Mural on greenway

Relearning Old Skills is Easier When You’re Kind to Yourself.

Recently we went for a bike ride. This was a big deal for me. I haven’t ridden my bicycle in at least six years…maybe more like eight years: I can’t recall. Twelve years ago I rode my bike a lot because that was the summer when the price of gasoline jumped to nearly five dollars per gallon and I was absolutely not paying that just to drive myself to the salon for my part-time job, or to my workouts at the gym. I rode about 75 miles each week, something I can’t imagine doing at this point in my life.

Anyway, we have this great ten-mile green way near our house that we can ride all the way to downtown Knoxville if we want to go that far. Since we’ve never ridden on it before and we’re always looking for pandemic-friendly activities, we decided to go. Jim took my old bike into the shop (Holla, West Bicycles! We love supporting local businesses!) for its first tune-up in ages and I picked out a new helmet (ALWAYS wear safety gear, folks!).

We headed over to the green way entry point near our house. (It’s right behind our local movie theater, by the way, which is closed for the time being and such a depressing sight.) We put our helmets on and as I hiked my leg up over my bike’s top tube for the first time, I felt every single year that has gone by since the last time and do not recommend.

I rode around the parking lot, messing around a little bit with my shifters. I never liked shifting my gears.

Side note: My ideal bicycle would be a beach cruiser. On the beach. Not for exercise purposes.

My actual bicycle has about fifty gears (slight exaggeration) and for some reason my brain cannot make the split-second connect on which way to shift. It never mattered in Illinois: they don’t call us “Flatlanders” for nothing. When I was riding my bike from our home in Naperville to my workplace in Wheaton, I hardly had to shift at all. Here though, in the “Foothills of the Smoky Mountains”, shifting is A THING. Even the tiny hills are no joke if you’re not a daily cyclist.

I found myself getting very frustrated. I felt dumb. I felt like I was never going to grasp it. My poor husband tried his best to explain what I was supposed to do. I finally had to tell him that I heard was he was saying and in theory I understood it while standing still, but once I was riding and had to make those instant decisions, it all went out the window. After nearly melting down at the halfway point of our ride, we came across a mural depicting the local ecosystem, painted by Knoxville muralist Curtis Glover. Getting off of my bike to take the picture was a great reset; I felt that in many ways finding that mural was a reward for pushing through to that point. I ordered myself to relax and to replace my negative thoughts with positive ones. The ride back to where we began was so much easier for my brain. In the end I was happy with how I had no trouble with the ride physically, and that my mental state made a great recovery on the back half. I’m looking forward to going again and getting closer to downtown.

That day got me thinking (shocker!) about all of the old skills we are all going to need to relearn once the pandemic is over. Simply going into a crowded store, seeing live music, or even hugging people outside of our household is going to be nerve-wracking as we readjust to a world that will be safe once again. Our brains have had quite the workout over the past eight months and they’re not done just yet. After what will be well over a year of constantly thinking about how we need to conduct each and every daily task in accordance with what’s safe during a pandemic, it’s going to be more important than ever that we give ourselves grace as we figure out our latest “new normal.” Patience and positive thoughts are going to be key and, you know what? I think we’re up to it. In fact, I can’t wait to get started.


  • Angela

    I have such a hard time with this. (See: the five posts in my blog drafts that haven’t been posted for the blogging game, because I just feel so out of practice!)

  • Cheryl

    Good for you for rising to this challenge! Bike riding has always felt scary to me, as I don’t think I have very good balance. Knowing that you’ve done it before is helpful for knowing you can do it again – and I think all those post-pandemic things will come back to us pretty easily too.

  • Karen Meg

    Wow Melisa I am so impressed! I am not a cyclist, I can ride but find it scary (stationary works thank you) . Maybe I’m traumatized as I rode an electric bike in Portugal about 8 years ago and felt I was going to launch into oncoming traffic at any time (those are crazy!). I agree with you about skills… even night driving now which I rarely do. I went out for takeout now with the time change it is so dark my 5 minute drive felt an awful lot longer !

  • Mari

    I love your willingness to jump out of your comfort zone and try new/old things despite the overthinky thing that can make it so difficult (from one overthinker to another). xo