Expectations Will Hold You Back

After following the Tour de France and the Giro Donne online for two weeks, I found it jarring to look at a picture of myself on a bicycle. Although I get almost everywhere I need to go on my bike, and see lots of other people on bikes along the way, my mental archetype of a cyclist had turned into a sleek, thin racer. Reality rudely elbowed those images aside as I saw myself, built more for comfort than speed, in the enclosed photo of me riding across Agate Passage.

I had asked my husband to take that photo during a tour that we did from Mount Vernon to Bainbridge Island and back home to Seattle. It was my first real bike tour, and the first time I’d felt ready for one. Finally, everything I needed was present; a beautiful bike that fit me properly, a decent number of miles in my legs, and an understanding that I need to stop and have a snack the minute that I start daydreaming about pancakes. I felt thousands of miles away from the person I’d been when I rode a bike as an adult for the first time, 7 years ago, when I had visited home from college and liberated my mom’s old 3-speed Sears Roebuck cruiser from the shed so that I could join the fun that my friends back at school were having on bikes.

Nobody expected that I would ride that rusty heap for 20 miles on my first day out since junior high. Nobody told me that it wasn’t a reasonable thing to do, either. Everyone else had assumed that I would get to the ice cream shop up the street and turn around. Sheer, hard-headed determination is often the name of my game, and it was working for me that day. It still does; I know I’m not the fastest, but I’ll ride in the worst weather, or when I’m sick, or while carrying three bottles of wine or a watermelon.

I am frustrated with my reaction to this photo. My relationship with my body has changed for the better since I started cycling as an adult, in all of the ways that women’s relationships with our bodies tend to when we get involved in a sport. I think more about what my body can do, and less about how it looks. I’m less ashamed to eat as much as I need, or as often as I need to. I look at the hundred-calorie packages of snacks in the kitchen at work with scorn, because they aren’t enough food to get me home. Yet here I am, shocked to see the size of my own ass, the very engine that had carried me and my bike and my stuff 50 miles and up 2000 feet of the Kitsap Peninsula between the time that we had rolled out that morning and the time that the photo was taken.

Although I’m much wiser about my own limits than I was on that first epic ride, I’m starting to think that forgetting about my some of own expectations- expectations that have been with me since childhood, perpetuated by television and advertising and even people who get to ride bikes for a living- would be the best thing for me.

Melinda, Seattle WA