LIFE IS ABOUT USING WHAT YOU HAVE, OR HAVE LEFT
It is a very odd thing, but psychologically important, that you feel different in different circumstances, depending on how you see yourself and society sees you.
It’s probably built into the brain we have that is evolved from millenia of those who survived to pass on their genes: we automatically evaluate those we see for signs of weakness, even when we don’t plan to eat them.
Where is this going?
On a bicycle you can’t tell that I’m disabled. That I can’t walk properly, or for more than a few steps without a walker. I just look like a woman out for a bike ride.
I know many people who can‘t ride a bike because their knees won’t let them, or because their balance is challenged, or because they can’t sit on one for very long due to many problems.
In some sense, I’m better than them.
We judge automatically, instinctively, and if we’re not careful, permanently.
On a bicycle I’m a normal human being.
Not something which botched back surgery back in 2007 has condemned to pain every time I stand for more than a few seconds, and who can’t push off on a stride, but only swing legs from the hip.
Why am I thinking about riding a bike?
Because I have had a major crisis of self-confidence this year, earlier, what with the chest pain and the stents, and the recovery.
And a couple of weeks ago, I got the bike out, did the ritual (helmet, cellphone in the bag under the seat, make sure the hair doesn’t get in my eyes, clip on the pants leg…) and scared myself even though I managed to go out for a spin around the neighborhood.
Forgot my bike gloves, which I later regretted, as my palms were definitely tingly by the time I got back.
First time this year. First time since the approaching winter made it too cold last year. First time since the horrible viruses of November which lasted for three months. First time since I was last myself… You get the idea.
Getting on the bike was NECESSARY to prove to myself I was still myself.
And it failed – in the sense that I felt shaky and uncertain and scared. Because I knew that I was afraid to stop if I had to, because the side effects seem to have emphasized that I’m vertically challenged. Because one of the young college undergraduates in our choir was wearing a cast because she fell off her bike. Because a friend who has CFS fell and broke his foot.
For any number of reasons, that first bike ride didn’t make me feel ‘normal.’ Even my normal, which is a lot smaller than many people’s ‘normal,’ but better than the normal of my friends who are bedridden. I wasn’t back to just hopping on a bike and going for a spin, even the short ones I take.
Well, giving up riding a bike seemed premature (though if you’d felt as unstable on that bike as I did, you’d be seriously considering it).
Buying a new bike? This bike I have is ancient, and rusted, and in need of serious maintenance. A recumbent bike? Or a nice, stable tricycle-for-grownups?
We are looking for a retirement community, and a move to another state is a possibility, and I’m trying not to acquire more stuff now or make permanent decisions about things like this until we are settled.
So, don’t ride the rest of the time we’re in suburban NJ?
The odd physicist’s solution
Or should I say, the physicist’s odd solution? Because it involves physics of stability.
Bicycles are stable, more or less, IN MOTION. 2-D stability, as it were. That’s why they have the kickstand. In motion, they have that gyroscopic effect that they resist falling in the direction perpendicular to their motion. Ie, sideways.
Tricycles have proper 3-D stability. Because there’s something in the perpendicular direction that keeps them from falling over, with or without you on them, whether they’re in motion or not.
Training wheels achieve this effect when you’re learning to ride.
We’re thinking constantly about all the stuff in our house and garage, because a 4 bedroom house with basement and garage has a lot more areas to stuff stuff than a 2 bedroom apartment in a retirement community, which is what we’re aiming at.
One of the things stored in our garage for AGES was a bright yellow cart meant for pulling two small children behind your bike. And that’s what my brain kicked out: stability. A cart intended for small children was designed to be inherently stable: the bike + cart has to be stable while you’re putting those little ones in the back and fastening the seatbelt. Fairly heavy duty for its job: those are your kidlets, and they are small and precious. And HIGHLY visible. With its own reflectors, even.
This time I didn’t fail
Almost didn’t get it attached – that was work. And the attachment mechanism has a plastic pin which went through the snap lock around the bike’s pole – which was maybe not as flexible as it was twenty years ago (plastic seems an odd choice, but that’s what it was). I couldn’t get it through the hole.
So I went and found a nice solid metal bolt of the right diameter, with a nice nut, and have attached this sucker pretty permanently to my bike. It can be removed, but I’m not planning to.
I put the helmet – and gloves – and bike clip on, stored the cellphone in the little bag, and found that my combination made it much easier for an unstable old rider to get started.
It may have been a placebo effect; or partly psychological (that self-confidence which had decided it found a solution). But I didn’t care. I was up and going, only a little shaky.
I put it to the test on our court: I tried stopping – it felt more stable, not as it had the last time, because I could trust the bike not to fall over, so I could afford to lean on it a bit. It was easy getting started again – I didn’t have to be on a safe place, like our driveway. I was just a woman on a bicycle, stopped. Phew!
All I needed was to not worry about killing myself or damaging something.
I rode around the neighborhood a bit. I stopped to see an old friend I haven’t visited in half a year. She didn’t even think about the cart on the back, but instinctively understood it was more stable.
And I got that little bit of self-confidence up and running: losing the ability to ride a bike was in the same category as when they take your keys away and don’t let you drive any more.
Because, you see, on a bike I’m my normal human being, and you can’t tell how many things I can’t do.
Then I went in and took a nap.