“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein
Grace’s soapy hands reached for one of the two glasses that she was about to wash. She grasped it then gasped when it slipped right through her fingers. Her attempt to rescue it only hastened its descent. A second later, it shattered into a million pieces. A broken glass.
A few days later, Grace saw her cycling dreams also fall with a resounding thud and shatter. She had been saving for a couple of months to buy a bike and start cycling to work. Then tragedy struck. Muchilwa, a beloved mutual friend of Grace and her then fiancé Pius was hit by a car while cycling along Naivasha Road in Nairobi. He was such a great guy. Gone too soon.
"You have to shelve that plan of cycling to work." Pius told her.
So she diverted the bike funds to other projects. She forgot about cycling to work and cycling as a whole. That was in 2014.
Five years later in 2019, her big brother Bwak bought a bike and started cycling consistently in Karura forest. At first, he cycled for only five kilometers, then 10, then 15, then 25. Then 50 kilometers. Before buying that bike, he didn't even know how to cycle. She used to tease him that he was the forty-year old cycling virgin. Now he was pedalling away like Usain Bolt on two wheels.
“2 wheels + 2 legs = fitness + utter relaxation + sheer joy.” He would tell her. She loved this equation. It reminded her not just of her earlier cycling dreams, but also of her childhood, when she learned to cycle at the age of ten.
Back then, Grace’s main motivation for cycling was so that she could run mama’s errands on a bike. Her mama is an amazing no-nonsense lady.
During holidays when Grace was in the village together with her siblings, her mama would give them all a myriad of daily duties: delivering milk to a dairy distributor that was five kilometers away; fetching water from the river; ferrying twenty kilos of maize to the posho mill for grinding; tilling grumpy, unresponsive land; and many more.
Some of these errands could be run more efficiently with a bike, which is what her brother Jemo and other male cousins used to do. Grace decided that if they could do it, so could she. Her grit pushed her push her short legs all the way to the pedals of a black mamba bike as she learnt how to cycle. Within days, she was also running errands on a bike, the tenacious black mamba, known in Europe and US as Roadster. This bike should receive a Nobel prize for the significant role it has played in rural Africa!
“2 wheels + 2 legs = fitness + utter relaxation + sheer joy.” her brother Bwak told her again in her living room, his wide grin splashed all over his face. He seemed happier about his new-found cycling passion than the rice and beef stew that she had prepared for him.
“You should meet Ben, the guy I bought my bike from!” he said as he added more beef stew, “he is so passionate about bikes and cycling! He is one of those rare people who is literally earning a decent living from his passion.”
That’s the moment Grace decided to buy a bike. But since she never, ever buys anything that hasn't passed through the rigorous conveyor belt of her budget, she decided that she would buy the bike from her Mhasibu sacco dividends, which were due months later. That’s how in April 2020, her dividends came with the tag ‘bike’ attached to them. She then trooped to Ben’s bike place with her husband Pius and bought a bike. She named it Diamond. That way, a girl’s best friend would be a diamond on two wheels.
When Grace rode that bike for the first time the following day, memories of Muchilwa flooded her mind. He was such a great guy. A lover of the outdoors and of people. Gone too soon.
She felt that cycling was also a way of honoring him plus all the thousands of cyclists who ride along Kenya’s roads, tracks and rugged pathways. How she wished that all Kenyan roads especially in Nairobi would have clearly designated cycling lanes. How awesome that would be! President Kenyatta, there is still time to make this part of your legacy...
Two months later, Pius also got his bike from Ben. Something interesting happened after that.
Pius and Grace started cycling together every Saturday, all the way from Muthiga their home to Ndunyu in Dagoretti. There is a section along this route that consists of four steep hills.
The second time when they went for their joint rides was so exhilarating and emotional for Grace. She was riding down the second hill when she started reflecting on her life. Those sweet childhood memories of running errands on a bike; her days in Buru Buru 1 Primary school where her precious papa taught her Music; those fun-filled teenage years at St. George’s Girls’ Secondary School in Nairobi; her young-adult days at Strathmore where she studied accounts; hiking Mt. Kenya to celebrate her 30th birthday; her wedding to Pius when she had said I do. All these memories trickled into her mind as she pedaled away, up and down those four hills.
As she rode up the final hill, the smiling face of her one-year old baby Adde O.K descended into her mind, as if straight from heaven. Tears started streaming down Grace’s face. That boy was her life. Her very heartbeat. Her dream come true. Her everything. The tears streaming down her face were an overflow of the deep gratitude in her heart. Gratitude to God for holding her hand as she rode through the bumps, valleys, hills and highways of life.
On the third joint ride a week later, Grace and Pius alighted from their bikes at one point to cool off and buy sugarcane from a jovial lady who sold them by the dusty roadside. They realized that this sugarcane was a natural energizer! Besides, the break gave them time to talk about their marriage, their dreams, their kids, the twists and turns of their lives. And so the sugarcane break became a highlight of their rides. Interestingly, those conversations were relaxing and nourishing, not dry and bitter.
It’s almost impossible to snipe at your spouse when you have just finished panting across four steep hills and are about to repeat that all over again on the ride back! At that sugarcane point, you are celebrating a recent triumph over the hills and anticipating an imminent conquest of those same hills. Your immediate goals are so focused that they leave no room for trivialities to sneak into your mind.
After the sugarcane break, they both mount their bikes and resume the ride. She feels safe with him riding with her. He feels happy when he looks up and sees her two wheels churning in front of him although he doesn’t like how she waves at every cyclist! But that’s his wife. If she could, she would greet every human being that she meets every day.
This couple knows that joint recreational activities create sparks of love and replenish relationships.
As they ride down the fourth hill, on the ride back home, Grace looks back at her husband and flashes her 1000-watt smile. He smiles back. Their eyes interlock for a moment. Their four wheels witness a moment of intense love that leaves their marriage a little more nourished.