Facing Your Fears
Even the bravest person has a moment of terror. An accident makes you fearful to drive again and you flinch everytime someone gets close to you. Or you dread going to the doctor's and getting a shot because needles scare the heck out of you. Or maybe it's something seemingly silly, like clowns. They can be darn creepy!
This is a story of my fear of bikes. Yes, maybe a stupid fear but it's mine. And this is how I owned up to it.
“What if we get some bikes and ride to Oradea?”
I was in Romania for the third time and by now nothing surprised me. My friends Vasile, Gina, and Kont were never short on escapades to go on or adventures to have. I had just had my 21st birthday, and was by far the baby of the group and was always being teased. Which was why I thought they were joking when they said we should get some bikes and ride over 220 kilometers of desolate hilly roads to another town.
Apparently, they weren't. I soon found myself standing in front of a church dreading the bike assigned to me. It was a Romanian mountain bike, and by Romanian I mean 50 pounds of un-greased metal with a hard plastic seat. Our little group had ballooned to 13 people, 11 of them riding on bikes and two riding in the car with our clothes, tents, and sleeping bags. Everything was ready and I had still failed to mention my little problem-my fear of riding bikes.
Since I had been young nearly every time I rode a bike something would happen to me. The brakes would go out. The chain would fall off. My jeans would get caught in the gears. My foot would slide off the pedal and inevitably I would end up with a scraped knee and shaken up nerves.
Before I knew it I was riding next to Kont who glided on his light and fast 10-speed while I labored on, urging the metal heap of Romania's finest forward. Five kilometers later, I was out of breath and pedaling hard in the steamy summer heat as the Kont cycled in circles around me.
We were out of the town and on the highway, but by that time I knew there was no way on heaven or earth I could go 200 km on that beast! I pulled over and sat down to wait for the car. Kont ditched me on the side of the road and biked ahead to stay with the group (what chivalry), and there I was left on the dirt shoulder of a lone highway and not a car, house, or horse in sight. Just the monster and me.
Why did this scare me so much? I had broken bones and lost a lot of skin and gotten a lot of bruises in my 21 years, so what was it about this two-wheeled wonder that made my legs feel as wobbly as a noodle and my yogi balance feel more like seaweed than a tree. Until that point I had thought I could just conquer it by sheer will, and coming to grips with the fact that I-brave world traveler that I saw myself I-was afraid to ride a toy kids learn to use at the age of five was a humbling realization.
So I ended up in the car. Vasile took my bike back to the town and traded it for another 10 speed that he rode. Why they didn't do that earlier I don't know...maybe it was another joke.
We continued until a little past the town of Cluj when it began to rain and we stopped to meet Kont at a restaurant because he had a flat tire. We sat there, drank coffee, played cards, waited for the rain to pass, and eventually everyone caught up with us.
Vasile's knees were really hurting him and were red and swollen. As he's rubbing Bengay into them and wincing, he looks at me and says, "Kait! Look what God is doing to my knees to make you conquer your fear of bikes!"
I didn't really have a choice. There was no one else who could drive a stick shift but Annie and Vasile needed to be the other car rider. So, we lowered the seat of the dreaded beast and I climbed on.
The light bike did make a huge difference in the effort it took to ride it, and I found myself actually enjoying the lush green countryside we rode through. The rain had cleared the air and the scent of the lavender and wheat were carried on the cool breezes.
As we rode along we came to a huge hill. No, not hill. A series of hills leading up to a mountain. I had passed everyone in the group and caught up with Kont who had left before everyone else, and we walked up the largest hill together. Then it began to rain. No, not rain. Pour. And we were flying down these hills in the pouring rain! And then I found out that Romanian brakes don't work too well in the rain.
I began to wonder whether the truckers driving by us had some kind of inside bet that whoever got the closest to a cycler won the jackpot, because these big rigs would drive by so close that not only would I get sprayed by a rooster tail of water and gravel, but it would throw me off balance as well! At one point speeding around a wet corner without brake power I yelled at God into the gusts of rain, "This is a HELL of a way to overcome a fear!!!"
We ended up cycling around 35 km, and eventually saw the tents set up in a field behind a gas station in gypsy country. The field had turned into a marsh because of the downpour and we were so soaked that if we had jumped in a pool we could not have been any wetter.
I woke up the next morning in a puddle. It had rained in the night and seeped through the tent and my sleeping bag. A cold wet start to a day that I knew was going to be painful. Just sitting up I realized my rump hurt like none other from sitting on that hard, plastic seat.
Hours later I ended up riding past the city limits and into Oradea. I was the only girl to finish, and out of everyone I had ridden the second most kilometers! In all I ended up cycling over 115km (about 70 miles), all without a helmet, and with only one fall-from a daring trucker on a curve, no less.
In Oradea, we got to the hot mineral springs and my goodness did my butt hurt! As I sat in the sulfur-smelling water with my friends, I reflected what it was that had made me able to finish the trip. Perhaps it was the necessity of doing so to help out Vasile. Maybe it was overcoming my fear. Whatever the reason, my proudest moment of that summer-in all my travels and escapades-was getting back on that bike and making it to Oradea.
Not all fears are as simple as facing a two-wheeled contraption and getting back on, but sometimes the physical and mental process can be the same. The heart rates increases, breathing becomes more rapid and can be labored, there may be sweating and flushing or a feeling of dizziness, and there may even be a sudden urge to use the bathroom. You may start to think, "I'm crazy to think I could ever do this, why did I even try?"
The first step is to take a deep breath. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Take a few more. This will help your heart rate slow down, and give your brain some much needed oxygen to drive away some wild thoughts you may be having like, "I'm so high up! It would just be better to go over the edge" (this is what my mother says every time she drives over a high bridge...not very reassuring when you're in the passenger seat).
There are many relaxation techniques from yoga, meditation, a fast paced work out, bubble baths, painting, or whatever you find that works for you. However, folding yourself into child's pose every time you're faced with public speaking won't help you much.
In the October 2003 issue of APA's Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes (Vol. 29, No. 4), it suggests that mice that face fear up front deal with it much better than if the fear is drawn out over time. So maybe the next time you're faced with the option of flying or driving, and that thought of taking off turns your knees to jello-buy the plane ticket. When its time to give a presentation, take a few deep breaths, resist the urge to cower in a corner, and though your voice may wobble and your note cards may shake-give that speech. If helping out a friend means facing your two-wheeled nemesis-then by all means, climb back on the bike. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."