I’m so glad the bicycle was invented. It was truly a civilizing contribution to society. I got my first one for Christmas when I was seven. My two older brothers “taught” me to ride it by getting on each side of me at the top of a hill and pushing me down it fast, saying as they let go, “Ride, Danny, ride!” I got the hang of it quickly because I hated ridicule and skinned knees. I grew to love riding that bicycle because it gave me a new freedom to roam from home. I explored the highways and byways of my town and the surrounding country with great interest.
My cousin’s house about three miles from mine was a favored destination—or resting place on my way to other locations. Even if he was not around, I would pause there to interact with Leroy, the pet raccoon, eat a pear from the tree if there were any, check on the deeply stupid chickens, watch the development of tadpoles into frogs in the ditch out back or just sit under the Chinaberry tree and stroke French Harp, the big tabby. If my cousin was there, he would often join me on the remainder of my itinerary.
His house was on North Madison, an avenue that continued to be extended throughout my youth and young adulthood. We named our bicycle rides according to the expansion. At first it was, “Let’s ride to the end of North Madison.” Then it became, “Let’s go to the end of the end of North Madison,” then, “Why don’t we ride all the way to the end of the end of the end of North Madison?” and so forth incrementally. There was never anything to see there except road construction equipment, but in was a good tradition.
Another ride took us six or seven miles out a county to a very cold spring-fed pond, hidden away back in a thicket. It was a much better swimming place than the city pool and there were seldom more than five kids swimming there. I learned to appreciate the city pool, though, after discovering that we were swimming with snakes, some of them aggressive. You pay a price for being uncivilized, I guess.
On that topic of being uncivilized, several of us went on a few bicycle camping trips. We had trail bikes that were never intended to be trail bikes. We were always breaking spokes, chains and occasionally parts of the frame. Luckily, we knew an old man who had bunches of bicycle parts cheap and he could fix our bikes for a dollar or two. He even repaired flats. But, as I was saying, we used to go camping on our bikes way out in the bottoms where there was no evidence of human habitation. We came back full of ticks, mosquito bites, chiggers (we called them red bugs) and sometimes poison ivy, but happy and fulfilled.
A bicycle is a civilized invention, but it took me to the very edge civilization, where I felt truly blessed to be alive on the planet. Alive and mobile.