Growing up in North Carolina, one of my biggest fears was riding a bicycle. While relatively straightforward to most, biking terrified me and I didn’t properly learn to ride a bike until I was almost 14 years old. My family still laughs about the time at the beach one summer when my swerving, unsteady biking caused another cyclist to veer off the path to avoid me.
Coming to Ireland this fall, I was determined to open myself up to new experiences and challenge myself. After hearing that cycling was big in Dublin, and a helpful way to get around when living south of the city at University College Dublin (UCD), I convinced myself I needed to conquer my fears and buy a bike. While I’ve gradually improved my biking abilities since my teenage days, I’ve never been comfortable enough to consider myself a cyclist, especially on city roads.
After much trepidation, I bought a bicycle at the UCD bike shop, taking it as a good omen when I found out it was the last used bike in stock. I put off riding my bike beyond the UCD campus for over a week, always creating excuses for why I should go another day. Finally, I thought of my best friends from undergrad who are all savvy female cyclists, and decided that I needed to be one too. With only my own self-doubt clouding my head, I took to the streets of Dublin and found my bike ride to be a liberating experience. Under a lucky day of Irish sunshine, I cycled over to the coast, up to Merrion Square in Dublin city center, along the canal, and back to UCD. Despite my original fears – especially of running into a bus (bicycles share the bus lane here) – I returned unscathed and unbowed, emboldened to continue honing my cycling skills. It helps that Dublin has become one of the most bike-able cities in Europe, with ubiquitous bike lanes and lots of caution given to cyclists.
A few weeks in, a group of Mitchells planned an outing to go cliff walking (the Irish term for hiking) in Bray, a town about 14 miles south of Dublin. Out of curiosity, I mapped the route and it looked fairly straightforward. Having never biked more than maybe 6 miles at a time, I dared myself to bike to Bray to meet the rest of the crew. With the key directions written in ballpoint pen on my hand, I wound my way down the N11 highway, with burning legs but feeling strangely proud. Here I was, biking by myself on the roads of a foreign country – something I never pictured myself doing.
Now that the days are marked by later sunrises and earlier sunsets, my next challenge is to acclimatize myself to night cycling (with my lights, of course). As I settle into biking and life here in Dublin, I remind myself that to explore the realm beyond my comfort zone is why I came here.