Yesterday, my brother and I went out and bought bikes. He’ll be moving back north to chillier climates soon, and is looking forward to playing in the snow. Unfortunately, his sabbatical to the desert has not been conducive to physical fitness, and since I need to find some exercise to replace my trainer (who recently moved away) biking sounded like a fun thing to do.
So we hit Target, looking for something cheap but useful. We found a couple of no-frills mountain bikes, brought them home, and hit the road. Starting out, we stuck to the streets in my neighborhood. The hills are fairly gentle (compared to the hills of my childhood) and the traffic is minimal in the afternoons. Coasting down a longish stretch, I was transported back to age ten or eleven, when my brother and I used to go down the “Blind Road”, a dead-end road near our home with a ridiculously steep gradient and a sharp, almost 90 degree turn at the bottom. In our mother’s time, that turn had a thicket of stinging nettles and devil’s club on the outside, and at least one of my aunts or uncles had ended up face-down in the middle of it. By our time, there was a ditch between the road and forest. Somehow, we usually managed to stay out of it, following the curve of the road and coasting for what seemed like miles, our hair blowing back and maniacal grins (or grimaces) on our faces, whooping and shrieking at the ludicrous speeds. Yesterday, I laughed at the memory, and at the caution with which I rode two decades later.
After meandering through the neighborhood for a while, we decided to seek out the bike trail across a main road from our neighborhood. I knew it was there because I had seen the signs, but I imagined it to be a meandering, paved route for leisurely rides and rollerbladers. Instead we found a dirt track running parallel to the road, full of twists, turns, hills and valleys. In the dirt and away from the traffic, it was easier to to stand and pedal, riding the trail like a roller coaster track. I was painfully aware of the occasional jagged rocks and gravel patches zooming beneath me; in shorts nd helmetless, I knew any fall could be seriously mangling. The thrill of the ride slightly outweighed my caution, however, and again I felt transported back to a younger age, when biking was something you did just for fun. By the time we returned home, winded and smiling, I finally understood why so many people in my neighborhood like to bike. I had remembered it as pleasant, but had forgotten the sheer joy of riding the hidden paths and the dangerous curves, knowing the risks but daring them anyway. Somehow, back then, I managed not to crash much. I suspect that, with a little caution, I can maintain my record and still have a blast. With a little grace, I may even be able to laugh when I do fall, and be glad for all the times that I flew.