One beautiful, spring Sunday afternoon not too long ago, I rode a bicycle for the first time in over twenty years. And I had the time of my life.
My girlfriend at the time had long been saying that it would be fun to get me a bike so we could go riding together. Me, well, I was less than enthusiastic. I am a middle-aged bookworm with a backside far more suited to the seat of an armchair than that of a bicycle. And besides, anyone who knows me will tell you I can be a tad on the cautious side. Okay, I’ll admit it; I tend to avoid things that have the potential to cause me injury. And cycling, at least in my mind, had that potential.
The caution was a fairly recent development. As a kid, I adored my bike. My first was a blue, single speed CCM that I bought and paid for myself. I was eight or nine years old and I delivered the Vancouver Sun every day for an entire year to earn the money. On rainy days, my dad would drive me, Buck Owens and Roy Clark playing on the local radio station, but when it was dry, I lugged those papers the entire route, on foot. I survived Dr. Miller’s psychotic Newfoundland dog. I eagerly anticipated the homemade cinnamon buns left out for me by one of the women at the Legion seniors’ complex. And I made up glamorous stories to satisfy my curiosity about the eighty-odd year old, never-married Thompson sisters and their perfect pink cottage near the beach.
After a year, I passed the paper route on to my younger brother, marched into the local hardware store with my wad of cash, and bought that beautiful blue bicycle. And I rode it everywhere — to the Hillcrest Store for a bag of mixed-up penny candy, to Centennial Pool in my bathing suit and flip-flops, towel flung over my shoulder, down the hill to the Dairy Queen for a butterscotch dip, then over to Lane Field to watch some baseball. And that was just the first day.
Unfortunately, my last experience with a bicycle was not nearly as pleasant as the first. I was in my early twenties, environmentalist sensibilities burgeoning, and I bought a bike thinking I could ride it to work. My mind was changed after one traumatic outing. Childhood memories of riding my bike contain many things but when I close my eyes and picture myself gliding along Birch Street toward home, the only vehicles I see are parked. In stark contrast, my one and only adult memory of cycling was jam packed full of cars: moving cars, speeding cars, honking cars, cars cutting too close, cars stopping short or not stopping at all, cars everywhere and everywhere cars. Terrorized by traffic that simply did not exist when I was a kid, I decided I’d be safer on foot or on the bus and sold the damn thing. I was not terribly anxious to try it again.
Fate, however, fortuitously conspired against me in the form of an abandoned bicycle conveniently ditched in that aforementioned ex-girlfriend’s hedge. It was not blue nor was it a CCM, and it had been hidden in that jungle of a hedge for so long it was filthy, rusty and seized up, the tires completely flat. But when she asked me if I might like to try it out, underneath my reluctance I felt flutters of that same excitement I’d felt years before as I stood in Pioneer Hardware longing for a particular bike in a particular shade of blue.
Still, I hesitated and stalled for over a week. Then finally, on the following Sunday afternoon, without giving me much of a choice, said girlfriend pulled the bicycle out of the shed, pumped up the tires, adjusted a few things and greased a few others, then looked at me and said, “Go on. Take it for a spin.”
So I did.
It’s funny the things we believe about ourselves. I’m not athletic. I’m not coordinated. I have no sense of balance. I’m middle aged and out of shape. I’m simply not the type to ride a bike. All of those things may or may not be true but when I swung my leg over the seat and started pedaling, not a single one of them mattered. I was grinning. I was laughing hysterically in some moments. And yes, I was sometimes afraid. But like an old friend I hadn’t seen in a long, long time, that bicycle reminded me of things about myself I had long forgotten. It showed me parts of myself that had been boxed up and put away like much-loved but no longer needed toys. And those parts had been sorely missed.
Now, don’t get me wrong. You won’t be seeing me barreling down your street any time soon. I still have a fear of traffic and the abandoned bike turned out to have an owner and was returned. But even though the fun I had on that bike may no longer be necessary, I’m simply not willing to give it up forever. I regret ever having given it up in the first place.
There is a bicycle in my future. And it will be blue.
A previous version of this story originally appeared in the print edition of Monday Magazine.