Sunday, January 8, 2012

SAFE (?) CYCLING

Ready for another ride on the Pink Flyer!
Most people who have been cyclists can tell you the exact year they learned to ride a bike. I was seven when I attended a birthday party in Lake Arthur, Louisiana where the most important moments of the party weren’t cake and ice cream or opening be-ribboned packages – it was the opportunity given each child to try out their cycling legs. I don’t remember what the bicycle looked like, but I do know it was an adult bike (bikes with training wheels were unheard of in the 40’s), and I balanced myself and wobbled off on it at first try, experiencing the exhilaration of what I imagine a baby bird feels when she makes her first flight. The year was 1942.
Almost seventy years later, this past Christmas, I received a new bicycle, a gift from my oldest daughter Stephanie, who had called me daily before Christmas Eve, asking, “Are you sure you want a bike for Christmas? You could break your bones? All the ones with foot brakes are really ugly anyway. You are older, Mama.” Well, despite threats that she would give me a bike so unattractive that I’d be embarrassed and give up the idea of riding a bicycle again, she made sure that the bicycle was a beauty. It’s a pink and white Schwinn, complete with luggage carrier and a bell on the handlebars, super “stop quickly brakes” (more about that later), and white sidewall tires. It’s a real wowser! Christmas Eve, the family, including my great-grandson who can’t walk yet, gathered on the drive to watch me pedal off on this pink baby. “You looked good,” they unanimously declared, and I felt strength surge in my legs and arms, assuring them I would cycle faithfully.
Well, rain has fallen, temps have dropped and risen, cloudy days have passed, and every evening since Christmas Eve, I have lingered on the glassed-in porch and eyed the pink and white Schwinn. The porch contains a Granny rocker and the pink bicycle, and they seem to symbolize two choices – choose senility in the rocker or choose life by riding the bike. Finally, yesterday, I strapped on the sinister Darth Vader-like black helmet and took off. No cape fluttered in the wind, I wore no metal breastplate or leather undersuit, but I resembled the Phantom Menace looking for a victim to run over as I raced with the wind down the runway of the drive. No family members presented themselves to see me take off, and I accelerated easily on the first mile around the neighborhood. At one point, after I had negotiated a curve, I took my hands off the handlebars to see if I could stay balanced (I rode without hands throughout my teens). That feat only lasted two seconds before the bike began to wobble.
Three of my favorite birds, purple/black crows, circled above and cheered me on. “Connie Carpenter (gold medalist )?” the first bird asked. “Nah, Rebecca Twig (silver medalist),” the second crow jeered. “Nah, Sandra Schumacher (bronze medalist),” the third bird said. Then they began arguing among themselves about whether I was in a “road race” or a “time trial,” and I left them appraising the quality of my ride. “It’s a cinch she won’t join 92-year old Eileen Gray when she carries the torch in the London 2012 Olympics torch relay races,” I heard them agree as I sailed around the corner near the apartment complex. “Well, she has aged, but like Eileen, she was a WWII cyclist too,” the kindest of the ravens declared.
On the second mile, I ran into my handicap – a golden colored Shih Tzu, weighing in at eight pounds (otherwise known as a lion dog in China and a descendant of the Chinese wolf, but really a very small dog with a ferocious bark). All eight pounds ran to the curb and snatched at my blue jeans, breathing heavily (these dogs develop breathing problems at some time during their lifetime) on my tennis shoes, but I pedaled free and dared it to follow me by touching my hand to the Darth Vader helmet as if invoking a curse.
When I had pedaled for twenty minutes, I made a perfect turn into my drive and arrived at the glassed-in porch, braked quickly and fell off, my legs becoming entangled in the pedals. I landed on my Darth Vader cybernetic right arm at the elbow where blood began to flow as if I wasn’t fooling anyone about having a cybernetic right arm. I looked out at the street where one of my neighbors had stopped her SUV at the end of the drive. “Are you o.k.?” she asked, watching me attempt to disentangle my legs and come to a sitting position. I was determined for her not to see my bleeding elbow and flattened out on my back, then did a fast sit up. “Just braked too quickly,” I replied, waving her away with my left arm. She didn’t budge the SUV until she saw me walk to the door of the glassed-in porch. No blinds were raised in neighboring houses, no fire truck or ambulance arrived, and after I had calmed myself in the Granny rocker on the porch, I headed to the icemaker to freeze my wounds.
In an e-mail to my most caring Bishop yesterday, I mentioned the fall, and he fired a message back this morning, asking, “May I enquire how long it has been since you rode a bicycle?” I figured that I gave up the sport in 1984, the year that the three women mentioned by the crows won the Olympics.
I know, I know, when a horse throws you, climb back on. Maybe tomorrow. Today is the Sabbath, and I believe in a day of rest. But the Pink Flyer will ride again.
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