When I first started road biking, I was afraid of the hills. I was in some shape, but clipping in meant that even if I had more power to push and pull, I would pay for the strength at the risk of immobility. 

I worried that I’d slow too far down, run out of gears, and fall over in my clips on the road. That’s exactly what happened the first time I rode “the dump loop,” a popular rolling route in my town. 

Toward the middle of the loop, after miles of rolling hills and moderate climbs, there’s a pitch at the end where cars slow down on approach for fear of what’s popping over the top. 

You don’t understand its incline until you are on it. 

Sure enough, I ran out of gears. 

I tried to stand and ride. I lifted in my clips. I pushed, but I waited too long to unclip and got stuck in the hill’s elevation midstride. I balanced for a split second, thinking: gravel or pavement? To my left, blacktop; to my right, a sharp descent of gravel leading to a rock and weed-filled ditchbank.

I leaned and landed in the road. Uninjured, I unclipped, picked up my bike, and walked it to the top.

I could have pulled out of that predicament sooner.

I could have shut down the stubborn and waited until I was stronger to ride the route.

But my real mistake was that I hadn’t saved a gear. 

When the going got tough, my choices ran out. I was literally stuck. If I had just one more gear to engage, the fight would have been easier on my body, but the fight needed to be easier in my head. I needed to know I had one more gear, a place to go, a shift I could choose.

When I ride that route now, I count gears. I gear down on the incline, counting to make sure I have one gear left. Sometimes I even gear to the depth of my sprocket, then click back up one, just to make sure it’s there.

We have to save something for when we are out of gears. 

For when we don’t understand the incline until we are on it.

Lately I’ve noticed a scarcity mindset in my community and a deficit mindset in my work. I have worried about what I am losing, what I might be losing, what I need but may not have. I smell fear and limited information in places where transparency and confidence used to ride on the air. We are right to juggle concern, but we might not want to stay clipped in.

I want to save a gear I can control: the last online teaching idea download, another example of a lesson plan for my students, the bar of chocolate in a Ziploc so the ants can’t get it, a friend who knows my history, the gut-punch article to end a wonky semester, an extra bag of chips in the office closet.  

Keep a gear as the school year ends. Just knowing that we have it makes the climbs easier.

Published On: April 28th, 2020 / Categories: Blog /