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Cycling to Freedom

By Ursula Cafaro

Cycling to FreedomIt was 1975 and I was a 15-year old desperate for a bike of my own. My siblings and I had been sharing a low slung-ed, banana seat-ed, monkey bar-ed, purple glitter-ed little monster my dad had brought home when I was 13. I craved something less glittery with drop handles and spaghetti strap tires, bikes that I saw boys ride around. What I really wanted was a ‘10 speed.’

“No daughter of mine is riding a boy’s bike.” Was my parents stand on the matter and since girls’ road bikes were unheard of at the time, a “boys’ bike” was off-limits to me. But I kept after them in that special way a morose and sulky teenager can, and finally wore them down. They said yes, BUT.

It cost me $150 and one whole summer working with my dad. It was a Canadian Tire special, weighing at least 25 lbs, baby blue with white tape wrapped around the handlebars and 10 ‘speeds’ that I was clueless to use.  It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

Your first real bike, the one that you take beyond the end of your street, is a rite of passage. It’s the first really big step you take that builds trust equity in your abilities—your ability to get from point a to point b, safely and without your parents’ guidance. It’s your first taste of real freedom.

Along with that sense of freedom, I experienced something else that I can only articulate in retrospect. It was a sense of wholeness, worthiness, potential, it was the essence of me, unconditionally great, that had nothing to do with my abilities on the bike. Perhaps it was being outdoors in the fresh air, the smell of fresh cut grass, or the feel of the sun on my skin, or even the movement of my body, that triggered the feel good chemicals in my brain. It didn’t really matter, riding that bike brought me in touch with my authentic self.

As adults how many things do we experience on a daily basis that give us that sense of connection with our true self?  Not many, I would venture to guess.

Try as you might, when riding your bike you cannot sustain any pretence because either the road or the elements will make you drop any thoughts of trying to be something or someone you’re not. And here is the interesting thing. I find that in the moments when you disengage your thinking brain from the biomechanics of riding a bike and engage your senses: feeling the totality of your body silently gliding through space, hear the air rushing in your ears, expanding and contracting your lungs, you come into contact with something elemental and primal that is only accessible through praying or meditation.

I don’t know about you but there have been moments on a bike when a sense of peace washes over me that helps me understand what truly matters in the world and how I truly matter in the scheme of things. That even though the day-to-day business of living sometimes makes us feel wholly inadequate to the task, we have access to the centre of ourselves where the sense of our value and worth are undisputed and unconditional. Because as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs stipulates, while we are so good at satisfying our lower-level needs like hunger, thirst and bodily needs, we need to find ways to meet the needs at a higher level those of building our self-esteem and cultivating self-awareness.

There’s a great opportunity to do both, build self-esteem and cultivate self-awareness, when riding a bike. And I believe that if we seek that place out deliberately, engaging our senses when out riding, relaxing and tuning into our inner self, we’ll be nurturing that sense of equilibrium so that it’s residue can spill into our lives off the bike. Perhaps then we can reclaim ourselves if we’re feeling lost and make different decisions that steer us back toward our most authentic and best selves, back to when we were 15 and if we knew nothing else, we knew our intrinsic worth.

cycling to freedomWhen not riding fat-tires along the Trans Canada Trail through Caledon Ontario, Ursula Cafaro is leading an optimal ride indoors.  Ursula is also a writer and a documentary filmmaker with a focus on empowering women.  She is currently working on a multi-media project entitled The Flight Imperative, http://flightimperative.blogspot.com.

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