The bike path leading from Nantucket center to Sconset is dotted with wild raspberry and blackberry bushes. Never being one to pass up free food, I dragged my mountain bike to the side of the road, braved a few thorns, and feasted on sweet berries until my husband started getting annoyed. Mike tolerates stopping for short periods, but he is wary about eating things that grow by the side of the road. I know what he is thinking: “you think you know what you’re eating, but you may end up dead.” But I am pretty sure a blackberry is just a blackberry.
A couple of years ago, I wouldn’t have been on that bike path- I found all bike paths annoying and for wimps- too flat, too crowded with families, runners, rollerbladers, crazy teenagers and old ladies on three speeds with wicker baskets. If you are a serious biker, you generally stay away from bike paths.
And that’s what I was…well, perhaps “semi-serious” is a better descriptor, but serious enough. You could tell by my outfit: padded bike shorts (and like a real biker, I wore them “commando”), click-in bike shoes, biker’s shirt with the pockets in the back, cool biker sunglasses. A good ride was 30-50 miles with friends, chatting as we rode from crowded suburb to somewhat less crowded suburb, hearts pumping up the hills, focused attention going down. I loved it.
But last year, as if from everywhere, lots of people I knew personally started getting hurt in biking accidents. The horror stories started piling up like a multi car crash—I don’t need to describe them all, I am sure you have heard plenty of your own. A friend went head-over-heels over a pothole, concussed and broke bones. Another got hit by a car and ended up on life support. These were not just “some” people—these were people I knew. And they were not reckless people. They were people like me.
And just like that, I became a nervous rider. I started to feel it was just a matter of time for me. My heart skipped a few beats when cars and trucks “wooshed” past a little too close. Sand, potholes, acorns and twigs in the road made me sweat. Being locked into my bike felt imprisoning. When my BA50 partner’s husband was hit by a truck on his bike last July, I stopped riding completely…though he did not.
So why was he able to get back in the saddle, and I was not? Why are my friends still able to ride on without me? Why does my husband refuse to give up his motorcycle, no matter how many motorcycle accidents we hear about? (Yet he is scared to eat a berry picked by the side of the road… Go figure…) How do we increase our tolerance for risk taking… and should we?
To quit before I have even scraped a knee seems strange to me. But there is a little voice in my head saying, “quit while you’re ahead,” and that’s the voice that’s the loudest right now. It has drowned out the voice that says, “Don’t you DARE let fear win!” And the longer I get away from that second voice, the fainter it is. Perhaps I simply did not love biking enough to pay heed to that voice. In any case, ignoring it now feels absolutely right.
So this summer, my bike attire is stuffed in a drawer somewhere, and my racing bike is with my niece. I pedaled along the Nantucket path wearing a pair of Sperry’s, a tank top, and shorts with panties underneath (and didn’t I look skinnier from behind, Mike?*) I smiled at the old ladies with their wicker baskets, and waved at the crazy teenagers. As I rode, I didn’t think about going fast, or getting enough miles in. I thought about how grateful I was that I had two strong legs, and that I could stop to pick a few berries to sweeten my day.
But if you hear about someone dying from a raspberry they picked on the side of the road that wasn’t really a raspberry… do me a favor, don’t tell me.
*Don’t answer that…