I spent a good portion of my childhood on a bicycle. The first bike I had was a purple Stingray with a banana seat. It looked like this, only purple:
It was a fun bike, and could go just about anywhere that I could pedal. When I graduated to a new bike, my clever Dad, who always had a few tinkering projects going, decided to put a chopper extension on the front tire of the Stingray. I could never get the hang of balancing it, so it rarely had a rider again. It did look mighty cool, though.
Coastal Southern California is a great place to ride a bicycle…
Whoa!! Remember that Psychic iPod post I wrote a few days ago? Just as I am writing this, my computer’s iTunes began playing this song. Check out the first line:
Anyway, when we lived closer to the beach it was easier to ride the bike everywhere. When I was 10 years old, we moved inland a few miles. Our house was very nearly the highest point in the city, and we had a breathtaking view from the front porch all the way down to the water. On really clear days, we could even see the outline of Catalina Island. The only problem with that new location, though, was that there were hills, and pumping up those hills – one of which was a block and a half long at a 45 degree angle – could really burn up your legs!
I had gotten into the habit of riding my bike to school most days, and the new house location just made it more challenging. I was probably in pretty good shape there for awhile. One day, on my way in to school, I was coasting down the mountain on my 10-speed and a harried woman came barreling around the corner, rushing to get her kid to school and herself to work on time. She just appeared there in front of me, coming directly at me in my lane. There was no time to react, other than to slam on the brakes and try to absorb the collision with my front tire. And that is what happened. When we had both come to a complete stop, I was still standing astride my bike in the middle of the road. The front tire was crumpled like an accordion at rest, and the only injury I sustained was a skinned thumb. A minute or two later, my older sisters drove by on the way to their high school, and gave me and my poor bike a lift.
I was pretty goddam lucky that day.
Biking became a lot more fun when I moved to Cambridge to attend college. It was all pretty flat terrain around the Charles River basin, and my studies took me back and forth between Mass. General Hospital and the Harvard Square area quite a bit. As a result, I became very familiar with the bike paths along the Charles, and the unique etiquette of passing runners, walkers and other bikers, and allowing other bikers to pass me. I never needed a car when I lived in Massachusetts – my bike and the T got me everywhere I needed to go. On weekends, I’d bike out to Walden Pond or north of the city, once riding over 40 miles in the rain to hang out with friends in Rockport (who probably got there in a car).
Moving to Alabama effected a sharp decline in my bicycling activity, as I now owned a car. It is also pretty hilly here. Occasionally during the first couple of years here, a fellow graduate student and I would rack our bikes on the car and drive to Oak Mountain State Park, where we would ride the roads. They have a couple of lakes there, and a waterfall, and lots of trees, so there were nice places to stop and rest between completely wearing ourselves out. One day, we were really kicking up some speed on the main road through the park and, coming around a corner, I passed a car around its left side as if it was standing still. Well, it wasn’t standing still. And it was a police car. The officer turned on his siren and caught up with me, threatening to write me a ticket for speeding. There’s a first time for everything, I thought. We had a good laugh about that one. After the policeman drove away.
After leaving graduate school and joining the work force, I rarely rode. Two years ago (a time jump of over 15 years, I am sorry to say), I bought a new bike. It is just now getting some use, and I took it with me to South Carolina last month. The area around Charleston is flatter than either Boston or San Diego County, and the roadsides around my mother’s home are woven with a magnificent network of paved bike trails. I got in a few long rides while visiting, but watched my speed because, well, you never know who might be right around the corner. Returning to Birmingham, I resolved to do more riding, no matter how much it might hurt.
Once my legs get acclimated to riding the hills here, my first goal will be to keep pace with a police car.