As a kid, I did a lot of biking. I grew up in the suburbs, and my bicycle was my primary form of transportation. I first learned to ride my bike when I was in the second grade. There was a teenage boy next door named Steve, and he made it his mission to see me operating that bicycle without training wheels. Steve convinced my dad to remove my training wheels one afternoon, and then he spent some time guiding me in my driveway, as I pedaled up and down and back and forth. When I was ready, he let go of the back of my bike - and off I went. I remember Steve and the other older kids cheering as I took off on my bike. I felt very proud of my seven-year-old self.
By the time I was a teenager, I was adept at getting around town and beyond on my bicycle. My friends and I would sometimes pack lunch on a Saturday and bike up to Tallman State Park, just over the New York state border. When we got there, we'd eat, sit around for a while chatting, and then bike back. There wasn't anything particularly interesting to do at Tallman - as with so many things back then and since, the joy was in the journey.
My first published piece of writing, in fact, was about bicycling. I was a guest columnist on the teen page of the Bergen Record, our local newspaper. I wrote an essay about bicycling around my town. I was absolutely thrilled to have been published writing about something I loved to do.
When I was a child, I didn't know any adults who rode bicycles. Bikes were for kids - for people not old enough to drive. But lately, biking has come back into vogue in my age group, because it's healthy and environmentally friendly. If you've been reading this blog for a while, you know that I broke my shoulder in February. As a result, I have been unable to exercise much, and I've put on a few pounds that I'd be happy to shed. I could not have been happier when I recently got the go-ahead from my doctor and my physical therapist to dust off my bike.
I did so last week. It actually had spiderwebs all over it, and I quickly learned, to my dismay, that the front tire was flat and in need of a new tube. A friend loaded my bike into the back of her minivan and took me to the local bike shop, where a teenager in a cutoff t-shirt quickly solved my problem for me. And I was off on my new adventure.
I biked to the post office, to the supermarket, to the little local takeout place for lunch, and then back home again. I made some mental notes for next time: bring water, remember sunscreen, and trade the over-the-shoulder purse for a backpack. I also need a bigger basket on my bike if I am going to go to the supermarket for more than just a box of tissues. My town is fairly flat, at least in the part of it where I was biking, so I didn't find my little foray back into the biking world to be too difficult. I'll make it more challenging as I gradually get into better shape.
I did, however, learn something important: there are a million potential ways for a bicyclist to die in suburbia.
Number one: Getting hit by a car that makes a right-hand turn directly in front of me, so that I have to jam my brakes to avoid getting run over. Did he not see me? Number two: enormous potholes. You don't notice them when you're driving a car, but when you're on a bike, they are hazardous. Number three: motorists opening their doors or pulling out of parking spaces without checking for bicyclists. From now on, I will be much more careful when driving my car.
All in all, though, I am very happy to be back on my bike. There are things you notice on the bike that you miss when you're in a car. The smell of the grass by the country club when it's been freshly cut. The sounds of children's voices as they play on a summer day. The placement of crosswalks, bike racks, and mailboxes. The amount of time and energy it takes to get from one place to another. The little alleyways that cars cannot pass, but bicyclists and pedestrians can. Biking is a way of getting around town mindfully. It's not that much slower than driving, but it's much, much better, for many reasons.
Have a wonderful week. Be mindful of your comings and goings, and of those of others.