“Pedal, Gaynor, pedal!”
My six year old legs pumped up and down and the bicycle swerved to the left, to the right and then found it’s course and straightened out. My father ran beside me encouraging: “Yes, that’s it, good, good girl!”
The stabilisers were gone. I was riding a bicycle. A two wheeler bicycle. By myself! “I’m riding!” I exalted.
The excitement proved too much. The bicycle wobbled uncontrollably and crashed to the ground. I picked myself up unscathed and turned to my Dad. “I did it, Dad, I did it! I can ride a bike properly now. I can ride my bike to the top of the street. I can…I can ride down to the Gnomes Wood.”
This was a wood, in England, where the gnomes ate all the bread that we put out for them in the afternoon. The next day, it was gone. Clearly carried away by the gnomes during the night. I could now ride myself with some bread to the Gnomes Wood.
I had been given the gift of wheels!
My childhood was spent on bikes. I remember when I was ten, I painted my beloved girl’s bike this wonderful, sickly orange. I thought it looked tremendously trendy. When I was in high school, I used to ride my bike the five kms to school and back home later after sport. A bike played a very vital and necessary part in my growing up.
Then I had my fall from the stage.
About a year after my fall, I was at the DeVilliers farm. I watched Paul, their son, messing about with his bike.
“Could I please have a go?” I asked.
“Are you able to…?”
At my look he stopped and said: “I’ll hold while you get on.”
I mounted the bike and he held it as I began to pedal. “Let go, let go,” I shouted. He let go and that was when another perception of myself blew away like fine dust. This girl who had ridden a bike all her life was unable to balance. I came crashing down, grazing my knee and elbow. I wanted to cry. Here was something else that had been taken away from me. I was now unable to do what Dad had taught me at six – ride a bike.
Years passed and B entered my life.
About ten years ago, she cycled over to see me. We ate muffins, laughed and chatted. As she left, pushing her bike across our parking area, I suddenly stopped and said:
“Do you think I could have a ride on your bike?”
“Sure, why not?”
B had no knowledge of my fiasco on a bike all those years ago. I was nervous. I was actually terrified. Would I once more go crashing down? Sensing my nervousness, B held the bike while I mounted. I pushed the upraised pedal down and the bike moved forward. In my mind I heard my Dad’s voice: ‘Pedal, Gaynor, pedal!’ and I did. And wonder of wonders, I didn’t come crashing down as I had feared. Initially, the bike wobbled a bit, but then as I speeded up so it’s wobbles disappeared and I was riding once more. I rode to the top of our parking area, turned around and pedalled back to B. I pulled to a stop in front of her. I was grinning but my eyes were filled with tears.
“I did it, B, I didn’t think that I would be able to ride again,” I choked out, “but I did. I rode a bike once more.”
A couple of days later, B and I went cycling together. We went up Plantation Road which is a wide road, not populated by a lot of traffic. My main problem when riding, indeed the reason I am not allowed to drive a car, is because of my 40% eyesight and the fact that I have no peripheral vision. B rode in front of me and let me know when another car was coming. She signalled that she was turning and I happily sailed after her. We stopped at the side of the road. This was where my difficulty lay. In stopping! B and John’s bikes which we were riding had cross bars and I found it difficult to put both my legs on the ground at the same time. As a result, each time we stopped, the bike and I did a gentle topple over. Not the most elegant way to get off a bike! B had bought a blanket for us to sit on the grassy pavement and then she handed out a much needed bottle of fresh, cold water.
That wondrous discovery that I was able to ‘pedal, Gaynor, pedal’ remained with me.
Recently I spent time with B and her husband, John, in England. One morning I said to B:
“Please may I cycle with you in Sheringham Park? We need an extra bicycle. Is there anywhere we can hire one?”
Nothing like being straightforward and to the point, is there?
Together we set off to a shop that hired bicycles. It was called Huff and Puff Cycles. There was an incredibly helpful man called Ross to whom I explained what I needed. A bicycle with no cross bar. A bicycle like my orange one that I’d had as a child! Ross provided me with exactly what I wanted. Excepting it was black not orange which, let’s face it, was not nearly as exciting to the eye!
B and I set off together for Sheringham Park. Before getting to the park we had about a two kilometres ride along the streets of Sheringham. I admit that I found that first bit of the ride terrifying. When I had ridden in South Africa, it was along big, wide streets. Now I was riding along curving, twisty lanes. I would hear a car approaching from behind and I knew I had to stick as close to the side of the road as possible. I couldn’t swerve too far out otherwise the car and I would collide. At one stage I actually found myself riding on the grass heading for a lamppost. I swerved onto the hellish road again. At last we reached Sheringham Park and inwardly I gave a sigh of relief. No more cars creeping up behind me. I now had the whole Park streaming invitingly before me.
Sheringham Park is beautiful. It was created by Humphry Repton in 1812. It is famous for it’s enormous collection of rhododendrons and azaleas. The last owner, Tom Upcher, would hold rhododendron champagne parties in the 1950’s to show off his stunning collection. Apparently ladies would arrive bedecked in their fine gowns and Wellington boots. They would then mosey down the main carriageway sipping champagne and gasping at the colours they were surrounded by. I had been there on a previous visit and was mind blown by the mass of rhododendrons, azalea, magnolia, tall, towering oak, maple and trees and bushes of which I cannot name. Suffice to say that they all combined to form acres of startling beauty.
At the very start of our ride in the Park, I discovered the beauty of gears. What a complete treat! I speeded up and shouted out to B:
“Faster, B, faster,” I didn’t want to have to slow down when we were going uphill. “These gears are great!” I laughed.
Then I noticed that there were people about. Couples strolling hand in hand, children playing tag or racing after a ball, families out for a stroll, and dogs!.
‘Glory, please don’t let me hit anyone’, I gave a silent prayer as I ‘pedal, Gaynor, pedal’ my way after B. We approached this couple and I heard B shout out: “Learner Rider!” The couple instantly stepped to the one side as we passed them. It wasn’t the ‘Learner Rider’ I was concerned about. It was this person with the mucked up eyesight that I feared.
‘Just go where B goes. Don’t take your eyes off her,’ I thought to myself.
It was a blissful day to be riding in such a beautiful park. I wanted to take my hands off the handle bars, as I had as a child, raise them into the air and shout: “Whoooooow!” in glory and delight!!! I contented myself with tightly clasped handlebars, madly pedalling legs and a breathless:
It didn’t matter how I said it. The joyful stimulation running through me was life enhancing!!!
When we finally got home I was totally exhausted. We had done ten kilometres of cycling. B was looking as fresh as a spring daisy, barely a hair out of place. What I hadn’t bargained on was how she would be feeling.
“Taking you to and from Sheringham Park was utterly hair raising for me. I should have let you go first. The thing was you didn’t know the way. I also thought that if I went first, I could see all the dangers that lay ahead.”
As B had done. She had warned me when cars were approaching, about bumps in the road, her arm went out when she was turning. She had been utterly fantastic on the road. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to warn me of cars coming from behind nor was she able to quell my rapidly beating heart and quivering hands.
And yet, for me, it was the most glorious experience. It was something I loved doing. I had an eighteen metre fall that should have put a stop to cycling. But I saw a means of recapturing that love, merely for a short while, but capturing it nonetheless. Through Dad and his “Pedal, Gaynor, pedal,” a bicycle, and my best friend, B, that dream came alive once more, wheeling me blissfully on my way.
Pedal, Gaynor, pedal!