I’ve written about it before, I am a self-confessed crappy cycler. When I’m descending hills, I hold the brakes to the point where the bike is at a standstill. I wobble with nerves when vehicles drive past me. I clip my chin skin into the straps when I put on a helmet. I feel like a calamity waiting to happen. But, when I was feeling pretty low, I knew that this would get me out of a rut.
The Swiss favour fitness and enjoying the great outdoors, so it is extremely bicycle friendly there, with cycle paths as important as the autobahn. At my host’s home, there were a family of five bikes at the front door, eagerly awaiting a ride. Each time I’d step out, one would wink and another would jibe “Jump on board, for a bit of fun.”
I wanted enjoyment. I wanted fresh air blowing in my face. I wanted to be like a local, and I wanted to see what all of the wheeled fuss was about. When I was parked at the base of a ski resort cum summer climbing track, I ingested my laughter as I watched a man on his bicycle looping around in big circles, making motorbike ‘Vroom! Vroom!’ sounds. He caught my giggling eye and then carried on down the road. I wanted that kind of fun and adventure!
At first, I practiced on mini expeditions. I went down the road to the next village; passed some bleating sheep with bells, under a bridge, through a tunnel, between some fields and a river. I felt exhilarated; the cool air balancing the sweat. I was out on the open road when the sun was falling down behind the mountain range. It was gloriously golden, as was the feeling that I had.
Liechtenstein was very close to my town and it was my endeavour to conquest cycling there. There is no opportunity in NZ to cycle to another country, unless you are some biblical pedalling hero, parting water.
The day was perfect with sunshine and an expanding blue sky. I’d packed a snack and filled my head with directions. It looked like it would be a massive feat to cycle to the town of Balzers, but in reality, it only took this novice 45 minutes.
I went through town with the scary intersection. I juddered over the railway track and cycled down a skinny farmland road, en route to Liechtenstein. When the cars weren’t passing, I was cruising along admiring the natural amphitheatre that I was in. On both sides of the border the landscape curved up to the rocky sky.
After pedalling through the dappled light of a woodland area, I had met the purpose made track that followed the milky aqua coloured river Rhine. There were a throng of others; with their bulky backpacks, towing buggies, carving through countries – all overtaking me.
I stopped at a bridge pointing toward Balzers, and inhaled the scene. I was teetering on the edge of stepping into a little country that mirrored Switzerland. A couple took a picture of me and my buddy, Bikie. I was about to accomplish a huge feat, of epic proportions!
I rode across that bridge with a huge smile, and into new territory. I’d hoped that there would be crowds cheering, confetti flying, and angels trumpeting Hallelujah! as I pedalled through a giant ruby ribbon; but my expectations fell flat, and I kept going toward the town.
Balzers was quaint and cosy, and once I had done a loop through, I didn’t know what else to do. So I returned to the bridge of champions and headed back home. There is nothing quite as fulfilling as completing something you’d never think was possible. Doing this had accrued a bunch of internal Brownie Points.
To get a leg over a bike had become exciting – since I had begun doing great things and exploring new places.
There was another morning when I was feeling very low, again. I had dropped my host daughters off at the train station, and had an incident where I had inched too far forward in a car park. Another driver was incessantly angry with me over the fact that I had gone five centimetres forward by mistake, when I was trying to reverse. I hadn’t pranged into anyone, just accidentally taken a little extra space. The angry driver wound down his window and barked at me for eons, in native tongue. I gulped back any tears and mouthed, I’m sorry.
On my way home, floods fell down my cheeks and I needed windscreen wipers for my eyes. I was still feeling lost and low from my panic attacks, and having a stranger berate me, didn’t help my weakened frame. I wanted to pack up and go home.
Instead of bawling in bed all day, I peeled myself up and remembered my cycling achievements. There was a lake 15kms down the road and it was a fine day, so I vowed to put on my helmet and set off again.
I began with a lot of steam, determined to breathe in positive vibes and output negative energy. I was powered by sheer determination to not be defeated by my demons. I rode through picturesque farmer’s fields, followed babbling brooks, zipped past Heidi-style homes, shared one-lane roads with vehicles, and reached the charming town of Walenstadt. I carried on over humped bridges, around trickling fresh water fountains, and straight ahead to Lake Walensee. It was a huge trip and took me an hour to get there.
In front of the crystalline lake, I flopped into a park bench, near a stack of free magazines to peruse. My thighs were jelly, my lungs were wide open, and my bum felt bruised. I soaked in the beautiful surroundings. It was enough to cure any ills, as my eyes feasted of a visual banquet whilst I zoned in and out of the moment.
It wasn’t long before I realised that I had to take me and my broken butt back home. You know that feeling of when you go to a new destination; that it feels like it takes forever, but when you return, it seems shorter. Well, this was the reversal. Little inclines felt like massive hills and the straights went on to eternity. I stopped when my arse yelled that it had been punched in by a bike seat.
I remember one bridge in particular that swept over the autobahn. I looked at the impending doom and remember coaching myself “NJ, you’ve got this. One push at a time, you’ve got this. Carrying on is like pushing through the crap, you’ll get there. One pedal at a time, NJ.”
I remember it being quite a poignant moment. On the downward, I let the brakes go, and the wind rushed past my face.
Eventually I made it home, in time to get ready for a jazz festival (which pleased me to no end, as I adore chilling out to some jazz music). At the time, I did what I had to, to get through the day. But looking back, those cycling trips were instrumental in showing me what I could accomplish when I felt that my heart and soul had packed their bags and run away from home.
I think that happens to all of us, when the chips are down; that we somehow manage to scrape ourselves up off the dusty floor and carry on. I believe that it’s not only important to pick yourself up and forge ahead, but to also acknowledge how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved in doing so. Until next time, be kind to yourself X