Learning to ride a bicycle is a rite of passage.
You move up from the safety of three wheels to the precarious-looking two. Maybe you have training wheels to start, but it’s not too long before you’re off and running … er, riding. And those two wheels are where you spend a huge part of your childhood before you move on up to four.
But it’s more than just the number of wheels.
Riding a bicycle represents your first taste of freedom. Once you’re on two wheels, mama can’t catch you anymore. All of a sudden, you can go farther, faster.
Your world immediately opens up. You can see places you couldn’t get to before by yourself, whether it’s down a country road or around a city block.
You learn to test your limits and to be daring and brave. Can you make it up that hill? How fast can you go when you coast back down it? Are you scared? Are you thrilled?
This weekend marks six months since COVID-19 changed our world. That’s six months of working from home, limited outings, and even more limited social contact. Not gonna lie — as an extrovert’s extrovert it’s been a slog for me with more downs than ups.
But a few weeks ago, inspired by a friend on Instagram, I pulled my bicycle out of the garage and dusted it off. Now I bought this bike five or six years ago while Sonny Boy was working at Redemptive Cycles in Birmingham. I rode it once, got a flat tire, and parked it in the garage.
Then I forgot all about it.
But when I saw my friend right there on the Insta blissfully peddling down his street or on a shady trail in the woods, I started thinking about that bike wasting away in the garage.
My bicycle is blue, just like my very first bike. It also doesn’t have any gears, but my first bike didn’t have gears either. It does have a basket. And a bottle opener. But no training wheels.
I took it down to Redemptive for a tune up. After all, it had been sitting lonely and unridden for several years now. I also wanted them to put a bigger seat on it for my … uh … bigger seat. Which they did. And they gave the whole bike a once-over, adjusted it to fit me better, and showed me how to load it up in my truck.
I took it out to a flat trail. A place where there wasn’t much traffic and not many people. I prayed that it really would be “like riding a bike” and that I wouldn’t fall or somehow not be able to ride it.
But after a little bit of a wobbly start, I was off! I rode up and down this flat trail getting my “bike legs” back. I went a little faster, then even a little faster than that. I practiced turning around and riding in circles. I left the trail and rode around the block.
Before I knew it, I’d gone more than two miles.
And I felt like a kid again!
The next day I rode two more miles. Then the next day I went to a different trail and rode five and a half miles. Then the weekend came and I was dying to ride some more. Nine and a half miles later, I’d covered a big chunk of my neighborhood, ridden on the streets of Birmingham to Railroad Park, and peddled my way back home. Well, almost back home.
Those last three blocks were all uphill. And even though I’d promised myself I wouldn’t walk my bike, I did walk those last few blocks. Turns out I live uphill from everywhere.
Riding a bicycle has been my first taste of real freedom after six months of relative confinement and isolation. I don’t have to worry about wearing my mask (although I do carry it in case I have to stop), or sanitizing, or being socially distant. All I have to worry about is not sliding down in some gravel or getting hit by a car or swallowing a bug because I smile the whole time I ride since it’s so damn much FUN.
All I have to do is keep my feet on the pedals and feel the wind in my face and the sun on my shoulders.
My world has immediately opened up. I’m discovering new trails to ride, and when I ride in the city, I see things you just don’t see when you zoom by in a car. I’ve gone to places I never even thought about going pre-pandemic.
And I’m learning to test my limits and to be brave and daring. Can I make it up that hill? How fast can I go when I coast back down it? Am I scared? Am I thrilled?
YES is the answer to all of the above!
And you know what, my mood has improved dramatically. I feel stronger and healthier. I have something to look forward to. And as I talked about in this post, anticipation makes all the difference.
The other day I decided to take an evening ride after a super busy work day. I took my bike down to Railroad Park, unloaded it, and started to pedal around. On this particular evening, the park was hopping.
I saw an old man who’d parked and set up a card table and a folding chair by the trunk of his car. He was eating his dinner and watching the people go by. I saw two young girls turning back handsprings across the grass, one after another after another after another. There were some skateboarders, a juggler, a lady practicing yoga, and a cheerleading squad practicing a dance routine. There was a mother pushing two babies in a stroller. I saw couples picnicking in secluded areas. Two girls were trying to get their perfect selfie in the evening sunlight, posing and laughing. There were the walkers, the runners, the other bikers, and a young woman whose friends were trying to help her learn to rollerblade.
And despite the fact that all these people were doing their own things in their own little socially distant bubbles, I’d never felt more a part of a community, of my community. That’s the unexpected gift of COVID 19 — we have a chance to try new things, to get outside our comfort zones, and to feel connected to something much larger than ourselves and our provincial little existence. In our confinement, we’ve been given perfect freedom.
NEW CLASS ALERT!
Starting in October, I’m teaching two online classes for UAB’s Alys Stephens Center’s ArtPlay this Fall — on for high school students and one for adults. Since the classes are virtual, you can be anywhere you have internet access and still participate! Join me to learn all about The Art and Craft of Creative Nonfiction! We’ll have a ton of fun and you’ll learn something too. I promise!