Monday, October 01, 2007

It's like riding a bike ...

For a long time, I was one of the few people in America who could honestly refute the adage that started with my title phrase and finished with, "Once you learn, you never forget."

I'll admit it. I forgot.

It had been approximately 19 years since my last full-scale bike ride until I hopped on a two-wheeled vehicle last week. The occasion to break the drought came when Mrs. VFR and I traveled to Mackinac Island, a small spot on Lake Huron in between the mitt portion of Michigan and the Upper Peninsula.

No motorized vehicles are allowed on the island. It's a throwback to a different time. The only modes of transportation permitted on the island are horse and buggies, bikes and your own two feet. Ferries transport guests from the mainland to the island.

(I found it curious, though, that town officials apparently have made an exception of their ban for fat people who drive their personal carts).

Not being morbidly obese, my transportation options were limited to 1) walking; 2) gagging on the smell of manure on horse-and-buggy rides; or 3) breaking the streak.

To be fair, I have been on a cycle once or twice in the 19 years since a spectacular crash ended my bike-riding career back in the fifth grade. I think there was a shorter Mackinac trip with my parents back in the day and an ill-fated trek around a Moab campground that lasted all of eight seconds.

But this time, there was a need for competence. We had plans to pedal around the perimeter of the island, grind up and down steep hills and down trails that led through a dense forest.

We rented a 1-speed at our hotel. Multiple gears would only be a complication, so that was fine. About an hour after our arrival, it was time for the big test.

It started smooth. Straight worked OK. Turning presented some problems - I couldn't turn sharp enough before hitting the curb. Stopping was a bit of a disaster at first -- I wanted to bail because I couldn't find the brake.

Then I realized the brake wasn't on the handlebars; it was one of those deals where you reverse the direction of the pedals. Soon after that discovery, I am proud to say the rest of the biking was reasonably smooth.

Mrs. VFR took a picture of the maiden voyage downtown after my remedial lesson, which is posted above along with a few others from the weekend.

But first, here's a little of the back story about why I went approximately 19 years without a bike ride: In fifth grade, my yellow-and-black Huffy dirtbike was in the shop. So one day I borrowed my mother's bike, which was considerably larger, for a ride that I had taken many times before.

The route led from our home in downtown L.F. to a trail behind the Cedar Grove Municipal Pool that followed the path of long-forgotten railroad tracks through the woods. These ended near the top of Francisco Avenue, a long road that resembled a mile-long ski jump.

Typically, my friends and I would dive-bomb the hill, reaching speeds of 45 to 50 mph, according to the speedometer on my Huffy. We indeed dive-bombed Francisco Avenue on the day of my tussle with the asphalt.

Being a fifth grader, I hadn't really considered the possibility that my transition from a kid-sized bike to an adult-sized one would make much of a difference. But halfway down Francisco Avenue, I learned I was wrong.

As I reached warp speed, the handlebars started to wobble. This had never happened on my Huffy. They started to shake. They started to shimmy. Before I knew it, I was completely out of control.

I went down hard. The bike fell to the left, and the asphalt tore lots of skin off my face, arm, hip and legs. Inexplicably, I fell on my left side, but broke my right arm.

Mom's bike was totaled in the crash, and I was lucky no cars pummeled me further.

Francisco Avenue was sort of off-limits as far as bike rules in the VFR house went, so I scraped myself off the pavement and lied through my teeth about the location of my accident. (A friend along for the fateful ride later ratted me out for no reason; we weren't friends much longer).

But that meant two bikes damaged. By the time the cast came off my arm, both were growing cobwebs in the back of the garage.

The drought began because of the lack of a functioning bike more than out of any fear. But it nonetheless took root. Nineteen years later, we arrived on Mackinac Island.

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At 7:03 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

So can I sign us up for this ride?

At 6:23 AM, Blogger Pete said...

That depends.

Do we go up the mountain or down the mountain?

At 5:05 PM, Blogger Erik Peterson said...

Getting the speed wobbles is hilarious!


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