My families’ tire prints squished into the track and left a groove behind us. Beginning in Amsterdam, we had stepped on our pedals, pushing off into the uncertain. Yet, we moved easily towards The North Sea. Balancing a bike is so effortless. My son, Zion, just turned six and is on a brand new CUBE Acid 200 bike. He loves it because it’s blue.
“I don’t have gears Mom!” He yelled as he flew in front of my husband and parents. “Instead, I have engine changers! Watch this!” I watched him gear down, stand up and pass what seemed like thousands of Dutch cyclists. I gave my husband, Mike, a look that questioned: “What have we gotten ourselves into?” But I knew. We were three generations embarking on a 110-day trip across Europe.
I also knew that when I am outside, I’m the best version of myself. I am free, wild, happy and fulfilled. Dr. Stuart Brown says, “Play shapes our brain, helps us foster empathy, helps us navigate complex social groups, and is at the core of creativity and innovation.” Play for me happens in the wilderness. And much of that play for me in my life was epic experiences. Big remote races around the world that lasted for days.
My legs have been in pain for a year now. Instead of obtaining women’s records, on good days I can bike easier flat rides, while on bad days I can’t walk. Before buying my CUBE Reaction e-Bike, if I biked two days in a row, then I usually couldn’t ride for a couple of weeks. I didn’t know anything about pedal-assist bikes when my husband, Mike, first introduced them to me.
“Katrina, I think we can still go on a cycle tour if you try an e-bike,” he had said, passing me a print out of what can only be described as a “granny bike.” (Not a Cube). I was skeptical. The whole idea of it was strange to me. Even the fact that it was Mike wanting to go. In our relationship, it had always been me pushing to bike, striving for more and further. When I was eleven I read a brilliant novel, The Power of One, and came away with the lesson, If you want something bad enough, just make it happen. Work hard, train hard and fight for it. But since my injury I was handed the question: “But what if what you want is never going to reach reality?”
I had identified with being an athlete and a hiking-guide. I had identified with being outside and spending as many days in a tent as I could. But now the athletic dreams and goals I had for my future most likely wouldn’t come true. So what could come true?
The granny bike wouldn’t do, but when I first rode the Cube Reaction on icy winter back lanes in Canada, joyful tears froze to my cheeks. It gave me the feeling I had been seeking. Freedom. I could bike again.
By the time we reached the fragrant tulip fields in Holland and slick cobblestone of Belgium, any anxiety and fears we had from cycle-touring as a family or concerns with my legs were squashed into the dirt and spun over by new tread. We plugged in my battery each night while camping or in small villages at lunch. Some days, I could survive in Eco-mode and other days I needed Turbo-mode to make it to our next campground.
A month into our cycle-tour, I looked down at the map attached to my front handlebar bag. We had cycled amongst windmills, ate our share of chocolate waffles in Belgium and then biked down the La Meuse River in France. Leaving the river, we aimed for Switzerland. Navigating from a combination of paper maps, apps, Google and intuition, I didn’t always get it right. Trees became thicker and soon petered out to nothing. A dead end. No go. Must turn back. But I’m stubborn and got off my bike to nose around anyways, before breaking the news to my family, “Right-o, we have to turn around.” Nobody complained.
“But mom, are we going the right way?” My son asked, attached at that moment by the Follow- Me-Tandem.
“Well, honey, sometimes our paths turn into dead ends.” And I took the opportunity as a teaching moment. After all, my husband and I did take him out of kindergarten to bike around Europe with my parents. “The thing with dead ends is we can always turn around. We can start over. There is never anything wrong with coming up with a new plan,” I told my son.
The hill we had easily careened down earlier at 40 km/h was now a steep uphill and I heard Mike switching gears and huffing from the effort. “But mom, this hill’s not that hard at all,” he replied as we pretty much flew past my mom heading up. She laughed. It was moments like this I know she is happy for us, and also maybe a little bit jealous of my ride.
My bike on Turbo-mode made hills much easier. My legs, like life, needed a reset too. I had reached a dead end in their normal use and now ride a pedal-assist so I can start over and continue doing the things I love to do.
I thought I had to recreate what adventure was for me, that it had to become a state of mind and involve smaller movements, rather than a metaphor for epic and ridiculous. But the thing is, riding my Cube e-bike gives me as much joy as any other bike I have been on, perhaps even more so. With the power of one-battery, I can play.