Wednesday, June 2, 2010

26 Year-old learns to ride bike

There's this group of islands in the south of Japan, called the Izu Islands. Considered part of Tokyo, they are actually managed by the Tokyo government, but it takes over 9 hours by ferry to reach them. One island that goes by the name of Nijima, though not a particularly spectacular island, has become extremely favored by the foreigners in my circle of friends and acquaintances. Perhaps it can be attributed to the fact that this place is pretty much the exact opposite of touristy. There is one hotel, there are 2 supermarkets, literally no convenience stores (seriously, what a shocker in Japan!), one bakery, one pizza shop, one tiny history museum, and two hot springs. There are two beaches, one littered with blocks of concrete, the other littered with surfers battling the terrifying waves that crash you into large rocks that batter your shins and trap your feet so that when a wave comes you fall flat on your face. I obviously thoroughly enjoyed my 10-minute water-treading session.

Really, I enjoyed my trip there-- both of my trips there, actually. Considering my raving review above of the island, you must be wondering why I bothered to go back there again. Well, I could say that it was nice and relaxing, that I enjoyed camping out, lying on the beach, cooking food on a grill outside, and riding a bicycle to town to buy food or go to the hot spring. Yeah those things were nice the first time, but the second year was like.. um hey, didn't I do this last year?

Okay, so maybe I'm not the tiny, quiet island-type. Or maybe I like variety and I don't really enjoy visiting the same place twice. I've never been a huge fan of visiting the same museum, restaurant, or park more than a few times. It gets old quickly. Actually, I can't stand walking the same seven-minute route to the train station every day. Anyway, I got a little bored my second time around visiting this island.

However! This trip did have it's highlights, or highlight... I should say. On this island, I taught my 26 year old friend to ride a bicycle. Yes, I know what you're thinking. 26 years old and he didn't know how to ride a bicycle? I don't know why. Ask his parents. What normal parent doesn't teach their child how to ride a bicycle? Nevertheless, this guy had literally never set foot, or perhaps I should say bottom, on a bicycle before. I must add though that he never really seemed like the outdoorsy type.

Now, here's where I should mention that if you stay on this island it's pretty much impossible to get around without a bicycle. I mean, sure if you want to walk, go right on ahead. That's what this guy had to do the first time he visited Nijima. His friends all rented bikes and took like 15, 20 minutes to get to town to buy food or visit the hot spring. He had to walk. You can imagine how long it took. I'm sure it was not a pretty sight. From what I gather, he mostly ended up sitting alone at the campsite while everyone else happily rode their bicycles and frolicked around in their bathing suits in the hot spring with a gorgeous sunset view.

This time around, it was insisted that he learn to finally ride a bike. Two of his friends agreed to teach him. The three rented their bikes, took them to a parking lot, and let the learning begin. Evidently it did not go so well, as about a half an hour later I rode by to find the guy alone in the parking lot rather disheveled and sweaty.

My offer to try teaching him was quickly rebuffed with "I can't," or "I'm too old," or "I look like an idiot," and so on. I set to riding my own bike around the lot, quietly trying to figure out exactly what I was doing when I rode a bike. Eventually, I tried to explain: push down hard on the pedal with one foot and get the bike moving. Keep good posture so as to stay balanced, and as quickly as possible, get that other foot on it's pedal. You want to start pedaling immediately and not slow down. If you lose momentum, you lose your balance. But the guy was so sure that if he put that second foot up on it's pedal, he would fall. He would get the bike going and I would cry, "Yes! That's it! Now get that other foot up and keep going, don't stop!" and then that foot would hit the ground. "Aw, come on. Don't put your foot down. You had it!"

"No. I was going to fall," he insisted. "I'm never going to be able to do this. You can go. I'm sorry for wasting your time."

We went on like this for probably an hour and I realized literally the only thing keeping him from being able to ride that bike was his fear of falling.

"Don't be silly. Where are you going to fall to? The ground isn't that far away. You might get a little scrape or bruise, but that's nothing. When you get that urge to put your foot down, resist. Don't do it. Instead, just keep pedaling!"

And then thirty, maybe forty minutes later... oh my god. I swear there was music playing in my head, like when a kid finally makes that home run in some feel-good family movie. He just did it. He rode that damn bicycle. It was a miracle.

And that was, seriously, the highlight of my trip. Seeing this grown man overcome his fear and learn to ride a bicycle at age 26, that was just super inspiring. I felt all warm and fuzzy inside.

You can go ahead and say, "Aww," now (or puke, whatever you prefer).