There are five simple words that have dogged my entire adult life: It’s. Like. Riding. A. Bicycle.
Family, friends and work colleagues throw them about in a nonchalant way. After all, isn’t riding a bike just so easy, so carefree, so simple? I have a confession to make – I never really learned how to ride a bike.
It wasn’t for lack of trying. I had my Dad chase me down the driveway with a guiding hand on the handlebars, letting go only for the bike to topple over after a few seconds. The long family bike rides where I was always a good 100 wobbly feet behind everyone else. In Amsterdam, where there are more bikes than people, I pedalled like a drunk around Vondelpark while mothers carrying four children casually breezed by. The basic skills are there, I just never mastered them.
When the chance came up to join a hiking, biking and rafting trip in Bali with Intrepid Travel, I jumped at it. I was excited to go white water rafting in Ubud and climb to the summit of Mt Rinjani, but it was the seemingly straightforward cycling trip in the foothills of Candidasa that gave me pause. My mind raced with questions: Was it all uphill? How easy is it to ride 17 miles? Would I be left behind? Would the others in our small group judge me?
Fast forward a few months and I’m clipping on my helmet in the shadow of Mt Agung. Our cosy group of eight is preparing for a morning ride through bamboo forests, fruit orchards, local villages and rice paddies. Piece of cake, right? So why, then, is my heart pounding?
Our local leader, Andy, makes sure our bikes are adjusted, teaches us how to use the gears, and takes us around the car park for a quick warm up to get a feel for our bikes. Andy tells me cycling is his favourite part of the trip; the freedom of riding at your own pace means you can really see village life unfold in a way you can’t when zipping past in a car. Andy pops on his sunglasses and then he’s off, our group trailing behind in single file.
It takes only a few minutes before I can see what Andy meant. Pedalling at a leisurely pace on the paved road, I ride past warungs (cafes) opening for the day, leathery-skinned men laying mud bricks, and schoolchildren in neatly ironed uniforms trodding off to school. I chance a wave while passing by and they wave back, giggling as I unsteadily regain control of the bike. The thrill of the ride is exhilarating, and I only jump off the bike once or twice to walk up an incline I hadn’t properly judged.
Andy turns off the paved road and we’re riding through brilliant green rice paddies. The dirt road rises and falls unpredictably. A stray rock occasionally juts out and threatens my front wheels. But it’s the sand that does me in. I’m coasting along then I’m brought to a sudden, jerking stop by a pool of sand. I clamber off my bike, push it out and up an incline, then start again. At first it isn’t an issue, but after a few stops it starts to wear me down. Our support guide coaches me from behind, encouraging me to keep going.
Sweaty and exhausted, I push my bike up the next hill and find the rest of the group stopping for watermelon and drinks. Andy asks if anyone would like to call it quits, put their bike back on the support vehicle and ride to the end of the route. I immediately put my hand up. I carry my bike to the driver but, just as I’m about to hand it over, FOMO rears its head. Torn between wanting to see it through, and also wanting to collapse into the back of the van, I remember why I came on this trip. I came to do something new and to be challenged. Would I regret throwing in the towel too soon?
I turn around and start back to the group, who welcome me with a cheer. We saddle up and set off again. The sandy detour ends abruptly and now we’re zooming along unpaved roads through little villages dotting the countryside. Chickens cross our path and soon we’re cycling into a farm, riding between neatly lined chilli plantations and young cassava saplings. The rush of seeing local life up close makes me so glad that I chose to continue on.
The cycling comes to an end all too soon. We hand in our bikes and reward our tired glutes with a soak at the aptly named White Beach. Later, while drinking beers with the group and watching the sun set over water, I’m glad I pushed through and didn’t give up. Sharing that experience, with my cheer squad shouting encouragement all along, is something I never would have accomplished on my own.
Experience your own active adventure in Asia. Check out Intrepid Travel’s range of Active Adventures. Justin travelled on Bali and Lombok: Hike, Bike and Raft.
Feature image by Damien Raggatt.