Like anyone else sometimes I do a lot of thinking when on a bike ride and sometimes I dump a lot of clutter out of my head. Most mornings I hook up my dog Max to his leash, push my mountain bike out the door, I walk him to the end of the driveway and then we head off on a 2 or 3 mile run (he runs and I ride).
A couple of days ago on our morning outing I started thinking about the sense of freedom bike riding gives me. I don't remember learning how to ride a bike, I just remember being in 3rd grade and sharing a bike with my older siblings. Sometimes my brother would be the captain sitting on the banana seat, I'd sit on the handlebars and my sister would sit on the sissy seat on the rear, or she and I would swap places. I'm still not sure how we survived those days, three kids on a bike, no helmets, flying down the hill from our house in Belton, MO going as fast as that bike would take us.
I don't remember anyone helping me balance myself on the bike, learning how to pedal or use the brake. If anyone it would have been my brother. What I do remember is the first time I cruised in front of our house, going just a few houses in either direction, riding in circles. And I recall sitting on the bike at the top of our hill, surmising making that run down the hill by myself and riding back up. With three of us on the bike my sister and I would have to get off and walk up the hill while our brother rode the bike free of the extra weight. Oh how I envied him! I pushed off and rolled faster and faster and faster, the wind cooling my face and blowing my short curly hair into impossible tangles and I didn't care. I pedaled as hard and fast as I could go, down the hill and halfway up the next hill. I had just experienced my first taste of freedom, escaped from our hill, nobody bossing me around or telling me to get off the bike or change seats. I triumphantly turned around and rode back, slowing almost to a dead stop as I huffed and puffed back up our street. Still - I did it and even though I gasped for air, made it to the top and back into our drive.
Fast forward several years later to the summer before my senior year in high school. I saved my money and bought a 10 speed Schwinn from K-Mart. My parents had moved from 5 acres outside a small farm town in Southwest Missouri into an apartment in Springfield. Mom worked early shifts at a nursing home and Dad had retired. I had to have a means of transportation otherwise I would have to walk a couple of miles to school. Buying a bike solved the problem. I rode that bike all summer long and I rode everywhere. Once again I had regained my freedom and it was deliciously exhilarating. The same feeling that embraced me in 3rd grade was back and it was better than ever! I rode my bike to and from school every day. It was an icebreaker for conversation with a fellow named Bruce who was in my business math class. And when a chick who decided to duck out of school for the day backed into me as she pulled out of her spot in the parking lot, leaving me banged up and bruised, it was Bruce who carried my books to classes for the week following while I carried a pillow for my bruised caboose.
I'm not sure what happened to that bike after my mid 20's. I rode it around town a few times with my long locks flowing behind me, usually gasping to catch my breath and suddenly more than aware of an uncomfortable seat.
Years went by, I had three children, worked a stressful job, had gained a lot of weight and I had taken up running. It was killing me. After an incident with my new rescue dog wrapping his leash around my legs as he lunged after my black kitty who decided to go on a midnight walk with us, sending me crashing to the ground on my knees I could no longer run without intense pain and swelling.
My oldest daughter who was now married suggested I go bike riding with her. I could ride her mountain bike and she would ride her road bike. By the way, she is 5'6" and I barely hit 5'2". You see where this is going, right???
Our first time out, me being a complete novice, we rode 10 miles. Me on Honorable Daughter #1's mountain bike and she whizzing along on her road bike. It was tough. I grumbled. I huffed. I puffed. I worked HARD! My butt hurt and I wanted to cry. But I was proud of myself for riding 10 miles so I agreed to go again. I wasn't feeling the love and the freedom I felt in 3rd grade and 12th grade. This was much harder work than I remembered. Somehow my daughter convinced me to keep trying.
Finally I decided to buy my own bike. I wasn't sure what I wanted. I just knew I didn't want a mountain bike. I wanted to be fast like my daughter but I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to the price of a road bike (and it looked daunting) so I settled on a hybrid with front suspension. I rode it a couple of times then took it to a friend's house and asked him to swap out the heavy tires and put road tires on it. I rode it, took it to Cady Way Trail and would meet my daughter at her house near West Orange Trail in Apopka where I became a weekend warrior. I was rediscovering that sense of freedom and relishing the rides.
About six months into riding the hybrid I had a particularly trying weekend. Personal issues that left me with a sense of betrayal and emotional upheaval. My daughter and her husband came over late Saturday afternoon, she told me to close my eyes, and when she told me to open them there before me was the new love of my life. A beautiful purple Specialized Dolce! I couldn't believe it! I couldn't believe they would give me such a wonderful, splendid, gorgeous and expensive gift. I burst into tears. Tears of joy, gratitude and release of the huge frustration that had been weighing heavily on me.
That bike saved my life and that is no joke. I found freedom again only I didn't let the wind blow through my hair because I now wore a helmet. My bum no longer hurt because in addition to being gifted this amazing bike I was also given a couple pair of chamois shorts and cute jerseys. There was no choice of going with flat pedals. My son-in-law put his SPD pedals on the bike so off we went to a bike shop to purchase shoes. He even gave me his CatEye computer. I was set to go!
On the bike I could declutter my mind, push myself harder to overcome stresses and challenges. Sure I crashed with the new pedals and it made me a more mindful cyclist.
Three years after receiving the bike I took a job in Missouri, packed up my house and left on a new journey. Both bikes hung in the garage for a couple of years. Once in awhile I took one down and rode, but not with the passion I had previously enjoyed.
When winter settled in I hung up the bikes again. A few years later after meeting someone I pulled the hybrid out and started riding it. Then I started riding it with gusto. Then with determination. 10 miles, 12 miles, 18 miles, 22 miles and the first time I hit 30 miles, Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
A few months later I was invited to join a "secret" bike group. By this time I had pulled Stevie, my Specialized Dolce, started riding her again, taught myself to climb hills, rode solo for hundreds of miles on country farm roads. I even got lost a few times and thanks to a somewhat good sense of direction found my way back to my starting point. The bike group though. Wow! I loved them (I STILL love them) as we began new adventures and journeys together.
Funny how you can think about so much while out on a bike ride. I won't lie - I thought about these things over the course of several hours and more so when putting it to written word. Tomorrow while running Max I'll probably think of more things. Typical.
'Til next time ~ get on your bike and ride! Find your self, your freedom, your inner kid.