Our city designated one week in October “Go By Bike Week.” My first thought was that it was a bit trite if not redundant. I mean, why do we need to be reminded to ride our bikes? Reminders are all over the place—bike lanes galore, the “go green” chatter, the eyes of self-righteous colleagues as they rip off their helmets, shake their hair out, and smile. Maybe I felt guilty I don’t bike more often and this week was for me.
Biking to work would take about three and a half hours. I’m not out to prove anything, so forget that. Stores, services, and church are within range, okay. On Sunday I peddled to church. My lungs vented, I was ready to sing, and my brain capillaries flowed, ready to receive grace. The rest of the week I didn’t really have to go anywhere, except to buy a couple gallons of milk, cereal, and a bundle of toilet paper for the family, which on a bike presented its own health hazards. So my bike rested.
It dawned on me that I should get out more. I shut my laptop, glanced at the dishes in the sink on my way out, and climbed onto my bike. It’s a “street bike,” meaning “for city slicker wimps,” and I wear the label honestly. It looks like a throwback from the 40’s, which my kids think is funny, funny that I like that about it and that it’s green, but the color is important.
A few blocks from the house is a small café that serves great pastries and sandwiches. I peddled there, the wind in my face, leaves beginning to turn. Sunlight falling through the trees caste bright, flickering patches on the pavement. My bike fenders rattled as I went over the ribs in the street.
The moment transported me back to my first bike ride. My parents had got me a green Schwinn 24-incher with faded silver fenders for my fifth birthday. It was used, but to me it was a thing of beauty, the greatest possession I could have hoped for. On a gravel parking lot near our house, my older brothers held me upright as I made a few first wobbly attempts at riding. Then without warning, they let me go, and I was suddenly riding solo, moving faster and straighter . . . and then crashed. I didn’t even feel it I was so eager to get back on my bike and recover that new floating sensation. I was riding again, better now. Freedom flooded every pore, and I felt no limits to how far or where I could go, my bike simply an extension of my arms and legs. I circled the parking lot again and again as my brothers cheered.
Those same feelings came back to me as I rode to the cafe. I was that kid again on that used green Schwinn with green plastic handle grips, the wind in my ears, without a reason or care. The sound of my old Schwinn came back, and the very smell of it. I could see the paint chips on it and feel its weight under me, carrying me, free, as if that bike had never left.
At the café I ordered a latte, just enough calories to replace what I’d burned on the ride, and sat outside under an oak tree that had been there for generations. On the way home, I understood the reason for my Go By Bike Week—to live in the moment, bathed in wonder, free of thought and anxiety, forgiven and filled with innocence. To be a child.