I've never had a guest blogger before, but I felt that this lyrical comment from a very gifted writer - my daughter - deserved to stand alone. [She doesn't have her own blog yet, but I'm trying to remedy that!]
Why would I want to ride my bike?
Most everyone I know had a bicycle at some point in their childhood. Your bike summed up freedom and adventure. Once you had learned to ride it- an accomplishment in and of itself- it was you and you alone who made it move, and you who chose where to go. On your bike, (individualized, most times, with a name, or a basket or streamers or horn or bell or plastic bits on the spokes to click or refract the sunshine), the wide world was even more open to exploration, in a mob or by yourself, with purpose or just fancy free. Being a child of the 80s- and a something of a grup - even now, when I throw a pack on my back and set off on some errand, I can’t help but think of the Goonies, racing away on their bikes to find the Rich Stuff. While we never found quite that much glory (not that we didn’t look), we did discover all sorts of nature’s treasures in odd nooks and wayside puddles; found ruins of the past that made us curious about our world; rode smack into unexpected moments, and love for our community. Chasing the silent magic of hot air balloons overhead. Bones in the gravel, abandoned houses, buying a May basket at the mom and pop down the road, reading in the park. Independence grew from the ground, sparked in the friction of your whirling wheels against the pavement, transferred up from your pedaling feet to your child heart- anything you wished to do, you could do. The simple self-sufficiency of riding to the store with loose change from the sidewalk to get yourself some candy, picking dandelions from cracks in the pavement, returning home sunburnt for dinner.
And someone, probably, and probably someone you loved, gave you that bike, and taught you to ride, releasing this taste of freedom in you, and allowing you to chase it. And, probably, that’s the someone who you returned home to, in the gloaming.
And the feeling of riding your bike. The melding of machines, your body and your bike working in harmony to go go go. Fast or slow, forgetting that you’re riding at all and you feel like you’re floating, or remembering and doing cool jumps, graceful swoops. The burning in your legs up the hill, the exhilaration of coasting down, your lungs filled with rushing wind and your skin tingling with the sensation of soaring. Alert and dreaming, in sunny skies or gray, racing by the houses and trees or stopping to search out a singing bird in the branches. Your back hot and sweaty with lunch in a pack on your back, and a good book, looking for a sunny spot to think, or on your way to work, or to name the wildflowers to yourself, or to see a friend, smelling the clean breeze and the spicy weeds and the sweet lake water, hearing the insects buzz as the sun blazed down, feeling the wind of cars rushing past, dinosaur growls from their fossil fueled engines.
Last spring my (now) husband bought me a bike.
I began taking little rides in the morning, getting up early to birdsong, finding the flowering trees of the neighborhood, seeing deer in the park, buying groceries for dinner. I picked up a free bike trail map. On the weekends I’d plan little adventures, everything I needed in a snail shell on my back: book, phone, scraps of paper and pen, lunch and my camera. Keep your overhead low, as Kerouac said. Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but tire marks. Spring, Summer, Autumn, I rode every extremity of the trail, which spans seven towns. Three I’ve lived in, one I work in, one I was married in, one I hike in, and all I got to know better.
It’s a funny thing, to find yourself living in the same town that you were born and raised in. Everywhere you go your memories wave at you. And sometimes you’ve grown so accustomed to what surrounds you that you’ve become blind to its delights. On my bike, I made friends with home.
Saturday mornings I had a little routine around town. Farmer’s market, starting first with the coffee man, who’d hand me a little cup black and sell me another sack of coffee, so good that I went through it in exactly one week. Then veggies galore by the season, and maybe a sunflower from the flower lady, who provided the bouquets for our wedding, and wildflowers at the tables. Then the bookstore, the library; maybe a museum exhibit, peach champagne from the new wine store, grocery shopping, a yard sale around the corner. I’d run into people, meet people, come across little shops tucked onto streets I’d never been down. Read the historical markers that blur from the car. Asked a farmer how to prepare a beet, discussed violence in the schools at the thrift store, heard about a good book I’d like.
I began to search out local events, find places I’d like to visit, things I’d like to try. I started thinking of the local spots and people as friends, no need for reciprocation. I saw garbage on the trails and grew my own sense of conservationism, weaned myself off plastic bags and unnecessary waste. I grew some pride in my community. I learned that I had stamina. Off my bike, I started hiking with my sister (in law) and loved it; we’ve joined a mountain club and are off on all sorts of adventures now! Assumptions about my own limitations fell off, not to make too cute an analogy, like training wheels. I lost a little shyness, and I learned to love feeling like a creature, dirty and sweaty and wheeling my way down an old canal towline, taking lots of pictures, looking up the history online when I returned home, checking out books from the library about our little patch of world.
When Husband wasn’t working we’d sometimes take bike rides together. We’d explore dirt paths, and find new launch sites to try in our canoe, and fly his toy helicopter, or swim in the public pool. Last autumn we rode our bikes to the little airport to see the hot air balloons going up. Down a big hill, in twilight, suddenly there was a strawberry floating by overhead.
Last summer I often rode my bike to some quiet spot, to think, and work on wedding planning- or, better, to not think or wedding plan at all. On a solo journey to a new avenue of the bike trail that Husband had told me about, I suddenly recognized where I was: riding past the backyard of the house I’d grown up in. The past and present seemed to hum in alignment- here I was, on my bike, and twenty years ago here I was, on my bike. The intervening years flashed by, I saw all sorts of interweavings and funny coincidi, which brought me to the conclusion that, simply, in a nutshell, being grown up is the bee’s knees. And life’s been very good to me.
A few weekends ago Husband and I rode our bikes down that path together, to a big park that is my favorite destination, a beautiful place with a fascinating history. We sat on the benches and shared a sandwich and I mentioned to him that there was a cleanup of the bike trail scheduled, and asked if he’d volunteer with me. Afterwards we went and visited the letterbox hidden in the park. I updated my last entry- which I’d made one week before our wedding.
This weekend, in honor of Earth Day, me and Husband got up bright and early and registered to help with the trail cleanup. It just so happened that we were assigned to that park- and began our work at the benches we’d been sitting on when I mentioned the idea. 6 hours and 16 bags of leaves latter, we’d grown blisters, sunburns, new friends, new plans, and came home feeling good and filthy dirty. I’m pretty sure that I have the best husband in the world.
All this and more came from the bike my husband bought me, that my parents taught me to ride way back.
Why would I want to ride my bike? Hop on one and you’ll know!!
“…Listen, everyone has a chance.
Is it spring, is it morning?
Are there trees near you,
and does your own soul need comforting?
Quick, then - open the door and fly on your heavy feet; the song
may already be drifting away.”
-Mary Oliver, ‘Such Singing in the Wild Branches’, from Owl and Other Fantasies
Photo of Bike and guest posting by Daughter of Diane