In an effort to bring you some new voices on Ottsworld, here is a guest post from a fellow adventurer and biker, Jennifer Coleman. As a side note, I will be taking off on my first bike tour this year – so I soaked up all of her recommendations on how to overcome biking fears! All opinions and experiences expressed here are hers. –Sherry
My love/hate relationship with biking sounds like a weather report – partly joyful with a chance of pain, sheer terror, and self-doubt. I have never been the fastest biker (or fastest anything really) and ended up in the hospital more than once from biking. My inner chick-brain was going nuts when I signed up for my first bike tour – a 4 day/150 mile journey down the coast of Thailand. Right after I agreed to go, I came up with hundreds of reasons not to go. How could I overcome my fears and experience this one-in-a-lifetime trip? Spoiler alert – it wasn’t easy.
I Wasn’t Born to Bike
Like most Americans, I started biking as a kid but I never dreamed I would end up biking through Thailand. My childhood biking adventures weren’t filled with races down tree-lined streets. I crashed into a barbwire fence within the first month of riding and my bike sat neglected in the garage until I went to college.
I went to Western State College, a huge, hippie outdoors school in Gunnison Colorado where everybody got outdoors whenever possible. Gunnison is known as the coldest place in America, which was fine with me. I came for the skiing. My bike was just transportation to the slopes. I put on studded snow tires and peddled at the crack of dawn to the gas station at the edge of Gunnison, where I could catch a ride to the slopes. It was cold, miserable biking, but I would do anything for skiing.
I kept biking during the beautiful Colorado summers as penance for losing the genetic lottery. You see, there are two types of women in the world – labradors and greyhounds. Greyhounds can eat anything they want and always remain slim and sleek. That wasn’t the case with my labrador body. I have been fighting weight for as long as I can remember.
Bruised Ego, Broken Cheek and Biking Bangkok
In elementary school, my nickname was Miss Piggy. The refined intellect of high school only led to more creative taunts like hungry, hungry heifer. The worst was, after my father’s suicide several kids told me if they had a kid as fat and ugly as I was, they would kill themselves too. This bullying hurt more than being picked last for every sport and created a negative soundtrack that still echoes through my brain.
In retrospect, I really wasn’t that heavy then either. However, after puberty, my adult body found a real propensity for packing on pounds, yet I found I was an animal on the ski slopes. I dropped steep chutes and pounded moguls with reckless abandon. I skied for the highly competitive Winter Park / Mary Jane Freestyle Team and went on to pro-patrol and teach adult advanced classes in powder, moguls, and steeps. When summer came, it was all I could do to win the battle of the bulge.
As a broke ski bum, my options were limited. I started teaching fitness and personal training at the Silverthorne Recreation Center. As it turned out, weight lifting suited me well. My labrador body can really pump iron and, one time, everybody stopped to cheer for me when I banged out twenty chin-ups in a row at a Marine Recruiting Booth. I qualified to be a male marine and have the t-shirt to prove it! For cardio, I biked.
I tried mountain biking, until I endo-ed over the handlebars and faced it into a rock. I broke my cheekbone and cracked into my eye orbital. I would have never imagined getting back on a bike, much less biking in Bangkok. I decided road biking was more my speed and even got the advanced gear, like clipless pedals, that lasted for all of one month. For some weird name reason, clipless pedals are the ones that you clip your shoes into and twist to release. That twist doesn’t come naturally and on an early ride, I slowly fell in front of a truck full of firemen because I couldn’t release from my pedals. They thought that was hilarious, until they realized I would need surgery to fix the damage to my wrist.
Dreaming of Thailand Bike Tours
Fast forwarding to my adult life, I learned to love riding but I ride on my terms and my pace. I will never be comfortable riding close enough to draft, and I don’t ride that fast anyway. I can routinely go 20-30 miles with a daily maximum of 50, but I will only ride at 14 miles an hour. Slow and steady is my game. No wonder my nickname is Pokey. Could I even hang with the group when I will be repeating my maximum distance on every day of the ride in the tropical heat of Thailand?
At this point, you might be asking yourself why I even signed up for the bike tour in the first place? I love the scenery rolling by me and the feel of the wind in my hair. It’s also one of the joys my husband and I share. On our second date, we biked 30 miles together down the Rialto River trail in Tucson and have been riding together ever since. Even though he could bang out a hundred miles on any given day, he is perfectly happy just cruising along with me and yapping away in my ear.
A presentation at a local travel show inspired us to bike tour in Southeast Asia. Now It was only a matter of picking the right route and company. We choose Grasshopper Tours because they were highly rated and local to Southeast Asia. They offered off-road treks in the north that weaved through rice paddies that sounded beautiful, but I didn’t want to fracture my face on vacation like I did the last time I rode a mountain bike. Their most popular route was climbing the hills around Phuket, but hill climbing and 90 mile days together didn’t seem like fun to me. In the end, we selected their Cruising the Coast to Samui route that had reasonable daily mileage and plenty of fun, off bike activities during the ride.
Preparing to Bike Thailand
With our tour date set, I needed to get back in biking shape. Blogging took its toll on my body. For every picture you see of some amazing adventure, there were countless hours spent in front of the computer pitching vendors, planning trips, editing photos, pimping social media, and writing stories. There is an industry truism about your freshman fifteen weight gain your first year blogging and I was feeling that, plus some. I felt hardly ready for biking in Thailand.
We rode a bit, but not enough that I felt really felt comfortable pumping out that kind of mileage. The negative whispers in my brain raised to a full cacophony of chiding before the trip. If we hadn’t already booked everything, I would have been very tempted to back out. As it was, my FOMO and fear of wasting money were stronger. Still, it’s not always a good thing when even your fears have fears.
Pretty soon, we were on a plane and then in Thailand. The tour company met us at our hotel and we were off. I could feel the fear rolling up in my stomach in waves of nausea. I didn’t want to be ridiculed by the group or forced into the support van like a loser. We hopped into the van and counted the bikes in the back – one, two, three. Nobody else signed up for our trip so we were on a private ride with just the guide and support driver.
Facing My Biking Fears on the Roads of Thailand
My losing the genetic lottery doesn’t stop with weight. My ape index is so low my spirit animal is a T-Rex. Also, I had a rotation issue on my knees that forced ten surgeries with the last two being full knee replacements. My bike at home is highly customized for my needs. It took our guide an hour and two headsets to make the geometry on the rental bike tolerable.
Like so many fears, the demons in your imagination are worse than they are in real life. The mileage flowed by, softened with large stunning scenery, intriguing pit stops, and the ever-present support van filled with our gear, fresh cold water, and copious amounts of snacks. We were lucky with the weather. We just missed a major storm system that left behind flooded fields and cool, overcast weather. The dreaded heat of Thailand was only a factor on the last day, but there was a steady supply of ice cold water in the support van to douse me with.
How did I overcome my fears and have the most amazing ride of my life? The trite answer would be – just do it, but that is only part of the story. It took considerable effort and careful planning to prepare for a bike tour and overcome everything I was feeling.
12 Steps to overcome biking fears and conquer Thailand
- Forgive your past self. You were never as bad as you remember and can always change.
- Forgive your detractors. For extra credit, try forgiving your tormentors too. They are flawed people in their own right and it’s their flaws that led to their cruelty.
- Turn off the negative soundtrack. It’s not doing you any good and it does no good to listen to it. You should be your own biggest fan.
- Remember your strengths. You might not do everything well, but you can surely do something extraordinary. This is a great way to drown out the negativity.
- Get outside of your comfort zone. Personal growth happens when you leave your comfort zone. Remember, it’s your comfort zone so take pride in everything you do to stretch it.
- Avoid the panic zone. No matter who you are or what you do, there will be things beyond your capability. Know your limits so you can have a successful adventure. I am so thankful that I chose the right tour in Thailand.
- Reward yourself with fun and beauty. I know there was no way I could have gone to the gym and ridden this kind of mileage. It was the beauty of Thailand and thrill of discovery that kept me peddling around the next bend.
- Prepare the worst but hope for the best. Even though I could have done more, my training rides were essential. It was no small matter that I could visualize myself getting stronger and faster after I completed each ride.
- Play your trump cards. I am not the fastest rider, but I am a great researcher. I found a highly rated company and selected an appropriate route. I also used my certified trainer skills to know exactly how I needed my bicycle configured.
- Accept help from others. This is one of the hardest lessons for me to learn. Help from others doesn’t mean that you are weak. Having a support van for the ride was amazing. A steady supply of ice cold water in the jungle is indescribably beautiful.
- Get back in the saddle. I had any number of reasons to quit biking forever. After each crash, I chose to brush myself off and get back on that bike.
- Just do it. Trite or not, the most important step of overcoming your fears is to actually face them. All the planning and preparation would have been for not if I let my fears win. Many times, you will find out that there really wasn’t anything to be afraid of in the first place.
Meet the Authors
Hi! We are Jenn and Ed, blogging at Coleman Concierge. Let us serve as your guide to help and inspire you to get out, expand your world, and to seek adventure, even in your own backyard. Currently, home is Orlando Florida, but we have lived all over the mountains, deserts, and beaches of the Western United States. Along with our perspective and personality, we strive to provide tools and tips for you to experience heightened adventure in your own life.