As the youngest of 6 kids and having 4 older brothers and an older sister I never had a bicycle of my own “just for me”, I only had a bike that belonged to one of my older siblings that they no longer used.
I didn’t grow up in your typical urban or rural housing development with rows and rows of houses and tree lined streets with street lamps. The only street near my house was State Route 92 that ran up American Fork Canyon in central Utah. Riding a bicycle on that road would be considered suicide for anyone other than a seasoned road rider.
However I did learn to ride a bike in the parking lot and on the service path that ran from our home past the campground and along the river to the Park Rangers home some 200 yards away.
When I was 7 or 8 my older brother was riding the only bike I had ever seen around our home and I think there was some “Big brother / Little sister” discussion about how I was too little and “couldn’t” ride a bike. Determined to prove him wrong I convinced him to let me try. He relented and helped me get on the fairly big boy’s bike and held on to the seat while I tried to work the pedals. I got the bike moving and he ran alongside holding the bike up as I pumped the pedals awkwardly. As I approached the bridge that crossed the river running in front of our house my brother let go and I was on my own, riding all by myself. I was elated, I was “Riding” in a world of my own, and in control of my own destiny even if it was only 200 yards away.
As I rode along the path between the river and the campground things were great and the path took on a different feel with the trees and the rushing water. I had walked this path many times but this was different, I was rolling effortlessly along on a bicycle that I was in control of, with the wind in my hair and the sun filtering down through the trees flickering on my face as I went.
Suddenly the euphoria of the event came to an abrupt end as I realized that the downhill path was causing me to go faster and faster on the gravel covered path, then I became aware that my brother was screaming “Put on the brakes, Put on the brakes”, jolted back to reality I yelled “What Brakes? I don’t know where the brakes are”. Pedal backwards he called as he ran in vain to catch up to me. I stood on the pedal backwards as hard as I could and the back wheel locked up. Sliding in the gravel in a panicked-out of control attempt to stop I managed to stay upright right up to the front door of the Rangers house. No scrapes or bruises, at least not this time.
After that day I rode the “boys” bike almost daily when the weather permitted but only on the gravel paths that meandered around in the campground and along the river below our house.
My next adventure on a bike occurred when I was almost a teenager and went to spend a few days with my older sister and her husband in a large city.
There was a young girl next door who was my age and we knew each other from previous visits. This particular day was in the early summer and the weather was beautiful and she asked me if I wanted to go for a bike ride.
I had been riding for some time by now and considered myself a pretty good rider but for some reason as my mother gave me her final instructions as she left me at my sister’s house she said “Don’t ride any bikes while you are here”, obviously worried about my lack of experience and respect for cars when riding in the city.
Throwing caution to the wind and ignoring my mother’s warning I jumped on the neighbors bike (a girl’s bike to boot) and off we went looking for the cute boys who we were sure played ball in the parks sprinkled throughout the subdivisions of the city.
Things were going Sooo well, it was warm the sun was shining and the roads and sidewalks were smooth with no gravel and we were invincible.
Out of nowhere a yappy dog appeared and came after me barking and snapping at my heels as if I had a soup bone hanging around my neck. I was terrified that he might bite my leg and I would get rabies or jump on me and knock the bike over into the street where I could be hit by a car. I did my best to deter the dog by kicking at him and in doing so I lost my focus on riding the bike.
Two things came into my life at that moment of distraction, a vicious barking dog nipping at my heels and a chain link fence running along the sidewalk I was riding on. As the dog barked and the bike swerved I became closely acquainted with the fence which is an immovable object and at speed becomes like a cheese grater. As my hand was getting chewed up by the fence I forgot about the dog and to my surprise he forgot about me.
Injured and in mild shock I rode the bike back to my sister’s house leaving a visible trail of blood that even an amateur detective could have followed. I had never seen one of my own bones without skin or muscle covering it; I marveled at how white the bone was and how much it hurt.
I learned some valuable lessons that day.
- Unprotected body parts are vulnerable to speed and rough surfaces.
- Always listen to your Mother. (you’d think I would have remembered this lesson from the time I was introduced to creosote)