Technically, fifth June 2019, was my third time, not first. But this fifth day of June was the first day that I did it real good.
The first time was when I was in my early twenties, which is many years ago. I don’t even remember who was teaching me to ride a bike. Maybe it was Uncle Moses, our long-serving farmhand who was still with us at the time. I vaguely recall that I was able to actually balance on a bike for a few minutes and ride it. And that was it. I never got on top of a bike again for almost two decades. The next time I hopped onto a bike, I just couldn’t ride it on my own. Despite the best efforts of yet another farmhand who kept pushing me and cheering me on, I was unable to balance and ride it.
The second time was in May 2019 after I had bought Silver Oak (this is my bike’s new name, named after the Silver Oak Tree) and ferried it to the village so that I could ride it without prying eyes wondering what took this big guy so long to learn how to ride! I remember ten years ago when I was finally learning how to swim, this adorable little girl looked at me and asked with all the innocence in the world, “why didn’t you learn to swim when you were little?”
Back to Silver Oak, the morning after I arrived in the village, I decided to try and ride the bike on my own. So after my precious mama had stuffed me with a plate of sweet potatoes and arrow roots, I walked out of the house with a full belly, got on the bike and just rode it down the sixty-meter stretch to the gate and back to foyer of my parents’ house.
What! I was shocked. A big grin spread over my face as my papa looked up at me.
“I thought you didn’t know how to ride a bike!” Papa said.
“I thought so too!”
For the rest of the day, I rode and rode. I would just hop on, and ride. Man, it felt good! I could actually ride a bike!
The following day I had to leave and travel back to Nairobi.
That’s how June 5th 2019 came into play. I needed to ride for several hours in a public place, not just in our compound. If I could actually ride in a public place, then I would know that I could ride a bike properly. That I could do it real good. And there was no better place to do so than Karura Forest.
“Billy,” I had called my younger brother, “let’s go riding in Karura Forest this coming Saturday.”
And so Wednesday June 5th at 6AM, Billy knocked on my gate and we pierced through the semi-darkness as we drove to Karura Forest.
Rain had pounded the forest during the night, so there was a fair amount of mud. But not even all the mud in the world was going to stop me from riding in Karura for the first time ever. Riding in public for the first time. Nothing was going to stop this first time.
My poor bike had to carry my then 95 kilos over wet, muddy terrain. Billy was great in guiding me: he patiently taught me about two different ways to start the bike; about fixing my eyes ahead and not on the handle bars; relaxing my grip on the handle bars and not clutching them as if my life depended on it. And many more. Every time I saw pedestrians or other cyclists coming from the opposite direction towards us, I would stop the bike clumsily and pretend to be on the phone. I didn’t trust my ability to cross paths with them without bumping into them.
We muddled through it, all the way across the middle Track to the Kiambu Road gate, back to the middle track and then on to Mau Mau Trail. I would ride the bike and hand it over to Billy for a few minutes so that he could also get a ride. I marveled at his smooth and fast rides, wondering if I could ever ride like that. Its as if the two bike wheels were simply extensions of his two human legs.
On his part, Billy marveled at the power of the mountain bike’s gears and brakes. He had grown up riding the black mamba bicycle (known in the West as roadster). This bike had no gears at all and hence one had move it through sheer power and alight on sloping ground.
My bike didn’t fail me on this muddy Wednesday. This first time was muddy and bumpy but smooth all the way. Just like the Silver Oak tree that abounds in Karura, this bike has been sturdy and full of replenishment.