Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Joy of Riding A Bike

I was one of the last kids in my Delano CA neighborhood to learn to ride a bike without training wheels. At the age of seven I knew I was a late starter, my dad had tried to help me get comfortable with riding without the extra wheels, but I just couldn't get the hang of it. It wasn't until a kid a block away, Lonnie, two years younger than me, made me try riding his bike which had no training wheels. He said "it's easy, don't sit down on the seat, its about keeping your balance so stand up and pump and it will feel kind of like running". He was right. Almost immediately I could ride his bike. It was about keeping your balance. 

Once I got the hang of it and had the stupid trainer wheels removed I was riding that bike all over town. One day I rode into downtown Delano and bought a new goldfish, the last one had died. The new fish was in a baggy and I carried it on my handle bars all the way home. 

My best friend Lisa Mashburn had 2 bikes both with butterfly handlebars and banana seats. I ditched my Schwinn for hers and we rode all around the neighborhood for hours with matchbook jackets clipped on our wheel spokes, making our bikes sound like "motorbikes" bbbbbbbb. 

Riding bikes in Delano afforded me some autonomy and some freedom. I could ride to school. I could ride to town or to Lisa's house. I remember fondly that feeling of power you have as a kid on a bike on an open road. 

Later that year when I was spending the summer with my cousins in Laguna Beach I had a bad bike accident. Their house was situated at the bottom of a hill with the rest of the street going down and back up on the other side. They had two bikes one of them with no brakes and thats the one I used. I thought I had it managed, flying down the hill then using my tennis shoed feet as drag to slow before the speed bump, but at one point a car stopped half way down the hill and I swerved to keep from hitting it. I ended up with broken front teeth , a trip to the emergency room and stitches in my chin. Thankfully I didn't hit my head. 

In 1995 my husband, rock writer Paul Williams, rode his bike wildly fast down our local hill, on the way back from the post office, with the plan of coasting half way up the up side of the street. Something went very wrong, no car involved, but he ended up over the handle bars and in brain surgery an hour later. 

I met Paul in May of 1992 and by the fall of that year I visited him at his home in the Sonoma area. We rode bikes around his little town of Glen Ellen and along bike trails in the local park. My memory is of green trees whizzing by and Paul, ahead of me several bike-lengths his hair blowing in the breeze and his shirt tails whipping in the air behind him. The joy of bike riding. 

Three years later he was recovering from a traumatic brain injury due to his bike accident. No helmet and riding his bike down a hill at a reckless speed. The same guy that I admired a few years earlier in Glen Ellen both times with no helmet. 

After the bike accident and after his recovery, for many years, Paul's bike lived in our apartment unused. I forgot the things I liked about it. I forgot the feeling of freedom a ride on a bike gives you. The wind on your face pushing your hair out of your eyes. The exhilaration. 

A month ago Alexander got his first real bike. Not like the little-kid-Walmart bikes he'd had, with one gear and back petal brake. This one has twenty something gears, it's light, it's pretty and it taunts you to ride it -just lookin' at it. Like a beautiful pony. "Come on baby, lets go for a ride"

Alex has been riding around getting used to it. But during his school hours, this week, I've been taking it out for a spin myself, just me and the Red Bomb riding up and down Neptune Ave...along the bluff. Past Beacons Beach path and on to Grand View. And I'm remembering....the joy of riding a bike.      
                                                              *      *      *
Sometimes when things go bad we stop doing the things we love. Like when objects; people places or things, are infected-infused with a memory of past loss. Some call that ptsd. I call it deep caution. I lost my mother, she died when I was 8, people die, they go away and we are left with a kind of tattoo, a muscle memory. I have a song; Cry Me a Jordan (Beloved Stranger 2008) which address this loss. 

"Momma died when I was a little girl it broke my heart it shattered my world. Now I'm always expecting the worse when people come close I know someone 'll get hurt. One thing I found out a long time ago, when the  hurting starts young it looks like everyone you'll know". 

How do you Un-learn this kind of caution, or expectation of the worst? That's where my update comes in... 

What does the view look like from here, 2 1/2 years after Paul's passing? Well, there's more time and emotional room for our, now-as of yesterday- 14 year old, son for one thing. He needs some attention, he started 9th grade last month and the transition made him quite anxious. But with some care and attention that seems to be improving. 

And how does it feel to be this age, this person, i am and starting a big part of my life again? Dating. Intimacy. Revealing. Vulnerable...
It's a lot like riding a bike. You learned once. You found joy in it. You fell down and broke something. Then eventually, tired of seeing the damn bike in the corner you try it out again. And there, after all, you remember the joy of riding a bike. 

Harvest Holidays Bike Parade, Delano CA


  1. A beautiful piece. In mty teens, I was always on my bike and loved that whizzing feeling of freedom. Then I had an accident when I was aged 16, jumped off the bike to save myself from a car that was coming at me. I survived but the bike didn;t. My parents, particularly my mother, wanted to buy me another bike but I wasn;t interested. I've been on bikes since then but never felt the magic that I used to know.

  2. I am pleased that you are riding the bike as well as Alexander. I hope he is getting as much satisfaction out of it as you are.

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    2. ...and thanks to you and Alexander's Uncle Eric he was able to get this new bike!

  3. gesslinger671@gmail.comNovember 20, 2015 at 9:17 AM

    Cindy, sorry for your loss, my father was "Hank" in Paul's apple bay book. I never knew my father, through Paul's words I feel like I know him a little better.