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I didn’t learn how to ride my bicycle without training wheels until I was nine years old. All of the neighborhood kids had been rolling around on two wheels for some time by then, and I got teased by the boys for my extra cargo. I decided that the best way to learn to forget the training wheels was to get on my mom’s “big girl bike” and just go for the gold. No pussyfooting around. I asked my dad for some help lowering the seat and a steady hold to get me started…at the top of the hill that our house was on. I had ridden up and down countless times, but never for real. Looking back, this is no hill, but to nine year old me, it was me versus the world. My dad said he would hold on to me and help me get going, but even then I knew that was the oldest trick in the book. I suppose deep down I was ready for that helpful push.

I will never forget the feeling of finding my own balance and riding down the entire street on my own. There is nothing quite like the experience of flying down a hill. It will never get old. Feeling the wind. Feeling unstoppable. Free.

Since then, I have always had a bicycle. I cruised around here and there, but never called myself a cyclist. Last summer I purchased my first “real” bicycle. Yes, it was used, just like every other bike I have owned has been. But this bike was different. It was truly mine. Things were adjusted, altered and fitted custom to my needs. I never knew how much of a difference this could make and my life has been forever changed.

Like most people I was intimidated by hills. Especially since this new bike of mine was a single speed. At first I found myself avoiding hills by riding a longer, flatter distance. As I became more confident on my bike, I would push myself to ride up these things that made my legs burn and my eyes fill with tears. Sometimes I wouldn’t be able to climb to the top. Sometimes I would walk my bike up the hill. But I always go back to the hill I couldn’t climb. Why? Because maybe next time I will make it to the top.  And that feeling is sometimes greater that the feeling of cruising down even the tallest of hills.

Now I can’t get enough hill action. My friends think I’m totally crazy. I most likely am. I get into a zone. Like nothing else exists. It is just the hill, my bike, and me. As if nothing else exists. Even now, I can’t get up all the hills I want to. But it doesn’t matter. I still tried and I can try again.

What feels better? Going down or going up? I’m not really sure anymore. Sometimes I ride down a hill just to simply ride back up.

By Nyki Delorme, Tacoma, WA

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Swift Industries’ Tough & Tender Project is an annual  LITERARY AND PHOTOGRAPHIC PROJECT TO CELEBRATE WOMEN’S EXPERIENCE OF THE BICYCLE because Women’s experience of cycling is not celebrated enough in bicycle communities. Cycling is a male dominated activity and industry, and it’s our experience as women and female bodied individuals that cycling empowers and inspires us in ways which are not portrayed by mainstream bicycle culture. It’s time for something different!