You know that moment, when you're standing in the open door of an airplane, toes hanging over the edge, and you're waiting to jump?
So, I went skydiving once. It was the most exhilarating/terrifying feeling I think I've ever experienced. You see, I'm what's called an adrenaline junkie. I admit it... and admitting you have a problem is the first step... but it's true. I did it because I could, and I would do it again if I had the chance.
And honestly, I was mortified. I knew it was going to be exciting, I knew it was going to be scary, I knew it was relatively safe, I totally wanted to do it. In the plane, there were probably twenty other people, all grinning and slapping each other on the back and psyching each other up. They were shouting, they were nervously bouncing, they were stoked.
I think somewhere about 13,000 feet up it hit me. When the door rolled open, and people started pouring out, and I realized holy freaking cow, I'm jumping out of an airplane.
My heart was pounding, my nerves were screaming, every survival instinct in my body was telling me "Sit down, you have no business jumping out of a perfectly good airplane." (The running gag with skydivers is, if you think this, you obviously haven't seen the state of disrepair most skydiving planes are in... they can abandon it at any point and be none the worse.)
But I sucked it up after a few reassuring words from my instructor, and out the door we went.
And I realized, it was amazing. Everything I had been worried about completely disappeared. There wasn't even a feeling of falling at first... you follow a ballistic trajectory, so you don't even feel your stomach lurching like on a roller coaster... and it was absolutely incredible. Falling towards a visibly rounded Earth at 200 MPH, but feeling nothing but wind in your face. It's still hard to describe the exhilaration.
"What does that have to do with bikes?" you ask, and rightly so.
When I made the decision to become a bike commuter, it wasn't something I just naturally did, like tripping down stairs, or running into a wall... I do those things all the time without thinking. It's natural, it just happens. Jumping out of an airplane doesn't "just happen" (at least, not where I come from).
That's not to say commuting by bike is difficult, any more than jumping out of a plane is difficult. To be a bike commuter where I live, if you want good results you have to prepare. And this, the preparation phase, is where most of the trouble comes.
Now, I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of guy, so when I finally made the decision to commute, I knew it was going to be fun, I knew it was going to be exciting, and I knew it was relatively safe. But the feeling of fear still persisted, until I actually got on the bike. My mind played all kinds of tricks on me, begging me to reconsider. My family made disparaging remarks about being killed. "You have a perfectly good car," they said. "Why would you want to ride your bike? Isn't that hard? Isn't it dangerous?"
And at that point, you have to trust that yes, you can do it. Millions of people do it. You prepare, you get on the bike, and you ride. It's not as dangerous as people think... it's good for your physical health, it's good for your pocketbook, and it's good for your mental health. You realize, once you get rolling, that your fears weren't justified. Everything seems better, even on the days when weather isn't cooperating.
I can't say that riding my bike is as exhilarating as jumping out of an airplane, but you know what, it's pretty close.