Monday, October 27, 2008

A Sign

I had a wonderful experience yesterday.

Lately, I have been going to a local bike shop (Hersan's Bike Shop) to get tune-ups and whatnot's for my bike. The patrons mentioned that they go on weekly rides early Sunday morning, led by Hersan himself. I decided to join them this past Sunday, not really knowing what I was getting into.

Starting at 6:30AM should have been the first sign. Usually at 6:30, I have been sleeping soundly for about 4 hours and looking forward to another 5, not rudely waking myself up for a ride. However, I told myself that I would join this tour, as it were, and try to gain some biking experience.

When I arrived at 6:30AM (I was told promptness was imperative), they were pulling away from the storefront. They, decked out in full lycra gear, riding road bikes, looked speedy and zoomy. I, on the other hand, was wearing surf shorts, straddling my mountain bike. Sign two.

They started through the roads and I was keeping up. Little did I realize that I was keeping up due to the red traffic lights. Sign 3: you don't actually see the people you are riding with. Once we hit the river trails, they were gone. Literally out of sight, I was left thinking, "It's 6:45AM and these guys left me. What am I doing?! I'll head back home and back to sleep." But for some masochistic reason, I continued on. Hersan, possibly used to newbies' slow pace, fell back and urged me on. I think there was another guy behind me, but when you're playing catch-up on a bike, you're not really thinking.

Luckily the group stopped (out of pity?) every once in a while to rest and consolidate (and to take pictures of the laggards for their album of laughs, I'm sure). We rode on past through Muzha, past the zoo, to a hive of biking activity. I'm not sure exactly where it is, but it is an intersection marked with a 7-11 and road signs that should read "steep hills, it's too early, go home." Instead, it says, Pingshi and some other far off destinations. Bikers of all sorts congregate here, as it is the starting point for the challenging and fun rides on bicycles as well as motorcycles.

By this time, we had been riding for about an hour and I was tired. Little did I know that we had just begun the ride. Uphill we went for what seemed like eternity, my legs and back and ass hurt, as did my pride. I mean some of these guys were pushing old age, and they could lap me in their sleep. Hersan must have been able to sense that I was a weak link.

I am not proud about what I am about to say, but Hersan (or Heman) actually pushed me up the hills. On his bike, he rode at about my 8 o'clock, right arm on my lower back, forcing me up the mountain of hell. Another skillful rider, who would switch with the push-the-bitch-up-the-mountain duty, sometimes worked in tandem with Hersan to push me up. I felt like a fool and at times wanted to get off and walk.

But I thought to myself, "These guys are pushing this fool, whom they don't even know, up a mountain and probably hate this fool, but aren't giving up, so how can this fool give up?" "This fool," being me, also had thoughts of wanting to die, to ride off the cliff, and other escape tactics the self-preservation voice usually keeps you from doing. I think that voice was tired.

The uphill was only 5km. But it felt like forever. After every turn, I would see more up, a turn, then more up. Occasionally I was able to peek at the beautiful scenery but would instantly feel guilty taking pleasure in the sights while these Taiwanese Sherpas pushed my ass up the inclines.

"Almost there," Hersan kept on saying. "Almost there."

I kept on pedaling, moving my feet in small circles hoping to get up and over this climb.

"Only 4 more km," he would say. "3km."

Then it was two, and then one. Then it was, even, I mean level road which at this point, still hurt to ride. Eventually, we ran into the others, gleefully sipping their water and eating crackers, almost falling asleep waiting for us. I did not feel shame. I did not feel self-conscious at all. I did not feel a thing.

Except the burning in my ass. Struggling up that hill was torture and the repeated motion had been effectively grinding my ass into my seat.

But from what I collected, we would now have the dessert: downhill. All that time going up, naturally we must go down, and down we did go. Zooming down on early morning mountain roads is a cool rush after such an ordeal as I have just described. I felt high, zooming past small shops that I now had the consciousness to notice.

People seemed nicer, nodding to me as I passed them, as if somehow I had gained champion status by coming down as they were on the way up, as if, knowing that I had made it to the top before them, I was a hero in their eyes, as if they knew the joy of coasting down after a long ride up, as if we shared, if for a moment, the bond that bikers share, as if they didn't know I had been pushed up by my faithful leader. Which of course they didn't, so I waved back as if I was the champion they thought I was. What a way to end a ride!

But it wasn't over. After kilometers of refreshing turns and cool mountain breeze drying my hard-earned sweat (and I'm sure the sweat of the hands that aided me), I was riding past Wulai and into Xindian, brought back down to reality and pedaling for motion again. Hersan told me the others would be separating on their way home. He invited me to join them next time. I thanked him genuinely as he rode off into the sun.

The heavy weight that reality gave to my legs kicked in the search for other options of getting home. Being familiar ground, I knew that Xindian had many MRT (subway) stations that I could conveniently dip into and ride on home. Again, I had no shame; no embarrassment. Nobody knew what happened up in those cold lonely mountains, two sweaty chest-heaving men, sometimes three. Pride no longer a consideration, I wanted to travel path of least resistance. I paid my 80NT, hopped on the train and was home bound.


Today, I feel fine, legs a little sore, and so is my pride. But I realized some things.

One, I am not as in shape as I thought or should be. Boy was I mistaken when I thought I was good at biking. I have much to learn and loads of endurance to gain. I am a shame to myself.

Two, Hersan was willing to help someone he barely knows. Not just help, but physically push them up a mountain. I can see no reason except a pure love of what he does. He has such passion for biking and therefore the people that bike, that he does so much for them. When I go to his shop, he will do repairs for nothing. I offer money, but he refuses.

Three, signs come in many shapes and forms. Whatever package, if you are paying attention, you get the message. Hersan's kindness and selflessness has shown me than I too, should try to help others.

Four, that if the world has people like him, then all is not lost. That it is worth working for. For every person doing intentional harm to others, there are those fighting the good fight, in their own way, be it stopping corruption, finding ways to lessen CO2, working in a food kitchen, providing aid to disaster sufferers, or pushing some clueless waiguoren up a mountain on a Sunday morning.

P.S. If you are ever in Banqiao, I highly recommend you visit his shop (if you read Chinese, go here) His shop is listed on Formosan Fat Tire, a foreign-made Taiwan bike website.

P.S.S. Hersan is in the forefront in the white jersey in the above picture. I am near the dog, leant over seeing if my balls are still intact.

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