Saying that I am a runner is just a self-righteous way of saying that I can’t do anything else. Like, for instance, ride a bike. For those of you who have attempted to teach me through the years I apologize — it’s very difficult to make a horse drink lemonade even if you lead it a mile in your shoes; it’s very difficult to teach someone when they are clawing onto your neck for dear life; and it is very difficult to look at someone in the same way when they won’t stop with the awful Sean Connery impressions — “these people are trying to kill us!” — to distract from actually mounting the bike.
No seriously. I cannot do anything else. I cannot hit a baseball, fling a frisbee, bocce a ball, roll a blade, skate a rink, or dunk a basket. I’ve spent some time dabbling in alchemy, but let’s face it — I can’t cook either.
You know that old adage, “it’s like riding a bike”? Well I am here to tell you that it’s not. But it is possible for people to be very, very, very nice to you and help you up on your feet (so to speak).
Maybe it just takes the right place, the right time, and the right spirit to get you back on a bike. My trip to Büyükada (“Big Island” in Turkish) was my first bike ride ever, and it was a myriad of lessons in self-discovery.
It started as a running trip. Oh was I eager. And I was eager to get as many people there with me as possible. Now, it doesn’t take much to convince people to go to a beautiful place for a little fresh air and physical activity but my force of personality sealed the deal as a group conceded, “YES, would you shut up now, please? I’m coming.”
I even zealously emailed my mom:
But lesson one in self-discovery:
1. Sometimes you gotta just let go of the control freak within and face your fears.
Yes. You must let go.
“No I don’t, you can’t make me! You monster!”
I will impose my will upon you, senorita!
(only two of the voices in head speak English)
My glorious run turned into a bike ride. My traitorous renegade friends took one look at the island and said, “man, I’d really love to see the whole thing.” I took one disgusted look at the bike shop and threw a tiny “no! no! no! no!” tantrum (involving a shouting match of Bulgarian-versus-Thai and a little bit of jumping up and down). But in the face of peer pressure, I decided to face my fears and join my iconoclast companions on a bike.
And okay, I guess I kind of enjoyed it. Only a little. But I especially loathed the free wind in my hair. And good heavens I didn’t love the exhilarating speed. And darn all to heck the feeling of independence at the satisfying pull of my muscles.
How to get there: The island of 7000 people is beautiful. It’s the last of the stops for the Princes’ Islands. From Kabataş (on the European side) there is a one-and-a-half-hour ferry that stops in Buyukada last (you’ll want to check a ferry schedule). From Bostanci (on the Asian side) (we got to Bostancı by metrobüs at Söğütşüçeşme) the ferries leave more frequently and leave directly for the Big Island.
Lesson 2 in self-discovery:
2. If you say that you can do it enough you can.
Although you just might take out a woman while you’re doing it. And I don’t mean for dinner and dancing. I mean, “my apologies ma’am, please accept my offer of my first born child.”
Note: there was actually a basket on my bike before I smashed it into the sidewalk.
Should you go: Absolutely yes. My stay in Istanbul would not have been complete without at least one day away from the city. It was actually a bit sad sailing away and getting back to the hustle and bustle — even of a city I love. Make a day trip out. Walk or run. Ride a bike or rent a horse-drawn carriage because the only vehicles allowed on the island are service vehicles. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Character study number 3:
3. People are going to say that you can’t. A lot. And I mean literally. On our metro bus ride AND our train ride all the way up to our boat ride, we had this one, albeit nice, Turkish man telling me, and only me (like looking into my eyes and metaphorically grabbing me by the lapels), to not, for the love of things holy, ride a bike, “understand!?”. Jasmine sticks by me in swearing that he said, “75% of bikes get in accidents. Asians get in most accidents.”
“Do you understand?! DO YOU UNDERSTAND?!”
I really wish I had taken a sneaky picture of him.
I’m actually a lot more bitter about it post-ride than I was as it was happening. But I just imagine green coconut bra and it all dissolves.
Those interested: Take the kids, take anyone with a heart because you could not ask for a more beautiful outdoors activity while visiting Istanbul. The island is friendly to all adventurers who delight in the outdoors. Internet cafes are of course along the coast for quick emails home saying how beautiful you find the place.
Take a stroll with your beloved and walk up to the beautiful monastery. You can check out the amazing homes while cherishing the particular brown color of a horse’s mane.
4. You can’t do everything on your own. But if you try with all of your might and give your best effort, others will make up the rest. Like when people physically push me up the hill to help me build momentum. Or when they help me adjust the chain on my bike every 20 meters.
I had really stellar company. The best.
Like the kind of company you just want inside your pocket all of the time to tell you how great you’re doing. Really. Friends? Can you come with me to my drivers license renewal? You the best.
This next lesson wasn’t so much an ah-ha! moment as a confirmation on the only thing I have ever been sure about:
5. Sandwiches make long journeys delights.
(This picture is all kinds of awesome.)
Food: You’ll pass through the town in order to get to the trails. We stopped at a little grocery store for sandwich effects and sweets for our mid-ride lunch. You can find sitdown, ocean-view restaurants all along the coast. The number and yumminess of all the ice cream shops will make you melt. Speaking of which.
Lesson number 6 in self-awareness:
6. I’ll do anything — even face my long time nemesis, biking — for amazing ice cream (what was the point of this list again?).
Okay so that one wasn’t so much of a thing of self-discovery as a known truth.
But…Come to think of it, this bike trip kind of ended up like a run anyways. I was hesitant to get out, I empowered myself by imagining my assailants in lingerie, I pushed through, and I spaced everything out with snacks.
Facing my fear wasn’t that bad. I didn’t die. I didn’t get maimed. I only verbally abused someone a little.
I had marvelous companions who cheered me on every step of the way.
And I did get to run for a little bit…
…Before I promptly crashed out of exhaustion. Who knew a few miles on a bike would hurt my bum so much?
So yeah, on my journey of self-discovery I was reminded that you shouldn’t always face your fears alone. That a friend or two, cheering you on, fixing your chain can make all the difference. What you always need to do is say that you can do it and get back on the bike if you fall.
Because the best views are sure prettier with the people you love. And the best people wait for you at the top. Of a really poorly done self-timer setup.