Once I rode a bike.
I mean, I'd been riding a bike my entire life. But even as a kid I looked forward to when I could ride the bike I had been taught I was meant to ride, the right and best bike to ride, the bike that would make me the cyclist I was supposed to be: the bicycle built for two.
It would be easy, now, to criticize my younger self for how quickly I hopped on that bike. It would be easy to say I began riding that bike when I was too young, not ready, or with reckless abandon, but what good does that do? I got on that bike.
That bike requires the work of two, it should go without saying. I remember, early on, doing a lot of pedaling but not a lot of steering. I also added a seat, and rather quickly. The most difficult part of that-- or any-- bike I've ridden was adding a second seat and then having to remove it. I'd end up adding four more seats, one by one, with time for adjustment. Once those seats seemed securely in place, I looked up and found I didn't understand where we were, so I began to do my best to steer, or, to share steering.
My legs got tired from pedaling. Not just tired, but worn out. And I couldn't steer it all by myself and keep the balance of a bike with, in total, seven seats.
I did my best. I tried my hardest.
And I fell off the bike.
It hurt. It didn't just hurt me: everyone who fell off that bike got hurt, and we've each got our own unique wounds and scars from it.
Getting up from the fall, I found two new bikes. The first was like the one from earlier in my life, for one person; the second was just like that, but with five extra seats. Terrified, I took turns riding those bikes, always riding one or the other, learning new things with each ride, difficult things, things I didn't know existed. To be honest, I'm not sure how I didn't fall off one or both of those two bikes; at times I was sure I would. The cost of keeping those rides as smooth as possible was high, but I did what I had to do: I focused on riding those two bikes.
Many people around me were riding the kind of bike I had fallen from. I'd see them and wonder if I'd ever get on that kind of bike again. Sometimes I wondered with hope; other times I wondered while challenging previously held beliefs, trying to reconcile that my two new bikes would be mine forever, working on being okay with the exhaustion, seeing the benefit of such hard work, and being okay with the lessons I was learning. Concentrating on seeing the benefits of where I was rather than where I thought I'd be helped me steady my riding. And, very importantly, I learned lessons I wish I'd learned earlier about how competent a cyclist I can be-- just me, of my own merit, on these, or any, types of bikes.
While getting more comfortable with steadying my rides, I began to get to know someone who, I didn't realize at the time, was riding the same two types of bikes I was. We were fast friends, uncovering similar interests and things in common almost every day. A few weeks into this new friendship he started to tell me about his own experience falling off his previous bike, and about the bikes he was riding. His second bike didn't have as many seats as mine, but was similarly cumbersome in its own way. We had found another shared attribute, similar enough to empathize with and support one another, and different enough to help each other see new perspectives.
As our friendship developed we each continued riding our respective bikes. Together, we'd spend time riding our singular bikes, talking about how those rides affected us. One of us was more embarrassed than the other about having to ride that kind of bike at all (one of the scars from the fall), but we both took comfort in learning to ride side by side. We were surprised at and delighted with how much we enjoyed riding our bikes, though not connected, together.
Though the friendship grew stronger, there were tough times. Sadly, those times would sometimes include bike criticisms: pointing out that the other wasn't riding one or both of their bikes the best way, or expressing anxiety about each other's extra seats. Scars from our falls were emphasized, wounds reopened. There were even times when we each contemplated (even threatened) an end to our side-by-side rides.
But we didn't want to stop, so we didn't. We reminded each other to remember. We worked together. We strengthened each other. We both kept moving. And because we didn't stop, we didn't fall.
Eventually, it happened: while riding together, side-by-side, savoring the joy (maybe moreso because of the shared sorrows and subsequent shared ascents), we saw something and, together, paused.
It's like nothing we'd ever seen before.
It's a bike. Built for two, but side-by-side, not front-and-back. And this bike isn't one where you can start from scratch, adding seats one-by-one, and slowly acclimate to the added weight. This bike already has eight extra seats, adult-to-child-sized, plus a permanent laceration from where a seat was removed, plus the current construction of a soon-to-be-added adult-sized seat. It also seems there will be seasons when some of those seats will be heartbreakingly empty; not everyone in those extra seats will want to ride.
This bike is ready-made for the kind of hard work only two people who want to make it work can do.
So that's what we're doing. We're not falling off our bikes this time, we're setting them down as we climb onto our new bike. Together. And we're doing it with intention and determination, and a commitment to keep strengthening each other and keep moving.
It will be simultaneously exactly like what we've been doing together for over a year, and also like nothing we've ever experienced before.
Just like riding a bike.