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All I Ever Wanted to Do Was Ride My Bike

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I remember when I had more leisure time.



I remember when I was 22:


The royal blue evening sky abruptly changed to coal black, as if someone had drawn a line delimiting two halves of a sphere. Storm coming. Big storm. I snatched up the dirty dishes and the dish soap and raced up the hill from the river back to my camp. I set up my tent in record time. I still did not like sleeping in a tent (I liked to be able to see stars and feel the evening breeze on my face. I liked waking up in the middle of the night and telling the time by the position of the moon and stars), but I was tired of sleeping in campground bathrooms while thunderstorms blew through. So I wedged my bike against a tree and threw the last of my gear into the tent. Raindrops started pounding the ground as I unzipped the tent fly and climbed inside. It was too dark to see how big the drops were, but they must have been huge because they hurt! I lay in my sleeping bag, in my tent, on a hillside, under the trees, twenty miles from the nearest house, in blackness so dark I could not see my hand in front of my face. I waited for the storm to pass. Then a flash of lightning burned into my retina every detail of the back of my hand (which was still in front of my face), and a clap of thunder so loud it shook the tent, split the night. The rain poured, the wind blew. Lightning and thunder flashed and crashed so swiftly that I could not tell which thunder belonged with which lightning. The storm intensified. Branches smashed into the ground. Thunder rumbled continuously as each new clap masked the fade-out of the previous. For three hours, I sat and waited for the storm to pass while my body shook with excess adrenaline. Gradually the thunder and lightning receded. The wind calmed. The rain eased. I closed my eyes, and settled into a fitful sleep broken only by the rat-a-tat-tat sound of water dripping onto my tent.


All I ever wanted to do was ride my bike.



I remember when I was 21:


Patchy storm clouds raced across a full moon. Pine and fir rose steadily to my right, dark and indistinct in the moonlight, while to the left the land dropped 3000’ to the desert floor below. When the clouds obscured the moon it was too dark to see the road, but the white lines marking the road edge were still barely visible. If I kept my bicycle halfway between, I should be all right. Streetlights from desert towns twinkled 40 miles away. Cars crept across the desert so slowly I could not tell if they were moving. When I looked back a few minutes later, though, they were gone. Meanwhile, I kept on climbing. The crisp air stung my nose. Water vapor swirled before my eyes, wraithlike. 8:00, 9:00, 10:00 and still I climbed. Every half-hour or so, the headlights of an approaching car would alert me to scooch to the side of the road. Then a car would zip past without noticing me, standing motionless, hidden amongst the trees. Later, weary and cold, I pulled my sleeping bag from my bike, stuffed it under some bushes to protect me from the misty night and fell asleep. At 4:30 AM, the mist turned to rain. Without a tent, I could not afford to let my sleeping bag get wet, so I stuffed my bag in a waterproof sack, loaded up my bike, and pedaled off into the cool January gloom.


All I ever wanted to do was ride my bike.



I remember when I was 20:


The note stuck to the door said, “I’m sorry, Richard, I won’t be able to make it to lunch. Devi.” It was a good thing I liked that woman! 90 miles since 6:00 AM, another 90 to go before nightfall, stood-up for lunch, and all I could think about was what a wonderful day it was to ride my bike. The mid-day sun was bright, but warm with a cool breeze. The air was so clear I could see San Clemente Island from San Diego, and later, from San Juan Capistrano. All important body parts were happy: legs, feet, neck, shoulders, hands, and back. Everything was tickety-boo! And the best thing was that, since it was Saturday, I could go for another bike ride the next day!


All I ever wanted to do was ride my bike.



I remember when I was 19:


A late-winter sun edged closer to the horizon while wind-whipped snow lashed my eyes. Hills rolled away from me in every direction as far as I could see. No trees. No bushes. Just gently rolling hills and snow. Fortunately, the road was dry. But so was the air. And my throat. I unpacked my clothes from one of my panniers to get to my water bottle. Three hours ago I had filled it with boiling water at a restaurant (the last structure of any kind I had seen), but now it was frozen solid. Time stopped as I stared down the road and wondered how much farther I could go without water. I was cold and hungry… and alone. And I really wanted some water! I turned to my right. Sitting on a barbwire fence 15 away was the largest buzzard I had ever seen. Staring at me. Not blinking. Not moving a muscle. Just waiting. Time started up again as I packed my water bottle back in my panniers and started pedaling down the road. Maybe tomorrow Mister Buzzard, but not today.


All I ever wanted to do was ride my bike.



I remember when I was 16:


I sat on the railroad tracks and watched the moonlight dance across the ocean. Silent tears filled my eyes. They said they would be here! They said the rest stop would be open until the last rider passed… to provide food, directions, and a sag wagon. If I was too tired too finish the ride, they said, they would drive me back to the finish line. That is what the extra $15 was for: insurance. Now I had no more money and no more food. I felt betrayed. I had been riding for 18 hours—230 miles—and I was still 70 miles and 6 hours from the finish line. My stomach cramps were so bad that I sometimes had to lie in the grass at the side of the road until they passed. A sharp stabbing pain irritated the nerves in my neck and shoulders and made it difficult to reach the handlebars. Earlier I had suffered from calf pain that was so intense my vision would vanish, while I pedaled in darkness, one, two, three strokes until the pain eased and my vision returned. I had battled 25 mph winds in the afternoon, fixed six flat tires, and visited deserted bathrooms with nothing but spider infested newspaper to use as toilet paper. I had had enough! I did not see any way I could finish the ride. I was lost and cold and tired and hungry, and I just wanted to crawl into my own bed so I could sleep. With a sigh, I wiped the tears from my face and walked across the road to a payphone to call my mom (collect) and ask her pick me up. My dad answered the phone. “Can I speak with mom?” I asked. “She is not here, right now. She went to Santa Monica to pick you up. Is there anything I can do?” There was a long silence: a very long silence while I considered my options. Finally, I said, “No. If she calls, tell her I am running a little late. I should be there around 6:00 AM.”


All I ever wanted to do was ride my bike.



I remember when I was 15:


My 10th grade English teacher assigned me to write my own epitaph.


“Down a hill at 50 miles per hour,

To fast to see hardly a flower,

Hands on the handlebars, feet on the pedals,

All was secure till he hit some pebbles.

Out of the saddle and onto the ground,

So smooth one heard scarcely a sound.

Except for the crackling of his bones,

And a few of his last farewell moans.

So ended the life of Sir’dle,

Known to his friends as Richard Hurdle.”


All I ever wanted to do was ride my bike.

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