THERE’S a woman I see around Cork regularly and I’m a tiny bit in love with her.
Back straight, head high, she is always dressed smartly in a sort of continental way.
You know the kind of outfit I mean. Crisp things in monochrome that make Irish women (me, anyway) look like wrinkly spuds. Comfortable but chic shoes.
She ducks around me as I sit, sweaty, in a car on Penrose Wharf with a shouting toddler and a crying baby amid the smell of mushed up crackers and old milk.
She glides past me as I plod lopsidedly along MacCurtain Street, weighed down on one side by my bag and on the other by my dodgy hip, joints crunching as I pound the ground.
How I envy her.
I am earthbound, every footstep bringing me crashing back to the reality of angry knees and hips and ankles and back.
So, I make a resolution. I will learn to fly like her.
I flew as a child, for miles around my mountaintop village. I freewheeled down boreens on summer days to visit friends miles away and returned in the dusk, panting uphill, slapping away midges aiming for my mouth. I stood, pedalling furiously all the way up wood-shaded hillsides to the open sky.
I want to fly again, around the potholes and kerbs and lampposts and left-out bins of the city.
I want to fly around fume-belching trucks and angry commuters and harassed trudgers.
I have done things that scared me. I have given birth to two children. I have driven in capital cities. I will do another thing that scares me and I will cycle a bike on Cork’s busy streets, and I will soar like that woman, whose life I imagine is simple and fuss-free, unlike my odd-sock strewn, banana at the bottom-of-the-bag muddle.
Signing up to the coke bike scheme is a simple thing.
The card arrives and I tuck it in my wallet and on day two of my return from maternity leave I get off the train and tense with trepidation, I approach the bike stand.
Hold your card under the screen.
I hold it under the screen in four different places until I find the right one. A man smoking nearby is watching me. I avoid his eye.
Put in your PIN. I remember the PIN. If I forgot the PIN that card would go back in the bag and join the detritus at the bottom to be thrown out in the next major cull.
Choose your bike.
I didn’t expect to have a choice. Panicking, I look up and down the row of bikes. Some are wet.
Some look like the seats are too high. I need to be able to stop suddenly, get my feet back on the ground. I find one suited to a low sized, nervous rider, I think.
I wheel it, heavily, awkwardly, round. I look around Kent Station for the safest access point to the cycle lane I know is outside the entrance. I get up on the bike, fix my handbag in the gammy elastic of the not-really-a-basket, and remind myself I’ve known how to do this since my dad pushed me down the street on my pink tricycle when I was six years old.
At first I think the bike won’t even move. It’s too heavy and I am unfit and oh god this was an awful mistake, everyone is looking at you.
But I can’t see any faces among in the early morning, head down trudgers from the train to the town and I put my own head down and pedal and… ohhhh.
There it is.
I am moving. Effortfully, I am up the hill and onto the cycle lane and then the hill peaks and here, here, I am laughing as I coast down towards… hang on… a car… stop.
It’s a short journey from Kent Station to 96fm in Wellington Road via Cork Coffee Roasters but there is a decision to be made every 10 seconds.
A micro decision. On or off the cycle lane? Can I cycle fast enough to overtake that pedestrian?
Will I fit around that lamp post in the lane with another bike approaching, with a real cyclist on board? Is that a truck behind me?
If I stay on the pavement I am breaking the law.
If I get into the road I am going the wrong way down a one way street and anyway law aside, that truck will crush me. If I get into the cycle lane I will be on the wrong side of the road to turn right onto the quays and the truck will definitely get me.
In what feels like 100 tiny decisions later but takes four minutes, heart thumping, head pounding, legs wobbling, I have arrived at my destination… 700m away.
The next day I do it again. And the next.
By day five I am confident enough to cycle across the river at lunchtime for a burrito. Cycling on the road, in traffic, stopping at red lights when a ‘real’ cyclist would zip between cars.
I am in no hurry. I’m exhilarated by the wind in my hair and the feeling of weightlessness. I cannot walk far. My pain traps me in a ten minute circumference.
But on the bike I am weightless and free.
I am terrified, but I am free.