Having a bicycle has been essential for me ever since I learned to ride one. That was in 1968, when I was seven years old. I’d been practicing on my brother’s hand-me-down when I experienced something akin to Orville and Wilbur Wright’s excitement 65 years earlier. I remember racing down the hill into our yard to announce the momentous news to my mom.
By fifth grade my friends and I rode on our own all the way down Chuckanut Drive, a serpentine coastal highway noted both for its beauty and its hazard. The purpose was to search for fossils, under the supervision of a fifth-grade teacher, but my two friends and I rode past the intended site and ended up in the village of Blanchard, Washington, ten miles from where we started.
Two years later, in 1975, I somehow persuaded my parents that it would be OK for me and three other middle school students to ride without adult supervision almost 40 miles to Anacortes, from which the ferry would take us to Orcas Island, the largest and hilliest of the San Juan islands. Things did not go smoothly. My new bike, a Follis (pronounced Folly) lived up to its name. It was perhaps the worst touring bicycle ever to come out of France. But I can’t blame the accident near Blanchard on my bike. My friend Jack and I got too close to each other, and my pedal caught in his spokes. Neither of us was injured, but Jack’s front wheel was mangled. It seemed that our trip had ended in utter failure. But Jack called his dad from a pay phone, and within an hour his father dutifully delivered by car a new front wheel he happened to have in his garage, enabling our ride to continue. The last five or six miles on our way to Anacortes was alongside a highway expressway, amid much debris.
A couple hours later, when we were getting off the ferry, one of our bikes was almost crushed by a camper. One of the evenings we spent on Orcas, my friend Cary spied an alarmingly large-winged insect. When Cary tried to kill it by swinging his unattached bike rack at it, it was the bike rack itself that was destroyed. I have a vague recollection, perhaps inaccurate, of Cary’s sleeping bag draped over his shoulders as we made our way from Moran State Park to the ferry terminal. Could that have been possible? How could he have steered? In any case, we were overmatched.
For me, it would not be the last time. A few years later, the high school’s wrestling coach invited me and another boy to ride from Bellingham to the Mount Baker ski lodge. Actually, we made the ride twice. The first time, we rode only the twenty-plus final miles: fourteen miles through rugged foothills, followed by eight miles of switchbacks. I had never experienced pain like it. I was wearing jeans, which were not loose-fitting, and my quadriceps were rebelling. The following week we did the entire distance from Bellingham and back, more than 100 miles.
I did that ride four straight years, but it was the ride in 1979 that left the strongest impression on me. It was a chilly early-May morning and, unlike my friend Chip, I was not dressed appropriately. No ski cap under my helmet, no warm jacket, no thermal underwear. My flimsy pair of Army fatigues had a hole in the thigh the size of a baseball.
Somehow, we got separated from our mentor, who, doing the sensible thing, turned back toward Bellingham and trusted that Chip and I would make the same decision. But we didn’t. We didn’t want to be perceived as quitters. By the time we reached the shelter of the ski lodge, I was showing signs of hypothermia—in particular, confusion. I remember feeling resentful that none of the cars or trucks that passed us asked if we wanted a ride.
As in so many other misadventures of my teenage years, my luck held out. Chip, cold but still coherent, immediately identified a classmate of ours, an employee at the lodge. We ate large bowls of chili, and within an hour or so we were in our classmate’s pick-up truck, our bikes in the truck’s bed.
Why did I write about bike riding this week? Because my friend Matthew Abbate and I are now officially in training for a metric-century (62.2 miles) “Ride to End Alzheimer’s” event, which starts and ends in the coastal New Hampshire town of Rye on Saturday, June 11. Our initial step is to raise $1,000 to qualify for the race, but I’m confident we’re capable of raising much, much more.
There are still a few technical and design issues to sort out,
but by early next week we should be in full fundraising mode, including on Facebook.