Let me just preface this story by saying that I know. I know that as a kid who grew up in the suburbs in northern California, it is especially egregious that I never learned to ride a bike.
But somewhere between having busy parents, our house’s walking-distance proximity to my schools, and not growing up with a lot of money, a bike was a luxury that never really occurred to me as a kid. As a teenager and adult, however, I’d be lying if I said that living with a mental illness didn’t factor into my bike-free life. Living with depression and, at times, mild anxiety, means that I’m way more comfortable if I am entirely in control of my surroundings, as opposed to being influenced by any other kind of contraption — even if said contraption relies on my own exertion. It’s the same reason that I can count on my hands the number of times I’ve driven a car, despite having a license. Plus, moving to New York City at 17 meant that I spent a lot of formative young adulthood years in a place where walking and public transportation were the easiest ways to get around, so I never needed to learn to ride a bike.
And then I was invited on a wellness retreat in Aruba that sounded so idyllic that I wasn’t too anxious that it included a biking trail ride as one of the main excursions. In fact, I was pretty determined to get on a bike and get it right at some point in my life, and what better place than a gorgeous tropical island?
So when the day of the ride came, I was more committed than ever to making this happen — even after having to sign off on a waiver of agreement that the resort and its crew were not responsible for any injuries sustained, possibly even including death (fair enough). Because my determination is stupidly greater than my level of self-preservation, I was pretty game.
The bike ride tour, put together by the Hilton Aruba Caribbean Resort, was set to take us along the coast of Arashi Beach, on a trail to the California Lighthouse. The resort’s crew was kind enough to set up gear for me and 7 other journalists and our hosts, and let us test out the bikes in their back lot.
Before we proceed, here is something you should know about me: I am essentially the human equivalent of a Yorkshire Terrier that inexplicably thinks it's a big dog, and should be able to do everything a big dog can. (See also: what Mindy Kaling called being "raised…with the entitlement of a tall, white blond man.")
That being said, as unwavering as I was in my intent to make a more-or-less seamless biking adventure happen, I had forgotten something that became glaringly obvious as soon as I slid onto one of the bikes: Considering I'm about 5'1", there aren’t many bikes that can fit my height. Adult bikes, that is — which is all the resort had.
Despite this, I was still intent on making it work, and with the help of Manuel, the poor, wonderful soul assigned to help me acclimate to the bike, I hopped on and even took a few turns around the lot.
“See? Totally fine!” I called back at him as I wobbled and nearly fell into a nearby tree.
“Ah, but you shouldn’t have to stretch to accommodate it,” Manuel said after I toppled over. “Maybe we shouldn’t force it?”
I hated to admit it, but he was right: I was trying to make an impossible situation work. It’s a quality that’s helpful when I need to solve a problem at work, or fit a month’s worth of laundry into a single bag. But otherwise, it’s a behavior that more often than not leaves me clinging to unhealthy relationships and unattainable ideals for myself. Besides, Manuel was onto something. I probably needed to let go of the idea that my first time on a bike — or my first time doing anything, for that matter — would be perfect.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still just as determined to learn to ride a bike eventually. But now I'm a little more willing to let go of my anxieties, along with the idea that everything I do needs to be go as planned. As cheesy as it sounds, the minute you think you have a handle on everything is the minute the universe will come around to remind you that you very much don't.
Plus, not being able to ride a bike? Not the end of the world — especially not in Aruba, where there's plenty to take in. From swimming in natural pools to exploring Arikok National Park to climbing through incredible gold mines, there were plenty of non-bike-related things to be delighted by — even for those of us who really just needed a moment or two to de-stress and be relaxed as hell. Learning to ride a bike during a gorgeous and memorable trip might have been ideal, but being lucky enough to be there in the first place was a pretty good form of consolation.
Travel and expenses for the author were provided by Aruba Tourism Authority for the purpose of writing this story.