When I was a kid growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, I practically lived on a bicycle. There was no better feeling than to jump on the bike and feel the cool breeze on my face as I sped away from home, down the giant hill on Flora Av, past Mark Twain Elementary, down St. Mary's Av. and off to wherever my will wished. It was simple, yet it required effort in the hills of Hannibal.
The bike expanded one's horizons, circle of friends, possibilities, and it represented your spirit of freedom. Sometimes, when you see somebody on a bike, they look as if they haven't a care in the world, yet they are determined, they are moving forward. They are going somewhere.
Adventuring out on a bike would have it's challenges. I have a big scar on my chin from attempting to ride down Flora Av. hill. At five or six years old, I thought it was time. I probably thought: What would Spiderman or Luke Skywalker do? So I tried it. On this bike:
Despite an epic crash and several stitches to the chin, I tried again and succeeded.
When I was 10 I started racing. BMX. We hauled the bike up to Quincy, Ill to the dirt race track and I competed in three "motos" a day. Sometimes it was glorious, winning a trophy against the Quincy boys. Other times, a devastating crash would send me back to Hannibal with bruises and broken ego. But it was an adventure. When the lights went from red, to yellow, to green, a horn blasted and the gate dropped. What a rush!
My bike afforded me acceptance into a group of older boys who, rode the bike trails in Hannibal and raced at Quincy. We became pretty tight and the summers were adventures in dare-devil jumps, muddy trails, racing down St. Mary's avenue, searching for that next awesome ramp or natural berm to jump on.
My bike became a part of my identity. I never wanted to go anywhere without it.
BMX was my passion. I raced for three seasons, first on a Mongoose (I cut a lot of lawns and raked a lot of leaves to save up for it), then on a Kuwahara (the bike that was made famous in the movie E.T.). Even after a major crash landed me in the hospital with potentially ruptured intestines (luckily they were not) the racing continued until adolescence came on.
Then, adolescence came. Jr. High. Jazz Band. Drumline. Big Changes.
As music became my main focus, I sold the Kuwaraha for a Zildjian ride cymbal. My first Zildjian! Exciting times!
However, I still needed to get around Hannibal autonomously, so started riding my brother's Schwinn touring bike. A very nice machine from the early 80s. It was, of course, much easier to pedal over the hills of Hannibal, a welcome upgrade!
I saw a couple cycling movies that inspired me. "Quicksilver" with Kevin Bacon playing a down and out wall street trader to takes to cycling around NYC and "American Flyers" with Kevin Costner about a couple guys bent on riding. And of course one of my favorite movies of all time "Breaking Away", a coming of age movie about kids in a small town who are looked down upon because they are poor, but in the end they win the big cycling race. I still love that movie and will watch it over and over. I wanted badly to cycle, but the gear was so expensive, I had to choose between cycling gear and drums. It was no contest. The drums won.
I chose music. Moved to Kansas City. No time for the bike. And besides, I couldn't carry a drum kit on a bike!
In college my beloved old Schwinn fell to the wayside as I joined a band, moved into a bachelor pad, and simply couldn't afford to maintain the bike. It rusted. I moved out and left the bike where it lay. A hasty decision as life as a musician picked up full steam.
I moved to NYC. Lived in Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan for 10 years. Riding a bike seemed like suicide, human beings speeding around in traffic seemed so vulnerable, not to mention I still couldn't afford to spend money on one. Anyways, I worked non-stop on my music and survival in NYC, a bike was last on the list. But still, somewhere in my mind I thought it would be so cool to ride again, even if only on the bike path around the city. But I didn't act on it.
Then I moved to New Jersey. The traffic is so dense and moves so fast, I figured I couldn't trust my life to these people. Thoughts of buying a bike were quickly dismissed. Another 10 years went by as I worked non-stop on my music.
Then my wife and I discovered the Greenway at Metuchen: a 3.5 mile paved trail, specifically for bikes and walking. How intriguing! I began thinking about getting a bike now. Maybe this is the ticket! No traffic! And I figured, I deserve to treat myself. Life in NYC/NJ has been stressful as hell and relentless and draining. I needed a new view. Some oxygen. Some freedom.
A quick scan of bikes on Craigslist revealed a shocking and exciting prospect: The same exact Schwinn Sports Tourer that I rode in high school, even the same colors, was for sale, renovated and ready to ride. I jumped in the car, drove to Brooklyn and bought it on the spot.
After taking it to Jay's Cycles in Westfield for a tune up, new pedals and a new seat, I set out on my first ride. It was such a rush to feel that freedom again, that youthful adventure, the feeling of exploration and challenge. Let's see what this bike can do!
I took it on the Greenway and I'll tell you what, man, the wind, the sound of the bike, that familiar feel, the freedom... something in me woke up that had been asleep for, lemme see, almost 30 years. The kid in me came bursting to the surface like a person held underwater coming up for air. A grin came over my face. The cool air on my skin felt so good. The fluidity of the bike, the grace of it, being one with the machine. I almost started crying, man!
Since that day a few weeks ago I have increased my rides. I've ridden The 12 mile stretch at Sandy Hook Beach. Then the 20 mile stretch from Keyport to Sandy Hook. Then I did 40 miles from Freehold to Sandy Hook to Asbury. Feel fine afterwards. Im taking it slow. It's getting better and better. If I prove to myself that I will stick with it, which I can't imagine letting this go again, I will invest in a modern bike next year and head to the mountains of Pennsylvania or upstate NY.
How could I have let this go? Well, it doesn't matter. Why? Because bikes don't go in reverse. They only go FORWARD.