Growing up in a city of endless roads and freeways, sitting in the passenger seat of my family’s minivan was a constant. With the vast distance between each location in San Jose, there was little sense to do anything but drive. Yet, in small pockets of my childhood, I biked around the park near my apartment or the local lake. Though never my main mode of transportation, biking represented moments of comfort and care where I bonded with my father.
One moment in particular that stands out was the day my dad took off my training wheels. After practicing with him around the neighborhood, he decided I was finally ready to ride on my own. Equipped with a helmet and my new two-wheeled bike, we set off to the neighborhood park where I would begin my journey into independence.
Standing by my side, he held onto the handles of my bicycle as we traversed the uneven sidewalks together. With each pedal, my bike lurched forward, threatening to knock me down as I ran over cracks and pebbles. Even so, his tight grip guided my movements, keeping me upright through every unstable moment. Through this, I gained more confidence in the process and in myself, which caused my dad to lessen his grip with each minute that passed.
Then, he let go.
I remember the feeling of adrenaline rushing through me as the wind hit my face. Reaching speeds never felt before, I pedaled as fast as I could, blazing through the park as my dad cheered from a distance.
Unfortunately, my excitement quickly halted as I found myself in a shrub moments later. Covered in dirt and scrapes, I spent the next few minutes crying in my dad’s arms, comforted by his embrace. This would be the first of many failures in my biking career.
The time I spent at the park with my dad grew scarce as I got older. My old bike lay abandoned in the backyard, our moments together faded into the background.
However, once COVID-19 hit, I rekindled my childhood pastime. With too much time and too little to do, I began to bike. We had moved away from my childhood apartment, so the park was no longer across the street. Instead, I rode my bike around the neighborhood, passing corners and streets I’d never seen. Reminiscent of our time so many years ago, my dad would often stand in our front yard to watch me as I biked. His main priority was making sure I was alright, which has been the case since my shrub days were long behind me.
Despite the experience I gained over the pandemic, my transition into Stanford was not easy. Dozens of bikes whizzing past at any given moment, the streets surrounding campus an unfamiliar sight, the empty sidewalks I once rode now crowded bike lanes filled with cars and people to dodge. Going long distances like never before, I struggled to find my pace on campus. Nothing about biking was accommodating, which mirrored my experience in college as a whole.
Despite this, I continued to attend classes and bike each day, even as Stanford continued to throw challenges at me. Simple tasks, like locking my bike, proved, at times, impossible. I was often left with a tangle of wires, which was not ideal when I was already running late to class. Yet, with each day, I improved.
As I landed into a routine, I could feel the weight of the world lifting off my shoulders, even if slowly. At any given moment, I am either biking to class or studying in random corners of campus. Dodging traffic and pedestrians became as natural as turning in assignments. Occasionally, I may be seen riding back from the package center or the bookstore, carrying an impressive (if not outrageous) amount of stuff on my bike. What once was a daunting task has become normal — my new normal. While life here is still very difficult, I found a rhythm in the chaos, making space for myself in places I never expected.
Still, it wasn’t perfect. Even with my newfound confidence, life found a way to knock me down as I found myself in the shrubs once again. But, instead of my father’s arms, I was met with indifference, laying inside of a rose bush in front of the history corner. As the thorns cut into my skin, everything that I seemed to have built for myself crashed in an instant.
But, I would get up, just as I had done before. With the help of a kind stranger, I pulled myself out of the bush and brushed myself off. I called my parents over FaceTime, of course, yearning for their comforting words as I struggled to keep myself together. As they spoke, I felt their embrace, even miles away from home.
To me, biking represented my journey through college and adulthood. It was never a linear progression, but rather an ever changing process of growth and failure. Even as I learned to navigate the roundabouts and traffic, there were still days where I ended up in front of the Marguerite unsuspectingly, pedaling for my life when I realized that I could be run over at any given moment. But, that’s the beauty of biking — and of living — at Stanford. It is never what you expect it to be.