Friday, January 14, 2011

Two Wheels of freedom

My sister taught me to ride a bicycle. I got a Stingray bike from OTASCO from my parents or grandparents. At least that's what I think happened. It had a banana seat and high handlebars and one speed and those brakes that work when you push the pedals backwards. My sister had one just like it, I think, only the girls version with the white handlebar grips with the plastic streamers and tassels coming out the end and a white basket on the front. When it was time for me to learn the only real place was on the country road in front of the house. It was flat and we lived on a long straight section so we could see traffic coming and get out of the way. About a half mile down the road there was a pretty steep hill that was maybe 60 feet higher than the level portion below. I believe my dad held the bike up for me while I got on and learned what it felt to balance. Then my sister would push me along and keep the bike balanced for me. Eventually I managed to learn how to pedal and still she would run beside me as fast as she could till she couldn't keep up any more. I think i learned late for a kid, like 8 or 10. I do know that the first time I really rode my bike I rode it up the hill down the road while sitting on the seat the whole time. It was a hill that most people would have to walk a bike up to get to the top even if they had a ten speed. I had a generic one speed jan brady bike. All the power was supplied by the monkey boy legs honed from hours in the woods jumping and climbing and running. My sister still tells the story about how I would ride my bike up that hill sitting down like some superman kid. Once I had bike riding mastered I would ride it around a made up little track that crossed from my house to granddads house and back. I pretended I was driving a race car. I did it for hours. And hours. Nonstop and all alone. I would literally do entire Indy 500 races by doing 500 laps around my little track that was maybe 30 yards long. Of course I did pit stops but I always finished my races. Later I got a more substantial kind of motocross bicycle that held up to my abuse better. It was still a primitive bike compared to motocross bikes today because it came before they were even really invented. But it did hold up amazingly well. It was probably from OTASCO too, like my Stingray, and made from heavy gauge steel of some type. My grandad once changed all the countertops in his house and I found the ones he had discarded and promptly made a jump ramp with it using cement blocks and scrap wood. I loved Evel Kneivel. I had fun jumping it. My friend Bruce came over one day and was jumping it with me. I was fearless. Just for fun I jumped it once and landed with the brakes on so I could see how far I jumped from where the skid mark started. I had set the jump up at the bottom a portion of the hill I lived on. I had to push the bike up the hill and I had cut some small trees out of the way to get a faster run at it. I thought I was jumping like ten feet. The first jump was closer to ten yards. My friends jumps were pretty good too. I thought he was flying forever. I spent hours modifying the run to the jump from farther and farther up the hill till I was jumping my bike as far as the terrain would allow. That was probably the beginning of many years of stories as adrenaline would become my drug of choice.

I lived about 15 miles one-way to where I went to school in the town of Catoosa, population 3000. About half the road there is a one and a half lane country road full of potholes. It had many sharp and blind corners and hills and meandered generally along the Verdigris river. I would call it generally unsafe now but back then it was just the road home. On a map the road doesn't really seem to have a point and it wanders all over the place when most all roads are built and maintained by the counties and are straight section lines. I was told it was an old wagon trail and considering it's route along the river it made sense. It was a long way between bridges in the old days. The other half of the road was a wide two lane highway with wide shoulders. It couldn't be much more different than the wagon trail and was a pleasure to drive.

One long lazy summer day my friend Bruce and I got the idea that we would ride our bikes to the town where our school and friends all lived. I would guess we were in the 5th grade, maybe 6th. We had heard stories about how our buddies rode bikes around town and got into all sorts of adventures. We wanted to get a piece of that so the plan was hatched. We left after our parents had all went to work. No we didn't tell anyone where we were going. Kids. We were sure we'd be told no so it just seemed better to not tell anyone. Of course we didn't consider that everyone in the town knew us and our families and that everyone would know almost immediately but kids don't know that. We managed to ride about 50 miles that day on generic one speed bikes without getting hurt or killed. And we got to hang out with some of our friends. The only way we had of knowing where they were was to ride around and look for them. I don't remember getting in any trouble with our parents. It seems like it may have been mentioned in passing. Dunno.

I watch kids nowadays get rides from their parents to and from school who only live two blocks away. I don't know if it was better in the old days or worse. But I do know that the amount of parental guilt and paranoia surrounding kids today has increased a hundred fold. Back then it seemed like kids had much more responsibility in learning about their world and sometimes there were consequences...a burned hand or a broken leg or a cut on your forehead. You got scars but you also learned a great deal about yourself and the world and how to interact within it. It was the blossoming of common sense, something infinitely more valuable to a kid than what they get now in its place, dollars and cents.

1 comment:

  1. i learned how to ride a bike when i was 7.
    i don't think 8 or 10 years old is kinda old to be learning. I'm actually the one who finally taught Matt to ride a bike when he was 20. I think it's probably a lot harder to teach adults things like that because they are embarrassed that they don't already know how and get frustrated and want to quit more easily than kids.