I first started cycling with my father not so much because I enjoyed it, but because, for the first time, it was something just the two of us did together.
On weekend mornings as my sister and I lay fast asleep, the sky still a sleepy grey, I’d hear our bedroom door creaking open and my father whispering in his gravelly voice, “Anybody want to cycle?”
If we didn’t respond in a few seconds, he’d close the door quietly to leave us to our sleep. But the sound of the door clicking shut, the finality and resoluteness of it, would reverberate in my ears, a warning that precious time alone with my father would be wasted. So I’d crack my eyes open and force myself to sit up, calling out to my father in my most energetic and chirpy voice, “Me!”
We don’t talk much on our cycling excursions: I follow behind on my yellow bicycle, him on his white mountain bike, my eyes fixed on his tyre trail, copying his every move and maneuvre.
We’ve crossed the lengths of East Coast Park, Changi Beach Park and Punggol Waterway Park. We’ve zipped along park connectors, congested roadsides and narrow alleyways. We’ve completed an 88-kilometre bike rally, cycled in the pouring rain and met with the occasional hair-raising almost-accident.
Most of the time we set out from home to East Coast Park, heading towards Gardens by the Bay, on to Marina Barrage, past Marina Bay Sands, stopping for breakfast somewhere in the Central Business District, before making a loop back home.
But my favourite circuit is the airport runway, a long, straight pathway that seems to stretch on forever. I love racing the planes as they taxi across the runway and begin to take off, and from the corner of my eye I imagine myself growing wings and taking flight the same time as they ascend into the sky.
Occasionally, my father signals for me to cycle beside him. As we move in tandem, he tells me stories: about the river beside us, the park we’re at, the neighbourhood we’re passing by—a little nugget of history, an interesting fact, a nostalgic childhood memory.
It is the part of our cycles I cherish the most, when I feel closest to my father, as he tells me stories I store away as secrets only the both of us know.
When I visited my parents in the US back in 2012 and 2013, I would cycle with my father in the early mornings, before the Arizonian desert heat would come out in its full force. We lived in a gated estate perched midway on a slope, met by another steep slope that seemed to stretch endlessly on, up and up and up. I was terrified of it.
The first few times I tried to cycle its entire length, but I would panic at the very last second, overwhelmed by its sheer steepness. I would get off to push my bike up, defeated. I gave up before even trying, already knowing that I would fail.
Yet my father would say, “You can do it, just a bit more, get up on your bike like this.” I would try mimicking his stand pedalling, him lifting his body from his seat to stand for more leg power, which would propel him further ahead. But I was much too weak, and knew myself to be so, my head or lungs or legs (or all three) giving up sooner or later, and I’d collapse back down onto my seat and get off, choosing to push instead.
This happened half a dozen times, but my father never stopped encouraging me. And I found myself making it a little further each time, and the more I pedalled and the closer I was to reaching the peak, the more exhilarated and empowered I felt.
When I finally conquered that hill, I literally and metaphorically felt on top of the world, and even more as my father cheered me on, his head turned back, his smile wide and bright, his pride infectious: “Wah you did it, you did it!”
The climb up is always the most agonising and unbearable part.
When you’re putting in every ounce of strength, straining and pushing yourself to your uttermost limit, your heart hammering in your head and out of your chest, the sun beating down upon your brow, sweat sliding down your neck and back and chest, it feels like you’re never going to make it. But you know that every pedal forward is a pedal closer to the end, and you’re so close, you’re so close you’re almost there–
–and when you finally arrive at the top, it is all, absolutely, worth it: knowing that you’ve succeeded because you persevered, and because you’ve persevered you can now relax and enjoy the ride. As you glide down the other side, letting gravity push you along and feeling the wind caress your face in congratulation, you can finally breathe easy.
“Life is like cycling. There are ups and downs, but what matters is that you keep going. It may feel like the slope going up is steep and never-ending, but just keep going, just keep pushing yourself, because when you reach the top it will be all smooth-sailing.”