Riding a Bike

My son, age 17, is standing on the front porch looking at me with alarm.  “You know how to ride a bike?”

“Yes,” I answer, “I know how to ride a bike.” I wheel the hand-me-down Raleigh (many thanks Rita) gently down the front steps and along the sidewalk.

“How long has it been since you’ve ridden a bike?” he asks. The anxiety in his voice mirrors his father.

I grin. “Since before you were born.”

“Almost two decades!?”

“Yep. But you know what they say about riding a bicycle. You never forget.” With that, I  swing my leg over, clamber onto the pedals and I am gone, sailing down the sidewalk, leaving him standing there with his mouth open.

There were things I had forgotten. Not how to ride a bike. Just as they say, that all comes rushing back to you, as if you’d never stopped. But I had forgotten the exhilaration of flying down a hill, and how fast that can seem. I’d forgotten how hard you have to work to push your way back up, pump, pump, pumping away on the pedals. I’d forgotten how much more you see of the world around you when you’re on a bike and not speeding past in a car.

I make a little loop around the block and go zipping by the house again, not seeing my husband who steps out on the porch to see if I still know how to ride a bike, intending to tell me that the gear is too low.

I had forgotten that first rule of childhood: a bicycle means freedom.

Along Wolf Creek, I pedal, stopping once to adjust the duct tape I’d applied to my yoga pants so they wouldn’t get caught in the chain. (Okay, so I don’t have being a fashion plate and riding a bike at the same time quite mastered yet.) Turning left on a boulevard named for the world’s greatest hurdler, I already know where I am going. It isn’t far. I get off the bike to cross Third Street. Since I have declined to wear a helmet, it would be best not to be killed the first time out.

Back on the bike, I turn up Fourth Street crossing Horace and Mound, Shannon and Saratoga, to arrive at Hawthorn, where a disembodied porch sits woebegone in a fenced-off lot. Orville used to live here.  The house itself has been trucked up to Greenfield Village, Michigan at the request of Henry Ford. This rankles some. I’m sorry the house isn’t here, but it was Orville’s to give away and he did. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

I don’t pause for long. Kicking forward the pedal, I am off again, swinging around the corner onto the brick pavers of Williams Street. It’s a funny thing this little brick street. Five short blocks away is my own block. This is the street that connects me, and my day-to-day life, with the Wright Brothers and their day-to-day life a hundred years ago. One short straight street and a bridge.

At the corner of Williams and Third  is a US National Park, the Dayton Aviation Heritage National Historical Park. As part of that complex, there is one of the original Wright Brothers’ bicycle shops. It’s closed for the evening, but I sit down on the steps for a few minutes, resting my chin on the crossbar of the bike, and thinking. The brothers Wright were a busy pair, and they had business interests all up and down this neighborhood. Most of them have been razed, long before Dayton realized how important it all was. The sites of the first bicycle shop, and the newspaper offices are part of a large vacant lot now, a wasteland. Orville Wright’s last office was torn down to make a gas station that was never built. There’s a drive-up ATM there now, next to a smaller than life-size bronze figure of Orville holding a propeller.  Tempus fugit. 

They’ll be worrying at home, so cutting short my reverie I point the bicycle up Williams Street. The old bridge over Wolf Creek is blocked to motorized traffic now– the city ruined it driving construction trucks over it two years ago and now they aren’t inclined to fix it. There’s passage enough still for a woman on a bicycle. At the crest of the bridge I stop for a minute to watch a young heron take flight out of the creek.

Target 76, steps 3717

Breakfast: yogurt with granola, Lunch: red beans and rice, cup of cottage cheese, six ounces of raspberries, Dinner: three home-made fish tacos and a cup of frozen Greek yogurt. 

Bike ride: 30 mins, 1.64 miles. Grocery shopping, made dinner, took a dog to the vet. 

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