When I was little I remember when my mother told me it is time for me to lose my training wheels. We were living in Village Greens and having a bicycle seemed like the biggest luxury for a child. You could use it to get to the pool in about five minutes, go to soccer or baseball games, fly down the hill at warped speed, or just visit the other million kids in our neighborhood. A bicycle was the way to get to our oasis.
Being the youngest out of three, I was always given hand me downs. I never thought of it is as being a bad thing, because if my sister or brother ever had anything I wanted, I knew give it a few years and it would then be mine. The first bike I remember having that wasn’t one of those little three wheelers was my brother’s black bike. It had yellow on it and I thought it was the coolest thing since sliced bread. My mother had tried to teach my brother to ride without training wheels and I never remember her being completely successful at the task. However, with me I learned quickly.
As time when on and I entered my teen years biking became a less “cool” thing to do and after I was given my first real bike (not a hand me down), I quit riding. Although they say riding a bicycle is something you never forget how to do, I began to forget. It was okay with me because I soon learned about the speed of the New York City Transit System, as they get you places much quicker than the bike.
When I was about to enter college my parents decided it was time for me to learn something new, like driving. I was terrified of the thought of driving at first because for some unknown reason I was convinced that cars mysteriously burst into flames when you are on the highway. It is impossible to avoid highways, which made me think that I would easily have my car combust into flames. Nevertheless, my parents convinced me that in Wyoming (where I went to University), driving was a necessity. So a week before I went to school, I got my driving license. And after one amazing year of school my parents helped me purchase my first car (In which I still owe them a lot of money….thanks mom and dad!). Quack is an amazing car who got me everywhere, and with gas being as cheap as a dollar a gallon at that point, it was easy and cheap to get places.
However, the economy began to change….and gas went up to two dollars a gallon. I thought it was pretty ridiculous that they could charge so much for it. My mother brought me up always looking for ways to save money, so I began to do that. I decided that my solution would be to buy a new bicycle, and although it cost a lot up front, I would never need to put any gas in it.
I walked to the bicycle store knowing that I would have a new bike to bring home. Luckily the mountain bike that fit me best was in my favorite color. So that afternoon I went home with my pretty yellow Trek bike. That first few weeks I fell down several times as I was relearning how to ride it. I lived on the other side of town and rode my bike over the bridge everywhere. It brought me back to the days where bike riding made me feel so carefree.
However, when I finished college I moved to the suburbs of Denver where bike riding I found hard to get around everywhere. I felt it would be impossible to ride my bike to work (probably about 80 blocks), and to the store like I used to at college. So sadly, my bike sat more in the garage. It was taken out each year for the Tour de Fat in Fort Collins, and a few more times, but not much.
Moving to Samoa we were told we were going to get issued bikes. I marveled during training at the volunteers who rode their bikes everywhere and envied how easy it looked for them. We heard stories of those who travelled around both islands and marveled at their courage and strength of doing this feat, especially in the heat! Peace Corps did not anticipate such a small group coming in and so for a few vertically challenged people like myself, we were given bikes a little too big for us. We knew we would make due as we still were thrilled of the excitement of riding around Samoa on our bikes.
The Saturday before we were to swear in we met at the office to put together bikes. Some of the current volunteers I would consider to be bike experts and they showed us what to do at the various stations to put together the bikes. The first thing I learned was how to empty the box that contained the bike without losing the pieces. (This is a big enough feat for me.) We slowly learned how to put on the handlebars, pedals, kickstand and the bell for the bike. They double checked our work as they passed our bikes to the next station. Eventually we were able to get all nineteen bikes done in the crowded office.
I was a little intimidated of my bike at first. It looked so pretty and expensive and I hoped that I would not be the first to completely my break my bike! I finally determined that a trip to Elisa was the way to go to test out my strength. She was only about four or five villages away, so I was confident I would be able to make this excursion. I quickly learned that all the running I was doing in Upolu was not getting me in the shape for bike riding as when I arrived to Elisa’s fale (after asking everyone desperately in the village which one the Pisi Koa lived in and getting several different answers, even when I was right in front of her fale) I quickly collapsed in a chair in her room. I apparently was looking of complete exhaustion as she angled her fan directly at me and made sure I was drinking plenty of water. (Our PCMO, Teuila, would be proud of how amazing my Peace Corps sister was being of my health.)
Another day I got the courage to make the trek again, and this time extended it so I would visit Max as well. This time went amazingly well as I only had to walk up one hill during the entire trek. They both still made sure I was not completely out of breath before I would return home.
Training group 82 decided that we would spend New Years at the place where we could see the last sunset in the world, Falealupo. We knew that this destination was remote and only one bus a day would arrive there. Which is how we came up with the brilliant idea that all of us in Savai’i should ride our bikes to this destination. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to see the island in as different viewpoint than our normal crowded busses.
However, one day Ali took out her bike, and after riding in the heat, decided that this was not the best idea. The people on the north shore dropped out of the plan one by one. They began to make me feel unsure about myself doing the trip as I learned that my trip would be all up and down hills, and riding my bike for a minimum of 40 minutes for 2 days was not exactly training for this feat. I talked to my host dad about this plan and he said, “You never know what you can accomplish until you try”. He felt confident that I would be able to make it without a problem and only asked for a little phone call to ensure my safely of arrival. My family in America was also nervous as I told them how long I expected the trip to be. Looking at a map I estimated it to be around 35km. I wanted it to take no more than 5 hours with sightseeing included in the time.
On December 31st I awoke early to ensure I left early. I was able to unlock our gate and be on my bicycle by 5:55 A.M. I was feeling great as I reached Elisa’s village in what felt like record time and the little hills were not effecting me yet. I passed by a few beaches that made you pay a few tala to enter and wondered what they looked like, and if I were not heading on my own beach trip I might have taken a break there. I passed Lovers Leap and the sign that was there made me wonder if you do have all the beautiful sea creatures emerging from the water there, again another place I will have to visit. I was told by Max to stop and fill up my water at the village at the end of my district as there would not be another village for a long time following. At 6:30 I reached it, not remembering the name, so of course I drove right threw.
I began to wonder how long it would be until I reached my next village as my water bottle was nearing empty and it felt like I was riding my bike with the beautiful scenery and no civilization forever! I also began to realize that how great I thought our bike making team was, we made a few defects on our bikes and my gears were not working properly. They continued to clank until I switched gears, and then in the next gear I would hear that clanking sound persist. There was no getting around the gear problem.
Finally after riding my bike for 45 minutes without cars even passing by, I reached Falelima, the next nu’u. I was told that it was only one village away from Neiafu where I would be taking a break. I figured the villages were put together like they were in my area, close together. After walking up an enormous hill and wondering when this village would ever end, I made it to the Neiafu sign.
I met up with Dana in Neiafu Tai, which was good because after two hours of riding by myself I was ready for a friend! We went for s little hike in the woods to find a beach and after an hour of walking, we realized that we had failed on our mission.
There are two ways to go from Neiafu Tai-both are uphill. We decided to go the way that had a steeper hill because it was a shorter route. We walked our bikes uphill for half an hour. It was so steep and how that it felt worse than my two hour trip up and down hill by myself. Dana had taken the hill once before and kept up with false promises that it would be right behind the next switchback. When we finally made it up to the top we enjoyed a nice break in a faleo’o.
For the next twenty minutes of our ride we barely had to pedal as it was all downhill. We rang our bells and screamed in enjoyment as we zoomed down the hill. We passed many people who laughed when they saw our enjoyment. We then reached the shoreline and had a beautiful but rough ride. The road was no longer paved and in many places was covered with a bit too much sand. We learned the hard way that sand makes you lose control of the bike and causes you to almost topple over. It did not matter to us as we were thrilled that we were almost at our destination. It had only taken about three hours. Dana and I beamed with excitement when we saw the others.
After two amazing nights with my Peace Corps friends, (and about a million cuts and bruises from the adventures of the New Years) it was time for me to return home. Dana had left prior to me and I decided to try the other route instead of going through Neiafu Tai to avoid another super sandy road.
When I was about 20 minutes into my ride I stopped to have a drink of water. Immediately my left sandal broke. I knew I was going to be walking up hill a lot and tried to fix my shoe. I think the longer you are in Samoa the better you become at quick fixes of shoes. I know I did not get it perfect, but I was able to fix my shoe enough for about a ten minute walk uphill before it would break again.
There seemed to be more people out on the roads, more cars, more bicycles and more children screaming “bye” as I passed. (For some reason when children see a white person that is what they say, no hello, just bye….strange if you ask me.) I had someone riding with me at the end of the trip which was nice. He told me about his family in my village. Even though I was completely exhausted from the previous days, it surprisingly only about three hours again.
I may not be Lance Armstrong, but I never thought I would be able to make a long trip like this. I see cyclists like him and admire their strength and determination as they do those amazing trips on their bikes. I learned from this trip, anyone can pretty much do a long biking trip if they just have determination. Maybe by the time I finish with Samoa I will become a cyclist and see the entire country by bike.
Who knows? If others can do it..why can’t I?