On a recent foggy morning, en route to my morning walk in the park, I almost collided with a flash of chartreuse on two wheels, when the flash abruptly took a sharp left in front of my Subaru. My car had won a top award for its safety features, and I put most of them to the test as I swerved to avoid him. He gave me a backhanded wave as he flew past in the opposite direction.
Despite the adrenalin rush that plunged me into heart-pounding-like-a-madwoman shock, this encounter vividly transported me to my own cycling past.
The most memorable gift I received as a child was a rusty red girl’s bike with a broken kickstand, leaning against the tree on Christmas morning. I was about 8, I think, and my brother had gotten his used boy’s bike under the tree the previous year, but still, I wasn’t prepared for anything as magnificent as this — my own bicycle! The driveway had been cleared of snow, so I took my gift for a spin. After crashing to the asphalt three times in a row, I got the hang of it, and spent many after-school hours riding on the road and through the nearby fields, falling into the occasional woodchuck hole like Alice in Wonderland.
There’s a scar on my left ankle caused when I insisted on riding my bicycle barefoot down the steep decline on the road from my childhood home and, startled by an oncoming truck, I twisted my foot up in the chain. Just seconds prior, I was having the greatest thrill of my 10 years.
In my early teens, my best friend and I spent Saturdays riding to the sugar shack in the center of my hometown, the bowling alley three towns over, or to the movie theater four towns away. There were bike racks everywhere, and adolescents of all ages freely rode everywhere. It was literally traveling by the seat of your pants — going wherever the fancy struck.
When I moved to South Florida and rented a tiny apartment in Coconut Grove, I fell in love with the artsy vibe and tropical beauty. I bought a used bicycle and sailed down wide boulevards overhung by banyan trees. Sidewalks served as bike paths, occasionally disrupted by giant ficus roots. A favorite jaunt was winding through the mangroves on the Key Biscayne path, ending up at the beach with the bike resting in the sand, book in hand beneath a royal palm.
My husband joined in my life of two-wheeled adventures. We didn’t think of it as exercise; it was just plain old fun. We’d ride up A1A from Miami Beach to Delray Beach, about 50 miles, and sometimes go another 25 miles all the way to Palm Beach. We didn’t wear special clothing, futuristic helmets or strap-on water bottles. We stopped at beach bars, sipping a cold Beck’s beer and gazing at the surf. I don’t believe I’ve felt such complete relaxation since.
Naturally, bike riding in Florida is much easier since the terrain is generally flat. Litchfield Hills is ... well, it’s not flat. I live atop one of the highest ridges and I’m breathing heavily just walking up and down my own road. Many bicyclists push their fancy gear up the long hill. It just seems like a lot of effort and expense for doing something that should be plain old fun.