|April 23, 2001
The last time I rode a bicycle, Richard Nixon was still in office.
"The Sting" was the number one movie in the country; Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods were riding the top of the pop charts with their deathless anthem for a generation, "Billy, Don't Be A Hero."
"GUNSMOKE" was still on the air, forcryingoutloud.
So when I tell you that climbing onto a bike this past weekend felt a little bit like trying to squeeze into my old Pep Club uniform -- briefly terrifying, momentarily painful, weirdly nostalgic, ultimately revelatory -- you'll know I'm not kidding.
I stood there in the middle of the elementary school parking lot on Saturday afternoon ... tremblingly holding onto the handlebars of my brand-new Schwinn ... and I thought I'm not sure I can do this. Buying the bike had been the easy part: we just walked into an Alameda bike shop and plunked down my credit card. But now I had to actually ride the thing.
"Let's just ride around the parking lot for a few minutes," David suggested gently. "Just until you get your balance." And he hopped onto his trusty Cannondale and began riding around in slow, looping circles, waiting for me to join him.
It was Now or Never Time. I took a deep breath ... popped the kickstand up and put my foot on the pedal ... and lurchingly propelled myself forward. And just like that, I was riding.
Ohmygod. I was riding a BIKE.
Mind you, I wasn't riding it well. I wobbled and weaved my way around the parking lot like a six-year-old released from training wheels for the first time. Dignity and technique took a back seat to gravity at that point. After I'd had a few minutes to get the feel of things, though -- teaching myself how to stop and start, figuring out the brakes, getting the hang of shifting gears -- David suggested that we head over towards the abandoned Alameda Naval Base, half a mile from our apartment.
"That'll be the perfect place to practice," he said. No traffic to speak of. No hills or bumps. No innocent pedestrians for me to run down. I agreed -- nervously -- and followed behind him as he led us out of the parking lot.
We rode slowly and sedately, shouting back and forth to each other occasionally, like a pair of overweight out-of-shape lovesick Baby Boomers. Every couple of minutes David twisted around in his seat and looked over his shoulder as we rode along, smiling encouragingly. "Isn't this fun?" he said. I was concentrating on so many different things at once, frankly -- potholes, pedestrians, melting Maybelline, brakes, balance, gears, traffic, bugs, shoelaces, keeping my sunglasses on my face -- that there weren't enough *attention molecules* left over to actually "enjoy" myself. At least, not for those first few terrifying minutes.
(Plus the little voice inside my head was needling me again. Wow, it sneered, I'll bet YOU'RE a real *treat for the eyes* from BEHIND, Secra.)
But gradually things got better.
It was a beautiful, sunny spring day in Alameda. Blue skies. Wispy clouds. Wildflowers in bloom. Just a tickle of air current as we rode along the streets of town; then, a deliciously cooler ocean breeze once we reached the Navy Base. There was very little traffic, and only the occasional jogger or baby stroller or dog-walker to politely navigate around. Gradually I felt my balance improve. I felt some of the wobbliness and uncertainty level off. I got familiar with the brakes. I settled on a gear that felt comfortable, and pretty much stayed there. I was able to lift my eyes occasionally, from the road directly in front of me, and look around a little.
And that's when it hit me. This was sort of ... uhhh ... not-completely-terrible.
At the Navy Base, we parked our bikes at the end of a pier -- within spitting distance of the U.S.S. Hornet -- and sat at a picnic table overlooking the water. The San Francisco skyline glittered in the midafternoon sunlight, across the bay from where we were sitting.
David congratulated me on making it this far. "I'm so proud of you," he said. Actually, he said it three or four times ... maybe more. (I sort of lost count after a while.) Clearly this was a Very Big Deal to him. This is something he's wanted us to share for a very long time -- a lifelong passion of his -- and here I was, finally coming around. Still, he was concerned that I might be tired. "Should we head back to the apartment?" he asked, once I'd had a chance to rest and catch my breath and relax some of the rubbery feeling out of my legs.
"Actually ... can we keep riding a while longer?" I asked. "Maybe around the Base some more?"
We got back to the apartment ninety minutes after we'd first set out. I was sunburned, sweaty, already slightly saddle-sore ... but jubilant.
"You rode six and a half miles," David announced, checking the odometer.
I was flabbergasted. *I* rode six and a half miles? Flabby, out-of-shape, Hasn't-Been-On-A-Bike-In-Twenty-Seven-Years ME? And I felt this good afterwards??
It was a moment of pure, unadulterated revelation.
Like most people, I've grown up with a fixed, internal list of things I *can* and *can't* do. I can write ... but I can't do math. I can play the piano ... but I can't sing. I can have sex on a computer ... but I can't program one. Etc. etc. etc. On and on it goes. And tops on my list of things I "can't" do, for most of my life, has been anything even remotely athletic. My grandmother, God rest her well-meaning soul, fostered a "delicate flower" sensibility in me as I was growing up -- "Please excuse Terri Lynn from Physical Education Class this semester: she is still recovering from the Asian Flu/the measles/the chicken pox/double mumps/the onset of menses/an ingrown toenail" -- that stuck with me well into adulthood. I grew up believing that I was too fragile and too delicate to engage in strenuous, sweaty stuff like sports, exercise, disco dancing ... or bike-riding. It's going to take some time to cross this particular "can't" off the psychic list.
But I think we made a start this weekend.
We rode again on Sunday morning. A slightly "lesser" ride, in terms of time and distance -- through Crab Cove Park and over to the mall for scones and juice, then back home again in under an hour -- but I enjoyed it every bit as much as I had the previous day's adventure. More, maybe. My comfort level on the bike had already risen appreciably, after just one day. Plus there was something remarkably serene about bike-riding in the early morning. As we sat at a table outside of the bagel shop, I experienced another one of those Life just doesn't get any better than this moments. Lately there have been a lot of those.
When we were finished with our breakfast, we stood up and began strapping ourselves back into bike helmets. "Do you want to keep riding?" David asked.
I gazed off into the distance, over towards Harbor Bay Island, and for a minute I was tempted. Let's just ride and ride and ride! a new little voice said. But then I shifted in my chair and felt the pain in my butt and my groin ... heard long-ignored muscles in my calves and lower back, groaning in protest ... and I knew that overdoing it would not be a good idea.
"I think this is probably enough for today," I said. "Let's just ride back through the park towards home."
It's a good thing we quit when we did, too. By the time I was getting ready for work this morning, "saddle-sore" had morphed into fullbown "I wonder if they rent wheelchairs by the hour?" Midway through the morning -- WARNING! WARNING! *More-Info-Than-You-Probably-Need* Alert! -- I had to sneak down the hall to the ladies room and take off my underwear: the pressure of the elastic against my groin was too painful. I rolled my panties up in a ball and stuffed them into the bottom of my purse, and then I spent the rest of the day hobbling around the office, feeling vaguely naughty ... and quietly virtuous, at the same time.
As pain goes, this is good pain. This is tolerable pain. This is pain that says It's about fudking time you parked your big adorable butt on something other than a computer chair on the weekend! And if I'm careful and smart and methodical about it -- if I get right back in the saddle again, in the next day or two (whenever I can wear underwear without screaming again, anyway) -- then this is probably just temporary pain.
And I can live with that.