanibel Island, Fla. I watched other families on the bike paths, laughing and ducking under swaying palms. How hard could it be?

"Ma'am — would you like handlebar brakes or pedal?" We were surrounded by a sea of wheels — tandems, kiddie bikes, even four-wheeled, fringe-topped surreys. "I think I need something really basic," I suggested, staring at the dizzying array of spokes, gears and saddles. "Pedal brakes will be fine."

"Here we go!" My husband took off, with our eager 5-year-old on the back of his bike. "Watch for cars!" I yelled, as our 8-year-old effortlessly pedaled across the street.

But really, I was preoccupied with my own concerns. How in the world was I supposed to put my feet on the pedals and balance?

Gripping the black-cushioned handlebars, I pushed off. Weaving in and out of the yellow lane lines, I struggled for control. Gritting my teeth, I slid my hands higher on the handle grips.

"Hurry up, Mama!" my daughters screamed. "You're so slow!"

According to baseball great Tommy Lasorda, "The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person's determination." Though part of me wanted to hang up my helmet and find a cool lemonade, a little voice inside my head persisted: "Just try again! Show the girls you're not a quitter!"

Gradually, my pedaling developed a rhythmic pace. I relaxed a bit and sat up straight. Lance Armstrong I was not, but somehow I managed to stay upright on my bike for more than an hour. Though the tinkling warning bells of passing cyclists sent currents of fear zipping through my shaky legs, I persevered. Taking deep breaths, I focused on the island scenery: sandy brown shell-strewn paths, rippling gulf waters, a hovering hawk seeking its prey.

A chorus of egrets and pelicans chirped with delight as I rounded the corner. A palm frond served as my checkered flag, waving me across the street. Bike grease on my shins, I unclipped my helmet.

The rental shop owner grinned. "How'd it go?"

"Fine," I bluffed, trying hard to ignore my daughters' giggles.

It turns out that two-wheeled adventures are not for the fainthearted. Cycling, after a 30-year lapse, can be hard work.

Stefanie Wass is a freelancer from Hudson, Ohio. Her essays have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, Seattle Times, Cleveland Magazine, Writer Magazine, Three Cup of Comfort anthologies and Chicken Soup for the Soul anthologies. http://www.stefaniewass.com.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail health@latimes.com. We read every essay but can't respond to every writer.

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