It's now one month into life in Bikeland and I am happy to report back that the novelty of 'de fiets' hasn't worn off - I'm still loving doing as the locals do and riding my bike everywhere! In this time, I have discovered muscles in my legs that I never knew existed and the full extent of my coordination and elegance (or lack thereof).
Now, I'm no stranger to a bike. I distinctly remember learning to ride at a very young age, especially the day my Dad removed the training wheels. I remember getting my all time favourite bike early in the morning on my 9th birthday - a pink and white Malvern Star - and happily riding it around the lounge room. I remember riding this same bike down our very steep gravel driveway AND throughout the hilly paddock. I remember Mitch and I even going through a bike riding phase while we were dating in high school - which involved riding from my parents house to the local McDonalds on a weekly basis. All of this I recall doing with great ease.
In the land of bikes and tall people however, I feel very much like a short (173cm doesn't seem quite as tall here as it is in Australia), sweaty, breathless and uncoordinated Aussie girl who is constantly choking on bugs. Yes, I do need to learn to shut my mouth while riding!!! I find myself constantly wondering... how do the Dutch do it? Dutch women seem to ride their bikes with such grace, while I find myself heaving, huffing and puffing every time I even look at a slight incline. Let me explain:
I leave home in the morning on my bike. In the first couple of weeks, I even bothered switching on the hair straightener to give my hair that extra straightening strength so that I might have some hope of turning up to uni looking respectable. I have since discovered though, that even my ghd is no match for the winds created when hurtling along on my bike at mighty speeds - mostly because I forget it has brakes. I ride along struggling to see with hair flapping in my face and with the aforementioned bugs that seem to miss everyone else but land directly in my mouth.
Before I know it, I've reached the 'hill' - the nasty incline where I glare at the people happily cruising down on the other side of the path while I pedal furiously with my legs burning and sweating madly (deeply regretting the 4 layers I thought would be necessary that morning), huffing and puffing while I'm being overtaken by Dutch ladies who just seem to glide up the same hill so effortlessly. After the 'hill', I come across a number of bike traffic lights. If you're at the start of the line, fantastic - you can put one leg on the curb and hold onto the pole which allows you to gently push yourself off when the lights turn green. If you're like me however, usually stuck at the back of the line (and often in the path of oncoming bicycles) and feeling short in comparison to the size of your bike, you pull up and struggle to get one foot on the ground without tipping over. When the light turns green, I try and take off too quickly and usually end up missing the pedal with one foot and find myself stuck in the middle of the road trying to push myself along with my feet like an oversized toddler on a trike. I soon regain my footing and happily cruise along until the next set of lights... and so the process starts again.
Hopping on / off my bike: apparently I do this like my bike is a horse. This is according to a little old Dutch man at a nearby bike store who was very excited to tell Mitch this fact while I was out of earshot test driving a bike. I swing my leg up over the back of the bike - I honestly thought this was how everyone does it!?!?! I'll blame my years of horse riding on that one! I am proud to say though, my mounting & dismounting skills have progressed quite a great deal since we arrived: I can now hop off my bike relatively gracefully to the side while it's still moving AND hop on resisting the urge to throw my leg over the back. I still haven't quite managed the pedal hop on though - this involves placing one foot on the pedal closest to you, taking off and then elegantly popping the other leg over and sitting down. I have tried, once but it didn't end pretty...
Ahhh... the joys of bike riding - turns out there's quite an art to it!!!