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Confucius said: The man who says he can, and the man who says he can not… Are both correct.

I’m a long-lived woman and walking fit. I can cover 20km per day without much effort. This made my fellow-teachers at Yusan school think I can do anything physical and they entered me into a 60km cycling race and gave me seven weeks to train. I like a physical challenge so I did not put up a too big fight.

What they don’t know is that in my entire life I have probably only cycled about 1 km, total, ever. I know nothing about bicycles. None of my three ‘partners in crime’ live near me so all the training I’m going to do is on my own.  But no surprises here: as the word spread about my latest crazy adventure, so the support grew. The P E teacher at Nanhua school offered to be my physical trainer, strengthening my core etc. She got a past-student, one of the most gorgeous boys I have ever seen, to go cycling with me and do that part of the training. The maths teacher lent me his 39-speed racing bike. One of the admin ladies at Nanhua school didn’t offer, but told me she was going to drive me to the event on the day and back home again. This event was about 400km from where we live.

With so many supporters cheering for me I stared training in all seriousness. To ride a bicycle in my area is not easy unless you are either very confident or have a death wish. The Nanhua village where I live is set in a depression at the foot of a 663m high mountain, and surrounded by hills of various sizes. The only way in and out and through the village is by two major roads with four lanes that carry heavy, and often speeding traffic, including very big trucks. These roads were not built for pedestrians and cyclists but for typhoons. There is no shoulder on these roads, instead they have a metre deep and about a 60cm wide gulley on either side to take to typhoon rains off the road surface as quickly as possible. Although two of my schools are on this road, and 6 and 8 km away respectively, there is no way pedestrians and budding cyclists can safely walk and ride here in a state of meditation. The alternative training route is to cross these main roads and ride on the much smaller and very winding roads among the farms. Here the problem is that you immediately start climbing the mountain or one of the hills. The roads take you to the top in about 4km and with many hairpin bends. It’s steep but it does offer breathtaking beautiful views when you rest around every corner. 

So I decide on the steep option for my training. The bicycle and I bond over many kilometres and hours spent together. I cover lots of ground, alone. I think the thought of spending lots of time alone in nature with a fit middle-aged women scared the life out of the gorgeous boy. He never showed up. 

As I said the bicycle and I bonded well but one day it let me down. I’m the only one who rides it and it’s stored at my unit. Nobody ever touches that bike except me. This particular afternoon I took the bike out and when I got on it felt strange. I started riding thinking I’ll figure out the problem as I go along. When I wanted to change gears the first time, I realised it’s not my imagination, something is wrong. The numbers are all upside down. To use the brakes are a mission now, and never before have my shoes scraped against the front wheel. I keep going but slowly, and several times I stopped to see if I can see the problem, but everything looks ok it just feels uncomfortable.  I decide to just ride around the village and call it a day. On returning to school, as I wanted to turn into the school grounds, I find another problem: the front wheel won’t turn to the right. So I get off and push the bike back home. On campus I meet up with the admin lady who said she will drive me to the race and I tell her I don’t understand what happened to the bike, it just won’t work today. Without saying a word, she takes the handle bars from me and swivels them around and just like, that all is where and how it should be. I was flabbergasted and then, thinking what I must have looked like if anyone was watching me ride around, I laughed, so much my stomach hurt. The admin lady probably did not have much hope for me to ever finish a cycling race. She was very gracious and did not even laugh. 

Knowing everyone likes a good laugh I decided to share this moment with the P E teacher the following day. Her English is limited so I take her to a bike to tell the story so I can demonstrate it. I show and tell and she is so totally intrigued. She doesn’t laugh either, in stead she stands there swivelling the handle bars and looking at the bike. She says she did not know a bike can do that. Oh happy day, I’m not alone in my ignorance. 

For the next weeks my training went well. I was doing lots of stair work when all the students had left the campus and on days it was raining. I would cycle, groan, pant, and suffer up those hills and that mountain, but I kept at it. 

It all payed off. On the day I was very nervous, so nervous I was vomiting behind a shrub when the starter-gun went off. I suffered less than other riders up a hill of about 5 km, the rest was ok and I brought home a medal.  

What the heck is wrong with this bike today?

That’s more like the bike I know.