The death grip on the handlebar has relaxed, though it’ll be a while before “Look, Ma, no hands!” I arrive at the familiar football field one last time and we’re instructed to ride around, practicing braking and getting off the bike. “We will cycle a bit on the street before heading in to the park, and since there will be people and other cyclists around, I want you to brake, get off and push the bike if you feel unsure.” After two or three wobbly starts I shoot off, gathering speed, inwardly crowing about getting my left foot down on the pedal in time and pedaling successfully. The wind suddenly picks up and I make another small discovery – what it’s like to cycle against it and why my cycling friends notice in particular if it’s windy outside. I stop for a break, and my instructor comes up to me, laughing, asking if she can hop on and have me take her around.
But it’s time! We file out on the street, me at the very front. Our instructor is excited. “One behind the other! Go!” She jumps on her bike beside me and pedals off. I touch my handlebar…and the world changes.
The leaves on the trees around us are intensely, vividly green and the trunks are standout dark against the background of houses and streets. Fences, lampposts and trash cans pop out like obstacles in a videogame. The bike path stretches on narrowly ahead. Every slope, however small, seems to move. Traffic gathers in noise like a tidal wave and every cyclist passing us looks like he or she knows exactly how I feel. Everything is louder.
The training ground was a dream. This is the real world and I don’t know what’s coming.
With sweaty palms I mount my bike, make a few wobbly turns and get off. There was room to regroup and straighten out on the football field, but not here. You immeditely become much more attuned to risks. I push the bike until we come to the park entrance, and then I get on again. Green fields covered in dandelions are on both sides, with trees further away. But the ground is similar to the one we had during training, so I feel more at ease. We cycle in a group, keeping a good distance from each other. I brake a few more times.
I’ve had two falls during my training, and the third adventure comes my way. I approach a loop in the road, and at the knot of the loop is a very large tree with leafy, low-hanging branches. I see some other participants going around the end further from a small fence. I’m cycling towards the fence. The path width between it and the tree is just enough for me to pass through, and I think I can do it since I’m still cycling. Coming out from under the branches, I see an old man standing there with his two dogs. I realize a little too late that I won’t be able to cycle past him after all, as my bike steers towards him, but my fingers don’t find the brake. In a few seconds there was some uncoordinated wobbling from me, braking/ getting off and stopping just short of catching one of the dogs with my bike. I didn’t get its tail or paws, nor hit it, but that was so close! The owner immediately starts shouting at me and complaining about all these people not knowing how to cycle. I apologize sincerely, saying I hope I didn’t hurt the dog. “If you did, he would have BITTEN you!” With that I mumble an apology again and carefully push my bike away, with him shouting at me to get on and go on.
We make a circle to get back and this time I’m doubly careful. I make it back to the park exit without incident and brake so nicely that I give myself a mental pat on the shoulder. My instructor slaps me lightly on the butt as she passes. Ultimate sign that I “passed”.
The bikes are locked away in the shed and we have cake and coffee to celebrate. The sugar does me good.