I love to ride my bike but suffer from a huge fear of descending. So you can understand my anxiety when we packed up our bikes for a recent week-long bike trip to Corsica with my boyfriend, Andy, and our cycling friends from the New York Cycle Club. In our club, we are classified into A, B and C riders. The letters are determined by your average speed on the road. Andy and his friends are all very fast A’s. I hoped I could keep up, especially on the descents.
Though I’ve cycled thousands of miles over the past 20 years, I classify myself as a lazy B cyclist. I detest cycling in cold weather and rain and prefer perfect sunny weather. I dislike crosswinds. Sometimes getting out of my apartment and on my bike is the hardest part of the ride. In other words, I’m often my own worst enemy. And I am scared of descents.
I surveyed many of my fellow cyclists prior to the trip on the subject of descending. Most had simple advice: You’re safest in your drops. Follow the person ahead of you. Eyes on the road.
The first day we flew down coastal roads paralleling the glorious Mediterranean sea, followed by our first climb and then a stop on the other side for the first of my many salad nicoises and an espresso. After lunch, we hit our second major climb called Col de Taigne, which we jokingly referred to as Col de Tahini, next door to the Mountain of Falafel. I’m a decent climber and stared ahead at the road, seeing cars up on the road in the distance, many feet above where I currently was climbing. The view from the top was epic. After we snapped a few photos, we began our next descent.
Every road in Corsica was windy, twisty and hilly: a perfect combination to get over my descending fears. We saw spectacular views of the sea and mountains depending on the mile. To get through the downhills, I resorted to chanting the Sh’ma to myself. I chanted all the versions I knew from Hebrew school, temple youth group and the summer I taught drama at a Jewish camp. When I finished the Sh’ma, I’d chant the Torah portion from my bat mitzavh 30 years ago. When my busy brain left my cycling synagogue, I asked myself “What would Sheryl Sanberg advise?” She’d probably tell me to step up to the challenge and sit at the table (in my case, saddle) and carefully lean in to the curves.
My friend Marcy, a fast climber, said, “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone,” and frankly she was right. During the week, my strength improved on the climbs and I managed to stay with our friends and not drop “off the back” as we say in bike club-speak. I started to view descents like a ballet dance, curving in and out, staring ahead to prepare for oncoming cars, concentrating deeply and staying focused.
On the last day, we did a final climb. On our last descent a huge group of goats stopped us in our tracks but we made it back to Bastia and treated ourselves to a lunch by the old port in Corsica. After lunch I asked Oscar, a six-foot-four-inch Dutch cyclist on the trip for his best descending advice. He was quiet for a moment, then said simply, “Don’t look for problems. Look for solutions.”
The next day we packed up our bikes and boarded the ferry to Livorno where my boyfriend and I would spend a few days relaxing off the bike. While we sipped espressos and wandered through Lucca, I kept thinking about Oscar’s wise advice.
Look for solutions for any challenging endeavor whether descending on a bike or renewing ourselves for the upcoming Jewish new year. Don’t look for problems. And I’ll add to Oscar’s advice: Life is short. Enjoy the ride.
Jen Rudin is an award-winning casting director and author of the forthcoming book “Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room.” Visit www.jenrudin.com for more details.