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Sunday, June 5, 2011

I Love Bicycles

Though they have had their drawbacks.

When I was little it seemed like everyone but me had a bicycle. I wanted one too! A bike heated my preschool dreams like a hotrod did a teenager's imaginings. I drooled over bikes and dropped hints till the folks finally took me up to Wheaton's in Kalispell to buy one.

The day of finally getting one was like all the Christmases I'd ever known rolled into one. The bike I got was not exactly what I wanted -- I wanted a horn! -- but was shiny and pretty and MINE! I could live without the horn. It was a size to fit ME, and the seat and handlebars were properly set up for ME! IT WAS MINE!

I wanted to ride it home from the store, but Mom and Dad both said "NO!" I kept pestering in the hope that once we got to Four Corners and off of the highway they'd relent. No such luck. I had to wait till I got home. Once we were there and the bike was finally unloaded, reality reared its ugly head -- sort of like what happens when you finally marry the gorgeous woman of your dreams.

If the events had been set to music there would have been a lot of percussion instruments involved, accompanied by cymbals. CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! CRASH! BOOM! I could no more balance myself on that horizontal-loving machine than I could fly.

Dad watched me for a few tries, then took the bike himself. He said he'd never been on one before, but away he went, perfection in motion. He handed it back with a "There, that's how it's done" and walked off. He wasn't much help.

I swallowed pride and asked for training wheels but he shot that idea down, saying no one ever learned to ride a bike using them. I had to learn the hard way, and it was hard on me, my clothes, and my not-so-shiny-now bicycle. And on Mom. Not only did she have to wash the bloody clothes and sew the torn pants and shirts, she had to listen to me complain. (Dad was totally wrong, by the way. My daughter was given training wheels on her first bike and learned to ride quite well. When I took them off at her request, she almost flew down the driveway.)

Carol Olson , a neighbor girl some years older than I, took pity on me and spent a good chunk of her summer pushing me around, running with the bike and launching me on my wobbly way to gravel rash. I never did have a triumphant break-through in my balancing abilities -- I only managed to slowly increase the distances I made between launches and topples until it suddenly dawned on me that I wasn't falling over any more. Dad wasn't impressed.

The bicycle was my main mode of transport for the two mile trip between school and home, and after I got into high school I still rode it from the house to Riedel's where I met the bus.

In the stateside Navy, I put some miles on the haze gray bike the boat had. I used it to haul 4 or 6 35mm movies back and forth when we were in a port that had the ancient USN equivalent of a video rental unit. Ships were allowed X number of movies at a time and it was the task of the junior Electrician (me) to trade them in and get new ones. Since I never watch movies and was clueless about what was good or bad in what I picked out I got regularly bitched at but wasn't relieved of the duty.

In case you are wondering where I am going with this, I am about to explain the scar in my eyebrow . . .

So, I am peddling though the shipyard in Long Beach on that balloon-tired gray junker of a bike with two heavy 35mm multi-reel movies swinging off of each side of the handlebars. I am paralleling the track for a crane that sits in a groove in the concrete roadway. A USN pickup pulls up alongside me and I pull over to give it room. The front bike tire drops into the track groove and wedges between the iron track and the concrete. The tire stops, the bike doesn't. Result: Faceplant and slide on the concrete, because the last part of you that detaches from the bike is your grip on the handlebars and having your arms stretched back and anchoring you pretty much guarantees your face hits first.

The pickup didn't stop. I unwedged the bike, gathered the films and wobbled the rest of the way back to the boat. And was met with "What the H*** did you do? Are the movies okay? Go get patched up after you put them away and secure the bike. Oh, and is the bike okay?" This might give you an insight into the mind of a career Navy Chief, btw.

It was the Electronics Technician that taped my eyebrow back into place. We were too small to have a Corpsman on board.

My next phase of biking was after I was married, and the wife and I bought matching J.C. Penney bikes, green three-speeds, in Nampa where I was finishing up college. They were transportation to class and work for me, and came back to Kalispell with us.

Flash forward to Bec riding a bike. I went for a ramble with her and took my black lab along on a lengthy rope. That I tied to the handlebars. Yeah, not so smart . . . That idea worked fine and we had a good head of steam built up when the dog spotted something up the neighbor's driveway and took off at right angles to my course. I was left floating along wondering my bike went. It followed the dog. No face plant, but skinned elbows, ribs and knees and fatally wounded dignity. Yeah, Bec hadn't thought putting the dog on that rope was a good idea.


I still love bicycles and still ride, but with more caution and less speed. These days I pamper myself with a nice 2nd or 3rd hand mountain bike with full suspension, a nice benefit on bumpy streets. I am training my dog to trot alongside the bike when I ride, but she is not fastened to the handle bars and is not on a long leash. I have learned a little over the years, and it has been DAYS since I last crashed because I tried to do something stupid.

TBC "Memento mori" (Me)