It’s Like Riding a Bike – Mentors Matter

When I was about seven years old, I had it in my head that I could do anything I set my mind to. I guess I heard that somewhere. And what I wanted to do was learn to ride my bike, a used but newly-acquired banana-seater with a basket in front.

I thought I could just learn it. I took my bike to an area in our yard with a slight hill and tried pedaling down the hill. But that didn’t work; I just fell over. For one thing, the hill was too grassy and short for a beginner to learn to balance. And for another, I needed someone to grab hold and give a push so the bike could start with some momentum. Maybe it is possible for a kid to teach herself how to ride. But I couldn’t.

So I learned a new lesson. It’s one I have re-learned many times. Yes, you can do just about anything you set your mind to, but you may have to get some help.

Eventually, an older sister brought me to an empty parking lot with a long, gentle slope and even pavement. She held the back of the banana seat, and gave me the shove I needed so I could coast. It took several tries and falls, but eventually I learned to balance and pedal. Then she took me on short rides to the store so I could learn traffic rules. Biking became and continues to be one of my most valued pastimes.

Later, as an adult, I decided I wanted to do a long bike ride that was 150 miles over two days. But I was having trouble training. For starters I was riding a bike that caused me pain in my lower spine after about 25 miles. I turned to my friends who were advanced cyclists for advice. They helped me select a better bike, taught me how to change an inner tube, and, importantly, showed me the prettiest bike routes and the coffee shops where cyclists hang out.

On the first day of the big two-day ride I had been preparing for, I spun out on some loose gravel and skidded to the ground near the second rest stop. I was only 30 miles into my first 75-mile day, and my right side was covered in road rash from my hands to my shins, with huge gashes on my elbow and knee. Volunteers at the first aid station patched me up so that I could continue. Bikers I met on the route checked in on me. Crowds along the roadside cheered. And with the added encouragement and care, I managed to finish the full 150 miles.

So, my message today is this: Even if you are doing what you are born to do or what you truly enjoy and even if you think of it as a solitary pursuit, odds are you are going to need people. You are going to need mentors and guides to teach you technique or to show you the way. You may fall down a time or two. And you may need friends who offer a word of support (or a bandage, as the case may be).

It takes courage, especially as an adult, to claim a personal goal out loud. And to say to someone you admire, “I don’t know how to do this. Would you teach me?” And it can be hard to accept the help that’s offered in that moment when you’ve just wiped out.

But I imagine that nothing that was ever worth doing was easy. And few things that were ever worth doing were accomplished completely alone. Even in cycling, which I have often thought of as a solitary sport. There’s no substitute for all the miles I had to personally cover in order to train. For sure, it was me digging deep to push that Trek up every last hill. But other people helped, starting with the sister who gave me a start all those years ago.

So, whatever it is you want to do, look around for folks with experience and knowledge and patience. You will be surprised to find out who is there, and that they are happy to share what they know and to help you succeed. And, they might also show you the best place to stop for an iced cold latte along the way.

**** Thank you for reading.