Once upon a time I was a young skinny athletic thing who loved to fly down the streets of my neighborhood on my big brother’s fancy-pants hand-me-down JCPenney 12 speed bike, with the wind in my hair and a dozen dreams in my head. I loved that bike.
I rarely went farther than a few blocks away, but I rode those few blocks around and around for hours. My big brother would ride all the way to Southridge and back, but for me, riding to College Avenue was a Big Deal, and I don’t think my wheels ever touched Layton Avenue to the north, ever. I’d stop at 27th street to the east, and 51st street to the west. But those were rare excursions. Mostly I’d just ride around and around and around a few flat rectangular suburban blocks, flying and dreaming and sometimes singing. I dreamed of boys on that bike, and I mulled over breakups on that bike. I cried after my grandma’s death on that bike, and I sang on that bike. That bike was a huge part of who I was.
Then I got married and moved to the top of a hill in the Kettle Moraine. Everything around me was hills, and it was so discouraging to think that at the end of any ride, I’d still have to ride uphill just to get home. I was also scared of big roads whose names started with “highway.” Nothing in my little ‘burb of Greenfield was ever called “highway.” Well, I guess Loomis Road was actually called Highway 36, but I didn’t learn that until after I was married. In my new home, most of the time if I wanted to go somewhere without a car, I chose to walk. I couldn’t part with the bike, that piece of who I was, but I never, ever rode it again.
Fast forward many years, through a divorce and several apartments, always moving the bike and parking it in storage or a garage or a basement, and finally one day in the late 1990s after having moved it one too many times, I felt it was time for that bike and I to finally part ways. The tape on the handlebars had mostly peeled off, and rust was showing in quite a few places, and it just generally showed its age, and I was a bit embarrassed of it, even. I lived on a flat street again in a fairly flat part of town, and I figured it was time to start new. I let someone unceremoniously throw it into the dumpster — I felt a pang of sadness, but it was long past time to let it go — and I went off and bought a brand spankin’ new bike.
But remember, I hadn’t ridden in at least ten years. I had had a baby, I had suffered through depression, and I had gained quite a bit of weight in those years. So when I walked into the bike store, lacking any confidence in my ability to even stay upright on a bike, I allowed myself to be talked into something called a “hybrid” bike. It had fat, cushy wheels, and a big frame, and an upright posture, and it just seemed “stable.” It was also over $300. It was a huge commitment for a single mom to make, but I wanted the freedom I once had to ride the neighborhood with the wind through my hair, singing and dreaming again.
But what I didn’t know at the time is that a hybrid bike is HEAVY. and you have to pedal a LOT just to keep moving. There was no coasting for me. Everything was pedal, pedal, pedal. I quickly got tired of all the work required just to ride that heavy, slow bike down the street. There was no wind in my hair, and the dreams and songs were drowned out by my panting and puffing.
But the bike had been expensive, so I couldn’t just get rid of it. I held on to that bike for several more years, but rarely enjoyed any rides on it.
Finally, in 2007, I moved into a neighborhood that I chose because of all the bikers I saw. Lake Drive seemed a veritable bike speedway. I imagined myself finally riding with the wind in my hair, and I lived about a mile away from a Wheel & Sprocket, so I popped in one day and they showed me a road bike that I couldn’t forget. So I gathered the money from my “special” rainy-day savings account and plunked it all down on that bike. It was October, but I rode as much as I could.
The next year, I took my new bike out quite a bit. I rode the Miller Lite Ride for the Arts — the 25 mile section — and I flew ahead of my friends and led my little pack the entire ride. The wind flew through my helmet (times had changed, there would be no more wind in my hair — ever), and the sun shone down on my cheeks and the lake was beautiful and I could coast! I had toe clips on my feet and I was flyin.’
I rode a bunch that year, mostly to the mall or to the coffee shop, but I enjoyed it. By August I started to feel it was time to challenge myself a bit more, so I decided to join a group from the local bike shop and ride with them on Tuesdays. I met them and started with them on a 17-mile journey towards Mequon. What I hadn’t figured on was that they would be riding on Highways, with fast cars speeding past and large intersections to navigate through and even railroad tracks to cross. And then we hit the hilly section.
It kicked my ass.
And to top off the evening, I came to a stop on Range Line Road and Brown Deer Road, where I forgot to unclip my toes from the pedals and promptly fell over sideways into the ditch. Not so much fun. I felt so discouraged, even though a few of the other riders were holding back, waiting for me. I didn’t want to ruin their ride but I just could not keep up with them. I finally sent them ahead and told them I’d make my own way home just fine. I did ride those 17 miles, but I think it was one of the last rides I took on my bike that year.
The next year I had the best of intentions to start up again, but was in Prague during the Ride for the Arts (which I was told was cold and miserable that year, anyway), and each time I thought about getting on my bike after that, I imagined feeling hot and sweaty and maybe even falling over again. I felt discouraged and unmotivated.
Fast forward to this year. I decided to try again. I did the Ride for the Arts again, but chose the 12-mile path, since I hadn’t been on my bike much in over a year. The 12 mile was great. My hands hurt afterward, more than my legs or butt, even, but otherwise it was a very nice experience. I wanted to do it again.
There’s a ride to benefit Diabetes research coming up in Cedarburg this weekend, but to enter I have to raise $150. I really didn’t think I could raise the money so I haven’t entered. Saturday is going to come and go and I’m going to feel very bittersweet about it. I’m still holding out hope that maybe I’ll decide to enter and might quickly make the donation amount, so to that end I took my bike in to Wheel & Sprocket today to have it looked at.
And while I was there, I decided to finally address a problem I’ve had ever since I’d bought the bike. My one and only (and BIG) complaint about the bike was how I felt the bike threw too much of my body weight onto my palms, which tingled and hurt and were often rather numb after every single ride. I tried gloves but they didn’t help. I was told I was simply lacking in core strength. But I just felt the bike didn’t quite fit the way I preferred, even though they said the bike fit me just right. I didn’t agree.
So today, I bought a new stem that raises the handlebars a 10° angle higher than the last one.
AND I LOVE IT!
So now I’m even more enthused about maybe entering that bike tour for charity. I’ll check the 5-day weather report, and maybe you’ll see a plea for donations spring up on my facebook page in the next day or so. 🙂