This weekend, among other things, I went on a bike ride. I felt like I got an old friend back. Maybe it was my imagination but I felt like the bike was happy too, after being locked up in a dark storage unit for so long. I never realized how much I missed it. It’s kind of like low-level flying, and you can cover so much more ground gliding than walking.
Before long, I lost myself in the rhythm and bump of the tires going over the road, hitting the cracks in the sidewalk.
It’s kind of like meditation on wheels.
I rode around in the neighboring park…..it’s always good to see how the other part of the world lives.
I got some waves and some good mornings from people doing outside things, enjoying the morning air. I introduced myself to the neighborhood feral cat. I know he was feral because he watched me with interest but then hid behind a shrub when I got too close. I named him “Smudge” for the gray blotch he had right below his (or her) nose. I will watch for him next time I am over there.
As I relaxed into the rubber tire rhythm, memories washed over me of other rides I have taken throughout my life. We have a long history, bikes and I. They were part of our culture, back in the day. For a long time our family only had one car, so we got to know our bikes really well.
I learned on an ugly spray-painted hand-me-down that belonged to my cousin. Then, the magic year I turned 10, I got a bright blue Schwinn all my own. I still remember that first magic ride on Christmas morning. I have a picture somewhere, a side view of my snaggle-toothed smile as I cruised down the driveway, my new synthetic white fur coat with the silver buttons flapping in the cold air.
We were buddies that bike and I and I got to know every rattle and squeak intimately. I felt like it got to know me too.
When I was in Junior High I got a sleek, Gitane ten-speed. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. I had chosen a brilliant metallic aqua-marine blue and when it glinted in the sun, it took my breath away. My friends and I rode in a herd, all over town. Most days I rode it to school. All the way into High School, in fact. (No, I didn’t have a car), most kids didn’t back then.
I could ride hands free on that bike, steering with a slight lean in whatever direction I wanted to go.
When I got that bike, my Mom inherited the blue Schwinn. Oftentimes, it was her only mode of transportation. I still remember her riding off to the store with her purse hanging from the handlebars, and every so often, one of the smaller kids she watched riding in the basket.
Don’t act so shocked. Times were different then, we didn’t wear helmets either.
We also took our bikes camping in Yosemite and even now when I ride, I can close my eyes and hear the echoeing cries of Stellar’s Jays as I breezed along, ducking for low hanging pines. I was always so excited for those tires to hit the ground, so I could explore and reintroduce myself to the trails I knew so well.
For those moments, I felt like God had given that particular stretch of earth to me as a gift.
When the mountain biking craze hit back in the early nineties, I got a special Birthday gift, a Raleigh cross- over mountain, cruising bike. And yes, I wore the geeky helmet and the padded bicycle shorts.
That’s the bike I took when E and I did the Tour Le San Francisco bike run. Now that was an adventure. There was every genre of rider and bike you can imagine, from old clunkers with boom-boxes bungied to the racks playing opera, to high-speed power racers who did the ride once to warm up and again just for fun.
And there were several people and groups in costume. It was San Francisco after all.
The serious racers whizzed by like greyhounds while the rest of us concentrated on not falling into each other and sucking air on the hills. They closed down part of the city for that race, and I’ll never forget riding through the winding streets of San Francisco and all those bikes spilling out onto the Pacific Coast Highway, the ocean opening up before us.
That view alone made laboring up all those hills worthwhile.
It’s that same bike I am riding all these years later. It has a few nicks and scars but to me it’s just as beautiful as the day I brought it home from the shop. And each time I ride it, whether it’s just to get the mail or around the block, all those other rides and memories come right along with me.