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I Learned How to Bike as an Adult in the Most Unlikely of Places
On trying new things, conquering fears, & learning to believe in yourself

Posted by Samiha from Burdie.co

April 2019

At 19, I was a bit older than the age when most people learn crucial skills like swimming, driving, and talking to others without hyperventilating. Curiously, as I write this, I still have yet to master any of these. But on that day, something was different; time was nearly infinite. I was in my element: thousands of miles from anyplace I call home, with limited wifi access, staying in a hut just steps from the ocean.

Orange & blue sunset over mountains, with a small boat on the ocean in forefront
Sunset on Lombok as seen from our accommodations in Gili Air.
I was on Gili Air, an island best known for its proximity to Bali, Indonesia, popular among surfers and divers from all over the world. Riding a bicycle is not at all the kind of skill one goes to Gili to learn. Instead, one can take classes in surfing, diving, or Indonesian cooking. So, as far as I knew, Gili was just one of many stops on my first round-the-globe trip with my big brother (and Burdie co-founder) Hasin. All I expected to do was lay in the sun, eat yummy food, and stay off Instagram. Never could I have anticipated that this would be the place where I would learn to challenge myself.

Trying New Things

Man sits on bamboo stairs in daytime with the ocean in the background
Burdie.co co-founder Hasin sits on the steps leading up to our bamboo balcony. Peep how close our hut was to the water!

It had been a day or two since a speedboat had dropped us off at Gili Air. We had already learned that the beaches were too pebbly for lounging and that most restaurants catered to the tourist-family crowd, mainly serving overpriced American and European food. And after being on the road for several weeks, we really just craved something new to do.

That’s when we saw the bikes. They stood glimmering under the afternoon sun in a shop across from our hut hotel, just waiting to be rented out for adventures around the car-free island. I picked out a bike in red and pushed it over to a small clearing in front of our hut, right by the water. This is where, as determined by my big brother, I was going to learn to balance on two wheels and he was going to be my instructor. I was mortified, but I had nothing to lose.

We spent hours under the scorching sun. Hasin showed me tactic after tactic of pushing off with my foot and balancing. I painstakingly pedaled from one side of the clearing to the other over and over again, my eyes tearing up. Local kids watched me from a distance, snickering at how much trouble I was having with something they did with their eyes closed. After so many hours in the sun, I felt tired and hopeless—if I can’t do something as simple as this, what can I do? By dinnertime I still hadn’t got the hang of it. Tomorrow, said Hasin.

Conquering Fears

On my second day of bicycling lessons, I realized that maybe the skill was difficult for me to learn because I was so scared of what could happen. I could fall over. I could get hurt. I could look silly. Yet, by acknowledging my fears I was actually forced to face them. I was forced to accept that, yes, things could turn sour really quickly, but so what?

We took a break to reflect on our progress and to read how-to-bike articles at a nearby warung. It was clear that I had to keep practicing as much as possible, even if I failed. After several more sweaty hours in the sun, I was finally getting the hang of it. I was pushing off with my foot and staying balanced. I was riding a bike.

A blue boat docked on the shores of blue waters, several boats stand in the background against clear blue skies
A photo I took during my first ever bike ride! I loved all the shades of blue.

We went on a ride circling the perimeter of the small island, and I really don’t remember much from it because I was still so scared. What I do remember is the warm breeze rolling over my skin, going through my hair. That feeling of sunshine on my back continues to be one of my favorite sensations.

I had done it. I felt accomplished in a very personal way. It was a pretty smooth ride, until the end, when I almost crashed into a horse. (Horse and I were both fine—I’d like to think we were both equally embarrassed.)

Believing

Sunset from our porch after several long days of learning. Look closely and you can see my first bike.
By our last day on the island, I was actually riding a bike, something I had always wanted to do, but thought impossible. But I did it; with a rusty bike on a coral-covered beach on Gili Air, I finally learned to utilize my body in a way that I never envisioned. In some ways, it was one of the greatest days of my life, because, gliding down the sandy roads of Gili Air, I felt like I could do anything for the first time in my life. Of course I’m still scared to do many things, such as riding a bike in New York City or writing about my life on the internet. But it’s ok, because now I know I can do it all. It’s just a matter of finding the right moment and the right place.

Do you have a story of facing something new and scary while traveling? Drop it in the comments for a virtual high five. 🙏

Samiha is the co-founder of Burdie.co, a seasoned traveler, and a decent bicyclist. Follow her adventures @redmotorazr.