My first real bike was actually my mom’s, a bike she rode before I was born, a bike my two older sisters also rode before I did. It was an okay bike, a survivor. It got me to school. But it wasn’t mine. And I wasn’t my mom, even though we shared the same first name.
My mom was beautiful and gregarious. I was neither. I was smart and athletic (which my mom was too) but I was really tall and really quiet, which she was not. I wasn’t the kind of kid who could put on a big smile and make friends easily. I spent a lot of time in my own head. I was different. I didn’t talk much, especially at home where the words gushed in a torrent from my mom’s and my sisters’ mouths.
I loved being alone, quiet, out in the sun and wind doing anything — riding a bike or roller skating or swimming. My hair was always, it seemed, either wet or wind blown. But I didn’t care. Summer was my season – the season I got to spend almost all day every day in the sun and the water. But I really wanted a bike of my own, especially after the pool closed for the season.
Swimming gave me quiet. Under the water, with my own almost-silent bubbling breath, I was wrapped in a cocoon of peace. Riding a bike brought the same solace – alone with the wind, outpacing the chatter, I was who I wanted to be, in charge.
One day, when I was in junior high school, I got the bike I had been waiting for. My dad brought it home from a “going out of business” sale. A super-cool, bright orange racer – a real bike, a French bike, a Peugeot. It made me a different person, a much faster, more-savvy, racer-kind of person. It gave me power over my world – wheels that were mine and could take me anywhere – to the pool, up emigration canyon, out riding just to feel the wind and burn off frustrations.
This bike and I were together a long time. It was the bike I rode in my first triathlon, to jobs in Salt Lake City, Houston, Richmond, St. Louis and Colorado Springs. But about 10 years ago, I upgraded. This bike is even cooler – a handmade-in-the-USA Cannondale that rides like a Ferrari. Well, I imagine it rides like a Ferrari. I have never actually been in a Ferrari, but I have seen Ferraris on TV. This bike is smooth and fast, light and agile. Better yet, it still takes me to school.
At 62, riding a hot bike to school is a time-consuming joy. I always say the day I can’t ride my bike to school will be the day I quit. I just can’t imagine getting in a car, inching my way onto the freeway, trying to get into the flow of traffic, fighting to get out of the flow of traffic, and casing campus looking for a parking space. It’s not that I haven’t lived some years tied to a car and a desk, hounded by the shortage of time, I have. And I do have to drive a car a handful of times when there’s snow and ice on the ground. But I couldn’t make it my way of life, especially now, when it’s way too late in life to exchange fun for frustration just for the sake of a shorter commute time. Rather, when I’m on my bike and I come over the last crest about a half mile from school, I look up to see the staggeringly beautiful Colorado mountains on the horizon, above Rocky Mountain Lake. They remind me that it’s another good day if the car is at home.