Monday, July 10, 2006

Just like riding a bike

"With my belly full I intended to get something done." - The Tragically Hip, 'The Bear'

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It was right about the time a giant mutant woodchuck went scrambling through the brush that I thought, "Jesus, maybe I'm in over my head."

My iPod shuffled through weirdly pastoral songs - "In Dreams" by Roy Orbison, "The Bear" by the Tragically Hip, "Once Upon a Time" by Smashing Pumpkins - and had long ago abandoned any sort of rational playlist for a sort of jived-up LSD trip through the backwoods of mid-Michigan.

I was riding like a werewolf down the Falling Water Trail, a semi-complete bike and walking path that goes west from Jackson to Concord. Only days before I had broken out the bike, filled the tire with air at the local gas station, and re-learned how to ride the damn thing on a sweaty Saturday.

It's been years since I've ridden my bike. Since at least junior year at AC, it had been sitting in the ATO basement, neglected and moldy, until I rescued it and took it in to the local bike shop for repairs after this year's graduation. I abandoned the beast when it blew a tire on my way to get popcorn at the Adrian Wesco the summer I lived on campus. I never thought about it after that, especially when I inherited "Das Boot": my grandpa's tank of a Mercury Grand Marquis. It was my only real transportation that summer of excess after sophomore year. It was a shame to put it down so harshly.

But since I've moved to Alpine Lake, I've caught the bike-riding bug. I take walks at Cascades Park and envy the bastard bikers speeding by.

It used to be that, as a kid, a bike circumnavigated your entire known world. Remember that? Remember when the bounderies of reality were bordered by how far you could pedal? Training wheels to look-Ma-no-hands, your freedom depended on how well you could handle your wheels and chain.

I remember going from the corner of 23rd and Michigan Ave, back in junior high, to downtown Jackson every week to stop into Nostalgia Ink for the latest comics. It had to have been a two- or three-mile trek, but I looked forward to that weekly ride. I'd stop and grab a Slushee at the now-closed drug store downtown, whiz by the monstrous mansions down West Washington, and throw the bike in the front yard (kick stand be damned!) to read the latest adventures of the Amazing Spider-Man.

That was my whole world in sixth and seventh grade.

Now I've traveled to the West Coast and back by myself, and I head to Detroit at least once or twice a month, in a car. But still, nothing compares to the freedom you felt as a kid when you kicked that kickstand and pedalled off, chores undone.

Not that I want to recreate that feeling now, but I fixed my bike to get some exercise, enjoy the summer air, and explore my neighborhood. Saturday, after I filled the front tire with air, it took a little getting used to, but - as they say - it was just like riding a you-know-what. I traveled around the apartment parking lot at first to get my bearings and to see if the tire would hold air. It did, so I went a little farther, into Ella Sharp Park next door, and tried the trails that criss-cross the park. The bike was fine. So I hit the Falling Water Trail to West Ave., pedalled up to the gas station, grabbed a Gatorade, and went a few more miles through Cascades and on back home. This is what I missed.

Today, after dinner, I hit the Falling Water again, just to see how far I could go. I went through the paved section, passing walkers, bunnies and rasberry bushes, onto the unpaved section. No skid-outs, no crashes (although a minor freak-out when I saw something brown with legs around my right ear), no problems at all until I hit a sand patch near a construction site. I slid, stopped, and decided that was as far as I was willing to go.

By now I had worked up a good sweat. I turned around and went back to West Ave, up the hill where all the beautiful Republican houses are, and took Fourth Street home. A beautiful day, and a wonderful ride.

Just like when I was a kid, I'm exploring places you just can't get to in a car. I'm even thinking about riding to work on Fridays, our dress-down days, just to see a different neighborhood each time I go.

When I'm alone, I find myself exploring.

But I'll really feel like an 11-year-old Dave when I can stand on the cross bar flying down a hill.

Who's with me?

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