Yesterday I bought a bike. It’s the first bike I’ve owned since 1993.
I first met this bike in August. It was in the window of Tacoma Bike, a few blocks from my house. I started finding excuses to drive by to look at it. I would glance quickly then turn away, afraid of revealing too much. I began casually dropping mention of the bike into casual conversation. I got up the courage to actually go stand in front of the window to look inside.
It was so pretty. It came with all the things. It has a bell. It has a basket. It has the things to keep mud from flying up your back, and the thing to keep your pants from getting caught in the chain, and the thing that keeps your skirt from getting caught in the wheel.
If only I were the sort of person who rode a bike, I would say to myself, I would get a bike like this. But of course, I’m not the sort of person who rides a bike. I know the kind of people who do! They are good people. They are healthy and happy and have never in their lives driven their car 1 1/2 blocks to buy a pack of cigarettes.
So that’s where I hung out for a while, casually driving past the bike shop, awkwardly asking friends and acquaintances if they’d happened to see the bike, fantasizing about a life in which I was fit and European and lived in a flat city and rode around town with cheese and baguettes in my basket.
After some time of my fantasizing about how, if I were someone else with a different life, I would totally buy that bike, the thought occurred to me that perhaps I could buy the bike even if I were me, with the life I have now.
Of course, this idea is lunatic on its face. Who I am is an overweight 48 year old woman with diabetes who smokes. Yes, I smoke. (Yes, it’s evil and the cause of all the problems in the world. Yes, I’m an idiot. Yes, I smoke.) I also occasionally get high, and routinely come up with excuses for not walking the dog. (We have a big backyard! Well, it’s not big, but neither is the dog.)
It’s at this point that my intentions, good as they may be, oft go awry. Of course I should buy a bike, get healthy and live a better life. But I should quit smoking first. And I should start eating better first. And I’m not in any shape to ride a bike. I should join a gym and start on a stationary bike first. Or start walking. Yes, I should start walking and when I can successfully walk a marathon then I can get a bike. Because only people who are committed to living a good clean healthy life deserve to ride a bike.
I always had a bike when I was a kid. I used to ride it everywhere. Back in the day, the ancient times with no helmet laws, when kids ran feral every summer, I would ride my bike all over town. I’d ride it to the pool. I’d ride it to the library. I’d ride it to my friend Heather’s house. Then she’d hop on her bike and we’d ride over to our friend Sarah’s house. Then she’d hop on her bike and we’d ride to the mall.
I loved riding my bike. I loved the freedom, the feeling of flying. I loved that even though I was awkward and clumsy and couldn’t play any organized sport I could ride a bike. Once I took a dare to ride down the steep hill at the end of my street which turned into a cul de sac. The big kids would ride down, whip around the cul de sac and fly back up the hill. I rode down, lost control and removed half my knee on the pavement. The adult I’ve become would take that as a sign to never ride a bike again, but such a thing never occurred to the child I was. Why, I asked my grown up self, am I not allowed to feel that way anymore?
One of the things that’s interesting about getting older is that I’ve started to recognize my tricks. Because I recognized this thing I was doing, discouraging myself from getting the bike. Oh of COURSE you can have a bike, if you prove you deserve it. Then I start moving the deserving finish line a half step back, and another, and another. And it all becomes tormented and bullshitty and who needs a fucking bike anyway?
I finally went IN to the bike store last month. I thought that I would look at the bike and find out the cost, and probably the cost would be way too expensive but I would know. I could put this silly dream aside. The cost was about half of what I expected it to be. The friendly guy at the store asked me if I wanted to take it for a test drive. I almost said no, but then said sure. This would be it. I’d try to ride it and I would see how hard it was and how out of shape I was. I would hate it and I would know that it was time to put the dream to bed.
I took it out. I was so out of practice. I had trouble riding in a straight line. I panicked when I had to stop at a stop sign (WHAT IF I FALL/GET HIT/DIE?!?!) and skidded my feet on the ground to stop the bike. A driver in a car waved me through the intersection and I didn’t want to go. The driver would see me struggle to start peddling the bike, see me wobble all over the road. I took a deep breath and started peddling and wobbling and struggling. And then suddenly, for a few blocks, I was gliding easily, flying above the pavement.
I did not go far, only a few blocks, before I turned around and headed back to the bike shop. When I got within a block, I got off and walked the rest of the way. I thanked the guy for his help, told him I’d think about it and went home. As I walked back to the house, my legs were shaky, my butt hurt and I knew that I was going to get that bike.
A month passed before I finally went back. It was a month of personal bargaining. I couldn’t get the bike before I bought a shed in which to keep the bike. But I can’t decide on the kind of shed to get. And probably I should quit smoking before I get the bike. Do I need to buy a new bike riding wardrobe of some kind? What if I buy the bike and never use it? What if I buy the bike and hurt myself?
At some point in life we absorb that it’s not enough to do something just because it brings you joy. We start to judge things on whether or not they’re “good for you”. Oh sure, I could buy a bike because riding a bike would be “good for me”. But one need only look at my track record to know that I never stick to things that are “good for me”. Based on my past, buying a bike would be completely foolish.
Then I would think about flying, about how happy riding a bike had made me long ago, and I’d wonder why I thought I did not deserve to feel that way. What if I got the bike not because it would be “good for me”, not because it would make me more virtuous, but because riding a bike makes me happy?
Yesterday I walked down to the shop and bought my bike. I rode it home, taking a slightly longer route home. I think I rode a total of 10 blocks. By the evening my legs, back and even, inexplicably, my shoulders were aching. I took some Aleve and went to bed. This morning I rode again for about the same distance, just a few blocks and back. This time I rode all the way up the gentle hill, instead of getting off to walk the last 10 feet.
This is how it’s going to be for a while, short gentle rides every day. It will be a while before I’m confident enough to join other people on rides I think. It’s true that you never forget how to ride a bicycle, but sometimes you need help remembering what it’s like to be a child.