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Why I Ride #30: Strength, Endurance and Confidence

(Elizabeth Williams is the founder of Cali Bike Tours in Long Beach, Calif.)

Elizabeth Williams

I remember my mother teaching me to ride my bike with training wheels as a child. I remember riding lopsided. And I remember finally being able to balance my bike all by myself and not having to depend on my lopsided training wheels. I had no idea what kind of wonderful journeys my bike would take me on then. I just knew I was having fun.

Growing up, we (my brother & friends) rode our bikes all over our neighborhood in Compton and North Long Beach, exploring, just having fun riding and being outdoors. Everyone didn’t always have a bike of their own, so we would take turns riding each other’s on the handlebars. Just about every summer day included some adventure by bike.

When high school came around, riding bikes was replaced with hanging out at the mall or a friend’s house or talking on the phone. But I’ve always fondly remembered those Saturdays and long summer days riding. As an adult, for years I told myself that I was going to buy a bike, but it didn’t happen until my 36th birthday. My initial desire was to buy a bike and use it as an alternate form of exercise. I had no idea that my purchase would eventually change my life.

I was going through a divorce and my birthday was coming up. I like to give myself gifts for my birthday, so I decided it would be a bike that year. It would serve two purposes 1) provide a fun type of exercise and 2) get me out of the house so I wasn’t sitting at home being depressed about my divorce. My plan was to buy a beach cruiser like the one I had as a child, but I found out I had more of a need for speed. I bought a road bike.

I started out putting my bike in my car, driving to the beach and riding between 30 minutes and one hour after work. I was too afraid to ride the two-plus miles from my house to the beach, because I was not comfortable riding in traffic. After a while, I finally got up the courage to ride from my house to the beach. It felt great not being afraid.

I did this for about 6 months. With the new year coming, I decided I wanted to do something different. I wanted to do something major in my life. I wanted to stretch out my boundaries further than I had ever done. A friend was training for a marathon and suggested I try one. That didn’t excite me. So I went online to look for some kind of adventure that would spark my interest. Nothing gripped me.

One day I was standing in line at Whole Foods and saw the Outside magazine. On the cover it talked about “10 Things to Try for the New Year”. The write-up on training for a triathlon jumped off the page and said “Pick me!”  So I did.

I decided to train for a triathlon with Team In Training. They helped me overcome my childhood fear of drowning and taught me how to swim. They also taught me how to be a better runner and how to get more out of my bike riding.

After I completed my first international triathlon, it increased my already growing need to ride. I started meeting people who did century bike rides for causes they supported. I couldn’t get my mind around riding my bike 100 miles in one day, but my interest was piqued.

The event I did was the Solvang Century and this was a full century in one day. I met a guy in the parking lot on the way to pick up my registration packet and, while standing in line, he tells me one of the craziest things I’d ever heard. He tells me he’s planning a bike tour from San Francisco to Los Angeles! I really thought he was crazy. But the more I started to ride and the more century rides I completed; it started to not seem so crazy after all. This guy became a friend and a coach and encouraged me to join him and his friends on this ride. I trained with them and on my own and built up enough strength, endurance and most of all, confidence to complete the tour.

Six days down the beautiful Pacific Coast changed my life forever. It was breathtaking, beautiful, challenging, fun and inspiring.

While I was training for the SF to LA tour, I started thinking about how much time and energy I was investing into cycling. I decided I needed to share some of this fun with others and thought long on how to translate it into a business. Several ideas came up, but a bike touring company landed on top. I decided to start a bike touring company, Cali Bike Tours, so people could experience my wonderful city, Long Beach, Calif., by bike.

Since then, I’ve been able to do just that and then some.  I bought a vintage Schwinn bike that I love riding around town for shopping, attending meetings and running errands.  I’ve had opportunities to teach basic bike education on safety & maintenance to women and girls that included women only group rides, held a bike drive & give-away to women living in transitional housing, and I try to encourage all listening ears to get on a bike and ride.

Who knew my bike would have taken me on so many different journeys. And I keep discovering new places to ride and explore around the world. It looks like my next adventure will be cycling 500 miles along the Camino de Santiago in Spain, hopefully this summer. I love riding my bike and exploring. I want everyone to experience what I feel when the wind is blowing against my smiling face and I’m feeling free to ride anywhere I choose.

May is National Bike Month and this year’s theme is One Ride, Many Reasons. To highlight and celebrate the many benefits of bicycling, throughout May we’ll bring you the personal reflections and inspirations of a diverse collection of bicyclists from coast to coast with our daily 31 Days, 31 Reasons blog feature.


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