Monday, December 13, 2004

I grew up on a bicycle.

In the mid-1980s, My father taught me how to ride an old, yellow Schwinn in the grass across the street from our house in New York state. No training wheels, just his hand to guide me as I accelerated. A few years later, we moved to Italy and lived on a military base. My family won a bicycle in a raffle drawing and I had a brand new 12-speed Huffy mountain bike to get lost on. I had a habit of arriving home hours late, the time spent exploring different neighborhoods and nearby parks. In a couple years, I had successfully disassembled and reassembled all the basic parts to that bike. this natural curiosity, of course, got me into trouble often as I enjoyed taking apart other household things, like stereos and alarm clocks and other peoples bikes.

When I entered high school, the Huffy wasn't holding up so well (not to mention it weighed around 50 lbs), so my father bought me a Diamond Back mountain bike. I put countless miles on that bicycle, not to mention broken handlebars and a folded front wheel as a result of miss judging the speed necessary to complete a dirt jump. I cleared the distance a little too far and landed with my front wheel. A few months later, the repaired bicycle was stolen and never seen again.

When I arrived in Chicago, there was an obvious drawback to the mountain bike. There weren't any hills or dirt in Chicago, and so I a began searching for something a little more efficient. I built up a blue Ochner frame that I had found in a used sporting good store on Western Avenue for a hundred buck. I followed the trend of one-speed bicycles I saw everywhere in Chicago. Less than a year later, I crashed into a car that was turning into a cemetery. I survived, but the blue bicycle did not. I found an old white Italian frame and switched the parts a week later.

Sometime in the summer of 2003, I began dreaming of a bicycle ride that would take me from the rocky coasts of the north-west, through the green forests of northern California, and finally down to the beaches of southern California. I tentatively planned a route from Vancouver to Tijuana. Come the summer of 2004, I was working full-time as a high school English teacher and did not have the time to ride down the west coast. I did, however, have enough time to ride to my grandmother's house only 400 miles away in Iowa. Once completing that ride, my cycling companion and I rode from Indianapolis to Yellow Springs, Ohio, where we joined an environmental activist conference for a week. It was an achievement and earned us some bragging rights among environmentalist for riding across states to get to an environmentalist-sponsored event. Most important to us, we had accomplished our dream of riding without boundaries. Our perspectives changed that day, just like the time I first rode downtown and back from my apartment on Montrose Avenue. Even better, we proved to our friends and family that riding across states is easier than one might think. After we arrived back in Chicago that summer, a friend of ours borrowed some panniers and rode to her parents house in Rockford, Illinois.