One thing that makes writing this column so rewarding is that people seem to relate to many things I share. The recent bicycle column prompted more feedback than most.What I have found is that nearly everyone of a certain age had found themselves waiting, perhaps pleading, for that first bike. We knew not to set our hopes too high, but we all knew how to dream of that simple freedom that only a bike could give us. There was no one among us who thought beyond the dream of the bike in terms of, say, a car of their own. Only old married folks had cars. And the rugged four-wheelers of our present day were only distant dreams on paper, futuristic madness. My beautiful blue Slick Chick Stingray was my ticket to all sorts of amazing adventures. What once could only be accomplished on foot now could be carried out with (sorry, I can’t help myself) slick chick prowess. About this same time, on one particular Christmas, we opened battery-operated walkie-talkies. This was a huge gift, even though they were just tinny-sounding toys, really. We thought we were suddenly rich, and took this as a sign that we needed to combine all of our elements of new-found, high-tech glory and solve crime with Jack Webb, Dragnet style, down on the farm.
Boundaries were set, though, and we knew not to break them.One day, hoping beyond hope that I could ride just a little bit further, on past Doc Smith’s vet clinic, just to visit my super cool town friend, Shannon, I was shot down on that wish lickety-split. For one thing, there was always work to do. For another thing, nothing good was going to come of two little girls roaming all over the village with no set plan in place, no adult watching over us. When my disappointment showed, Dad quickly jotted down a couple of things he needed me to pick up at Doc’s office that he would need me to bring back to him right away. Somehow, that helped ease the sting of being told there was never going to be permission given to ride a mile or two in to town. I could go as far as Doc and Shirley’s, but no further.
But when the chores were done, we could jump on those bikes and go, as long as we didn’t venture too far.Jumping on that new bike, pedaling lightning-bolt fast, was a thrill beyond imagining. The thrill of the chase, every imaginary bad guy being driven out of our midst, felt like incredible power. It was peace and solitude with a kick of spice thrown in, getting up to high speed, reaching that feeling of sailing, then flying, down a hill. We were rodeo riders, we were cowboys in white hats, we were anything and everything we dared to dream. My favorite hill to ride, over and over, was the lane that led to our farm pond. As a kid, it seemed extremely steep and dangerous, all stony dirt and grit. “OK, this time I am going deep in to the war zone,” one of us would say, taking off with finesse. We waited our turn, knowing that if one of us wiped out on the way down, being too close on their heels would spell disaster. “I am going to rescue a drowning dog,” I remember announcing for my pretend scene. I had the basket on my bike, perfect for carrying the wounded to surgery or sudden safety. Sometimes there was a snake pit we needed to steer masterfully to avoid. We were amazing and stoic and full of energy, soaked with sweat. That hill had a perfect dip just beyond the bottom that would send the bike nearly airborne if orchestrated correctly, propelling the bicycle on and up another little knoll. It was a constant contest to see who could get up the second hill the very farthest. We liked it because it seemed adventurous. Our dad liked it because we weren’t in harm’s way, well off the beaten path. And looking at it now, it is hardly mountainous, but just a slight downward grade.
Prior to laying claim to our own bikes, all we had were beaten-up old pedal tractors, complete with loose chains that were constantly coming off. It had been fun, and we had spent many hours completing our sidewalk farming with those heavy beasts.But graduating to a slick bike that could take on the bad guys and bring about world peace while messing up your hair real good, was definitely a huge step up. Man, we were lucky kids.