There is a reason I do not ski.
It wasn't adolescent rebellion against my parents' middle class dream of having normal, passably pretty daughters who could not only play tennis, a stringed instrument, and ski. Nor was it the realization that one could very easily die from sitting on an unstable swinging metal chair with not even a pretense of protection against "accidental" falls. It was something much simpler. And as one of those defining moments in my childhood, it branded into me a lesson that, like the last drunk dude at a party, has refused to leave the foreign comforts of my off-kilter psyche.
Other than the extremely un-hip nature of long underwear and most gear related to skiing, I never had a problem with it. The act of sliding down a snowy mountain on a pair of fiber glass planks, though not the most entertaining of experiences, seemed to make my parents happy. And so, when we arrived at our mountains, I would zipper up into a pink snowsuit; an Asian Barbie astronaut launching through the stratosphere to attempt perpendicularity on man-made pow-pow.
It was on one such skiing trip that my sister persuaded me to try sliding down more difficult slopes. I, naive in my belief that perhaps she had my best interests in mind, and that perhaps she even enjoyed my company, climbed eagerly onto the creaking lift. Successfully sliding out of the landing station, I followed my sister's hovering figure, swaying back and forth in the snow. She called out at one point, where our slope connected with another. I remember she raised her right arm, waving. I attempted to stop.
Instead, she later told me, I managed to flip over mid-air, lose at least one ski, and land - mostly face down - in some thorn bushes, my head approximately two yards from a giant cement ski lift pole. My sister nearly lost it, and I descended the slope esconsced in an orange plastic sled.
The experience bought me my ticket out of future forays into winter sports. But a kind of hesitation settled in its place. It emphasized that dabbling in the unfamiliar, particularly when such endeavors require physical coordination, will result in getting knocked around. That no matter what is attempted, you will, at some point, end up with your face in some thorn bushes.
This, predictably, makes habits hard to break, even when change is certain. It has manifested itself into sucking out the things I have learned on a track bike and the forced application thereof to something entirely different [i.e., a road bike]. Possessing the single-minded stubbornness of a triathlete, quads were used to do all my climbing, until longer hills forced me to learn how to spin. Long stretches are still done with hands resting on the drops, and every so often, as I sense the bar end in the cup of my hand, I wish they were a little longer, and perhaps just a touch turned outwards. Despite the generous rake IF set out for me, I still brace myself for the friction of rubber against leather toe, the rub harsh enough to stop a front wheel and scramble my balance.
And the trend continues off the bike: as I prepare to move back to Tokyo, Japan in less than a week [though possibly an opportunity for adventure], I am mostly terrified. I attribute this, in part, to the nearly three decades of life that have burdened me with the sense of holding something, of having something to lose. I’ve built something here, I say to myself, and I’m going to lose it all. The friends, the group rides, the everything. And the fear of slippage, of losing the needle of a supposed compass of identity, is a threat that can loom large enough to discourage the variety in life that would make one richer. It becomes easy, then, to tell myself that this new future mixture of things is somehow impure, that it can never measure up to the pedigreed purity of what I've built stateside. Like the former fixed gear aficianado who struggles to figure out a cassette, I want to stick to what I know, the people I know, the experiences I know. The change is at times overwhelming, and I desperately do not want to say goodbye.
But to let go of one thing [a place, friends, etc.] does not mean to lose it altogether. Life, particularly regarding those things we love to do, is, I try to tell myself, never so mercantile and unforgiving. There are our fair share of crashes, but also the rides that can unfold under our legs, leading to higher altitudes of happiness [or, at least adventure]. Falling into thorn bushes face-first does suck, but given its inevitability, I’ve been told no one really cares that you’ve kissed pavement, as long as you can pick yourself back up, afterwards.
It’s much easier said than done, of course, and I will be the first to admit that I’m struggling to get back up; to face a future away from the people I love and the everything that I know. But hey, I’ve survived change before. And while I often yearned for the familiarity of a fixed gear cog when I first got gears, adaptation to a cassette was not as impossible as it initially seemed. It resulted in sometimes painful rides, slightly faster legs, and the kind of friends I can't stop bragging about. And in the process, I've also learned that the shifting, the push inwards [though so unfamiliar at first and thus subject to resistance], can even result in a saved breath, however brief, before the next climb approaches.