Monday, June 25, 2007
When I was a kid living in Medicine Hat, I owned an orange 3-speed bike. At least, that's what it really was. To me, it was Flash Gordon's rocket cycle, the Lone Ranger's horse Silver, a speeder bike from Return of the Jedi. During the summer months when my cousin Paul would come to visit me from Calgary, we would bike daily to a Mac's convenience store; having asked my mother for alms to go and procure our daily bread, (a slush in the collector's cups that were the promotion that summer, a series of monstrosities from other galaxies...and yes, we collected them all that summer) we would head out on our journey.
Riding your bike as a kid during the summer was all about journey. You rarely took the same route twice, you raced down alleyways and through residential streets, enjoying the summer sun and the freedom from schoolwork and schedule. All you had to do was be back in time for lunch, or supper - whatever the next major meal was. When we reached the Mac's, we'd sit and enjoy our slushes, our bikes propped against the curb. I don't remember being paranoid about locking them up in those days, unless you took it to school. You never abandoned your bike for more than the time it took to enter the store, browse the comic rack and buy your slush (along with the latest issue of Conan the Barbarian, the kid's equivalent to Heavy Metal magazine). You sat reading the comic or opening bubblegum cards or just enjoying the brain freeze before getting back on the bike for the ride home.
When I was in my early teens, I traded up from my orange 3-speed to a gold 12 speed mountain bike. Now I had serious power. I was a tall, gangly youth; long legs made for high speeds. Now, if I was imagining my bike to be anything but a bike, it was Mad Max's Interceptor. Biking with my other geeky friends, we'd imagine that each rain puddle we'd run through was a cache of rare fuel, and then determine (according to the size of the puddle) how much time we'd bought ourselves in terms of fuel. Big puddles were 10 minutes worth. If we ran out before finding another puddle...we were walking our bikes. Because it still wasn't about the destination.
And then girls entered the picture, and the bike became a means to visit the girl. By age 14, my friend Danny had a moped, and I was forced to try and keep up with engine propulsion, which resulted in the worst bike accident I was ever in. Racing down one of the roads cut into the coulee valleys of Medicine Hat, my front brake locked and sent me head first into the road, into the path of oncoming traffic. My Mad Max moment was understanding why the scene in Road Warrior where he crawls from the wreckage of his Interceptor had that blurry quality to it. I don't remember crawling off the pavement, but I know I got a little ways before a friend of the family got out of their car to pull me the rest of the way. I was only slightly concussed, massively road burned, and my bike was FUBAR for a good year.
By the time the bike was back in action, I was nearly old enough for my drivers' license. No one biked much once they had that. In fact, I never owned a bike again until I was nearly 30. My in-laws bought me a mountain bike, which lasted right up until last year as a means to "get in shape". The efficacy of this is dubious - that bike met it's maker because I had the seat post too high and bent the frame with 220 lbs of downward pressure over a 5 year period.
Last year I got a new bike. It's another orange one, and last summer it was how I got to work most days. This summer it's taken me back in time to my earliest bike memories; sitting in the child seat behind my mom, or maybe my dad. I can't remember real well, just that it was great fun to be blasting around so fast. Gunnar and I do that these days. We go for a bike ride at least once a week, most of the time to visit the Valley Zoo. But like those days over 20 years ago, it's not about the destination.
I can't wait until he wants to go the Mac's for a slush. I'm looking forward to sitting on the curb and reading a comic book again.