What is it like? Part 1 – What was my experience as a middle aged unfit man

Some of you might wonder if you can do this? Are you fit enough to have fun? Could you have fun?

Here is part 1 of a 4 part piece I wrote after my own ride. It’s a parable like parts of the bible.

The Call & the Support of Angels
Until last year (2006), I had never really biked before. Not only had I no real experience of biking (not even as a child) but I was very unfit. When my doctor told me this winter that if I did not get into shape and lose 30 pounds, I might die young as my father had, I wondered what to do.

A dear friend who is at the centre of the biking community suggested that I set myself a big challenge and convinced me that I did this in the community of a great group, I might be able to pull it off. So I signed up in February for this bike ride. I knew nothing of the cause, other that I am familiar with Micro credit, but going into this with my friend was the key. She got me to go to spinning classes to get fit. She, who is an iron woman, spent many boring mornings spinning in my class for support. Her going along at the outset got my inertia broken.

At the spinning class, there was a group of women of my age. They and the instructor bathed me in support as I struggled to get fit. I saw that others as old as I had already made a big change. Their achievement gave me hope. They made me welcome and all helped me in their own way. There was never any sense of my being a “Loser”. As my confidence grew, my angel was able to drop out of this phase and leave me supported by the Spinning girls.

Now the need for good equipment. Again I was lost. What did I know. But my angel returned and introduced me to the owner of one of the better bike shops. I had a very different experience I think from the walk in punter. I was tagged as being related to a person who could not be short changed. I ended up with a beautiful a machine and with the confidence that I now was “Known’ and could continue to get support from the store on my own.

My spinning instructor is also part of a biking family who own the other main biking store. She set me up with all the clothing that I would need. My two angels had taken an outsider and made him an insider. I now wanted more.

Lesson 1 – How I found that real community works
I am sure that many of us have joined “Social networks” and been plagued with wannabe new “Friends”. You can see that my experience of joining a real community was very different. This was all about love and trust. My Angels were the doorways into a community of trust. They were already icons in their own community. They offered me true love – acceptance of who I am and that I had a mission that they could help with.

Their own iconic role in the bike community carried with it a message – they trusted me, so I was trusted immediately by the community. I did not have to spend a lifetime trying to make my way in. being trusted, I got the attention of the rest of the community such as the bike shops owner that an outsider would never get. I was special and it felt that way. He could trust me too. He left off an item on the bill. I showed that he had undercharged me . Trust was reinforced on both sides. Now when I go into the shop, I enter as a family member. Quite a different experience.

Nor was I a “Wannabe”. My motives for joining this community were selfish but about my true self. Was I going to have the guts to change how I lived my life was the deal. My angels and many other responded because they could see in me, their own struggle to be more real and more human. More complete.

So even before I got on the bus, I had found the community that I had longed for all my life. A group who accepted me up front as a frail man who was trying his best to do something difficult. I could be weak. I could be stupid. I could look like an idiot. They did not care. What they cared about was me. In seeing me, I could start to become me too and start to put away my pride and my shame of being me.

Real community, I am finding, is about allowing another to become themselves. The way is maybe a common cause. For you it may be sailing. But for me it was biking. But of course it was not about biking. It was about becoming human. What better motivation can you find that that?

The garden of gethsemane
Finally the big weekend. Ask me to speak on one day’s notice to 1,000 people – no problem. Ask me to write a 20,000 word report in 5 days – no problem. But the physical world is an unknown to me. I live in my head. So in the bus on the way up with 45 strangers except for my two angels, I was quite frightened. Was I going to be able to do this and what price would I have to pay in harm to my self esteem and maybe to my poor old middle aged body? The most I had ever ridden in a day this year was 40 k and we were set to do nearly 300! All but one other couple were experienced bikers. I was scared. They were going to laugh at me. I was going to get hurt. I was going to feel that the whole thing was a grind.

But I had made a public commitment. I had asked many of you to support me with money and you had come through for me. My family expected me to get through this. My two angels had given so much. And most importantly I felt that I owed this to myself. How would I live with myself if I did not do my best. After all, for me this was about my chance to break the habits of a lifetime that had been literally killing me.

So I set out on a cold and blustery Friday with a bunch of strangers. Into the unknown and into part of my life that I knew the least and feared the most.

Next -The Cross

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