Skinned Knees

By Abbie Walker

I was on vacation with a group of girlfriends when I fell off the bike.

The flat roads and large beaches make Hilton Head, South Carolina the perfect place for summer bike rides, and my friend Charlotte suggested we rent bikes while there in July. Not wanting to feel left out, I chimed in that I was game.

But here’s the thing: I’m afraid to ride a bike.

It’s not that I don’t know how. I spent most of my childhood zooming down the hills of my neighborhood on my favorite pink bike in nothing but a swimsuit. But one bad accident that sent me to the emergency room and left a scar above my lip has kept me off bikes for over a decade.

However, I was determined not to let my fear show as I adjusted the seat of the rent-a-bike and got on. I started pedaling slowly before taking off down the parking lot, feeling the wind in my hair and a sense of pride that I was actually doing something I’d been afraid of for so long.

But as I neared the boardwalk, I suddenly realized I didn’t know how to stop. There were no handle brakes and, though I knew in my mind all I had to do was pedal backwards to slow down, I panicked. My feet came off the pedals and I tried to hop off the bike, only to fall straight onto the pavement.

At first, the only thing that hurt was my pride. But as I stood up, I saw that the side of my leg was scratched raw, with a couple of deeper gashes near my ankle. And my thumb was already bleeding.

It was a humiliating trip down the mile-long boardwalk, but I swallowed the pain and walked the bike all the way to the beach. Knowing I was going to have to get it over with eventually, I made my way across the sand and stepped right into the ocean, letting the waves crash right over my wounds. I knew that the salt water would be the best way to clean it and start the healing process. But let’s be real: It hurt . . . A LOT.

I was suddenly crying behind my sunglasses. Because, yeah, my body was in pain. But I was also so mad at myself for failing at something I should’ve been able to do.  

The day before our trip, I sat down with a coworker of mine who just graduated with her master’s in writing for children and young adults. I had sent her a draft of a YA book I’ve been working on to get some feedback, but I hadn’t expected her to get back with me so soon.

I pulled up her notes and saw long paragraphs about characters and setting and plot--way more notes than I was expecting. I instantly felt queasy. Because this wasn’t my first draft. I’d been working on this story on and off for years, and after several runs of revisions and critique partners, I finally felt like I was in a place where all I needed was some last-minute editing.

“It’s getting there,” my friend said. “You just need to rethink some things. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be a quick fix.”

My bike accident was on the first full day of our trip. Every time I went in the ocean, I was met with a stinging reminder of my failure, and each day became a routine of dressing my wounds. But I couldn’t help but ruminate over my book as well. I felt like a failure. I had set a goal for myself and I had yet to meet it. Maybe I would never get there. Maybe I needed to rethink this whole writing thing.

It wasn’t until the pain in my leg began to dull that my wounded ego started to heal as well.

And here’s what I realized: Things take time.

I have a nasty habit of measuring my life against other people’s journeys. I feel as if I need to reach a particular point before a certain age, holding myself to standards that are simply not realistic for me. And when I can’t keep up, when I don’t match other people’s timelines, I feel like I’ve failed.

But I’m learning to tune all that out and focus on my own pace.

I forced myself to get back on the bike that first day. I rode down the beach, bloody leg and all, and practiced breaking on the sand. I’m not there yet, I thought. But I’ll get there.

So here’s my advice to myself and you: Get back on the bike. Rewrite the book. That thing you think you’ve failed at? Try it again.

Because you can’t fail if you keep moving.

To read more of Abbie's writing, check out her website, abbiewalker.com

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