Written during the COVID-19 pandemic
We are at last able to enjoy things we once neglected.
My youngest, a tween and part of the iGeneration, has, at last, agreed to go bike riding with me. Unlike myself at her age, she has been glued to a screen instead of a bicycle seat. This becomes obvious as we stand in our garage, looking at her barely used, too small, faded bike in the corner. She must ride one of my two adult bikes, the kind with gears. Both bikes are heavily decorated with rust and spiderwebs, including the chains. But the trail doesn’t mind, and neither do we.
I take the bike with the wide aftermarket seat since it supports my wide after having children hips. I brush off the webs, pump up the tires, and we set out on our first ride together in years; seriously years.
I take the lead, and we make our way through the neighborhood, heading right into the mighty westerly wind; our destination is the Alameda County Creek Trailhead. Along the way, my daughter tires of damn near crashing into me every time I need to drop some wisdom, so she teaches me the hand signal for stop, something she learned during a bike riding lesson at school.
Twenty minutes later, we arrive at the trailhead. The trail runs parallel to the creek, which leads out towards the bay. Wildlife surrounds us, and the shelter in place has allowed nature to give us a fantastic show. The leaves are greener; the flowers are tall and vibrant, and the birds are chattier. Canadian Geese fly overhead in standard V-formation. The leader continually honking to his flock. The best way to describe the smell of the creek would be wildflower deodorant under a Geese’s under-wing. Not pleasant or unpleasant, but the smell leaves me grateful for that fresh Pacific breeze.
The path has very few occupants, which allows me the freedom to let my mind wander. Riding with my daughter gets me thinking about my own childhood bicycles.
Broken Trike=Broken Face
My earliest memory of bike riding includes an adrenaline rush and possibly my first concussion, but I’m not sure. What I do remember is playing with my cousin in her front yard. We are six months apart and were not more than six years old at the time. She was busy making our salads out of dirt and front yard foliage. I was more interested in the rusty blue tricycle tucked just inside the open garage. The handlebars were missing, yet I believed I could steer the thing by the remaining nob. When that failed, I tried sticking a pencil through where the handlebars once were, but it broke. In the end, a screwdriver served as my steering apparatus.
My cousin’s house was at the bottom of a steep hill, so I pushed the tricycle uphill along the sidewalk. I am sure that the pedals scraped my shins during the process, but I was on a mission. I tired when I reached the fourth or fifth house. To be fair, I was small, and those homes were mini-mansions. Holding the tricycle in place, I positioned myself on the metal seat and grabbed hold of either end of the screwdriver. I extended one of my legs out just beyond the front tire, then the other, and consequently sped down that hill. I felt the wind in my ears and the tickle in my tummy. It was everything.
I attempted to slow down as I neared my cousin’s house, but gravity and momentum made my shoe-brakes useless. I watched the pedals spin faster and faster, and at some point, my fake steering wheel shot out onto the street. The trike jumped the curb, and together we slammed into the back of a parked car.
The next thing I knew, I was on the ground, and my cousin was walking towards me.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
I don’t remember if I answered her. I was busy getting up, dusting off, and planning to reset that tricycle at the top of the hill.
I turned towards my cousin, and she started walking towards her house, waving her hands, urging me to follow, “Stacy, come on, come on.”
She seemed scared. I thought she had to use the bathroom and didn’t want to leave me outside alone, so I propped a tire in the grass and reluctantly followed her.
Inside, we passed the bathroom and stopped in the living room. My aunt was planted in her usual spot on the couch, watching her soap operas and folding endless piles of laundry. At the sight of me, my aunt rose from the sofa, grabbing a white washcloth as she rushed towards me. She shoved the cloth over my chin. I flinched away. But she held it there as she guided me into the bathroom.
I asked, “What?” as in, “What did I do wrong?” or “What is wrong with you people?”
My aunt told me to stay put, then she left me there, staring in the mirror with a towel over my chin like an idiot. While waiting for her return, I made a plan to push the tricycle past one more house.
Soon my aunt returned, and she was on the phone, talking to someone about the hospital. She removed the towel to examine my chin, and as she did, I saw a nob sized circle of blood on the cloth.
I was young, all spirit, and zero attachment to my body. Riding down that hill was how I felt alive. Seeing the blood didn’t even scare me, it was my family’s reaction that did. I only felt the sting of the hole in my chin once I saw the blood. Though curious, I never actually saw the wound. According to my mother, who met us at the hospital where I received some twenty stitches, the opening was “a good half-inch deep.”
On to the Big Wheel
I know I wanted the black “Knight Rider” version of the Big Wheel trike because, in the 1980s, “Kit” was the coolest car in the world. Instead, I got the original (now classic) red, yellow and blue one. The most important thing was that it had the lever over one of the back tires so I could Tokyo drift it just like the three boys in the commercial did (Google it). I remember peddling as fast as I could, then yanking that lever trying to spin 360 degrees. As impressive as it was, it was still a tricycle, and keeping up with bike riding big kids was not possible. I rode it till the seat was in the furthest back position, and two of the three plastic tires had cracks in them.
To Graduate from Trikes to Bikes
The card attached to the silvery blue bike probably read, “From Mommy and Daddy,” or “From Santa,” but even then, I knew my dad was the one who purchased it. One, it was inappropriately gigantic, which followed the philosophy he used whenever he bought us shoes, “plenty of room to grow.” The bike was so big that to ride it, I had to stand on bricks, and lean the bike towards me just to get on the seat. And two, this was the ugliest bike the 1980s had to offer, which followed the wisdom my dad provided years later when I wanted my first car, “It’s just something to get you from point A to point B.”
The bike may or may not have had a banana seat, but the thing had training wheels, likely put on by my dad once he got it home. He was a paramedic and was always about safety. He was the dad who smelled my hands to make sure they were clean, who cut up my grapes, hot dogs, and ice cream even though I had a full set of teeth. Going fast on that bike was never an option since I nearly lost contact with the pedals during each rotation. My only motivation for riding the eyesore was to get out of training wheels and get the bike I really wanted.
My Big Girl (boy) Bike
My absolute favorite childhood bike was a red BMX boy’s bike. It had both hand and foot brakes, which for whatever reason, was a big deal to me. The coolness factor was up there with the Big Wheel. I asked for a boy’s bike in red because red is the color of fire, and I thought that a boy’s bike would go faster than a pastel, girly bike. I added neon spoke beads to make it stand out. Just like with the Big Wheel, I used to pedal as fast as I could, then stand on the vagina bruising bar or ride. I often rode with the other neighborhood kids with my hands in the air, or sometimes I’d cruise along side-saddle. I spent weeks of my youth speeding around the trail at the neighborhood park. I loved feeling the wind on my face and listening to the sound the spokes made as they cut through the air. Maybe next lifetime I’ll be a racecar driver.
My daughter and I stop at a scenic outlook. There are fewer cars on the roads, and consequently, the brown cloud that once hovered over the bay area has disappeared. I take some photos of San Francisco’s skyscrapers and the Port of Oakland.
We turn around and make our way home with the westerly wind at our backs. My daughter mocks me as I point out wild birds. Back in the neighborhood, I ride in the street, and she rides on the sidewalk parallel to me. I look over at her as she peddles with ease, untired and uncomplaining, while my aged legs ache, and my ass begs for an ice pack. I wonder if I ever felt this sore while riding my childhood bikes.
Thank you for reading. I hope you enjoyed this story.