I flipped through the glossy pages of a fashion magazine and there, alongside an article on how to dress for a summer party, I spotted a glossy ad featuring a slim model posed gracefully alongside her Schwinn. I thought about the pants in my closet that no longer fit, and turned to my boyfriend, Andrew.
“I want a bicycle,” I said as I tossed the magazine back onto the growing stack on our coffee table.
This idea had been building, spurred by a desire to find an exercise that required more enthusiasm than ability. I’d gone through hiking, tennis, and yoga, trying to find something I could do and still get out of bed the next day.
Andrew agreed this was a fine idea, then asked me, “Do you remember your first bicycle?”
I have trouble remembering where I put down my coffee cup each morning, but I had an image in my mind of that first bicycle.
“It had a white vinyl banana-shaped seat with peace symbols, rainbow streamers on the handlebars, and one of those plastic wicker baskets with huge artificial sunflowers on the front.”
“Peace symbols? Sunflowers?” Andrew looked skeptical until I reminded him that my childhood took place in the 1960s. I assured him I would not add any flowered accessories to my new bicycle, and we went that next weekend to the Bike Mart.
In the bicycle shop, I sucked in my stomach as I wandered through crowds of whip-thin men dressed in spandex shorts. There were rows and rows of bikes in racks spaced around the store and organized into sections–mountain bikes, cruisers, hybrid bikes, tandem bikes, and even some that included an electric motor, handy I supposed for people who weren’t trying to fit into the pants in their closets.
I followed Andrew as he went over to look at the sturdy grey and black mountain bikes. I tried not to look at the price tags too closely. Surely they had the decimal in the wrong place. I rolled one of the mountain bikes off the rack and felt a sense of accomplishment when I sat on it without tipping over.
“Can I help you?” A young salesgirl, blond and tanned in her Bike Mart polo, walked up as I struggled to put the bike back on the rack.
“Yes,” I replied, “I’d like to buy a bicycle, and I guess I need a little help to pick one out.”
The salesgirl nodded, blond ponytail bobbing. With one hand she took the bike from me and slipped it back into the rack.
“Where will you be riding?” she asked.
I should answer, “Oh, just around my living room, and on soft, padded surfaces,” but I had an image in my mind of shaded forest paths. I told her, “Mostly paved roads, but I’d like to go off-road now and then.” This caused the salesgirl to pause for a moment, her forehead wrinkled as though she were working out a calculus equation. I wondered if she would recommend one of those adult tricycles, or maybe psychiatric counseling.
We looked through the inventory and settled on a turquoise and white mountain bike with an aluminum frame. Lighter than the other bikes, it would be less likely to damage me when it fell over, and the color matched my shoes.
I imagined myself cycling through the neighborhood on my new bike, maybe ringing a little bell attached to the handlebars. I purchased a gel padded seat, a bag for the handlebars in a somber shade of black with no flowers, and a helmet.
The helmet made my head look gigantic as though my brain had expanded. It did not, however, make me appear more intelligent. After our first outing, I added a pair of bike shorts with a soft insert supposed to help ease any soreness from riding. They seemed to hold up well, and I considered wearing them at work, where I have to sit typing at a computer for long periods.
After a leisurely five-mile ride on our local bike path, Andrew and I discussed where we should go next. He suggested the White Rock Lake Bike Trail, and I looked forward to the adventure as I packed snacks and extra water for the eighteen-mile trek.
For most of the ride, I kept Andrew in sight as he pedaled in front of me. We passed small children and grandmothers pushing strollers and I gave them all a cheery wave as we rolled down the first nine miles, but on the return loop, my strength failed. Somewhere around mile sixteen, I realized that the difference between an eighteen-mile bike ride and a five-mile bike ride was not thirteen miles. It was, instead, the distance from here to hell and back.
The bike shorts, while appreciated, had limits. When we stopped at a shady underpass, I plopped down in the dirt and tried to catch my breath while Andrew poured lukewarm water over my head and neck.
“Can you go on? Do I need to get the car?” Andrew asked. “I’ve broken my sweetie!” he said.
I shook my head as I lay there in the dirt while scores of curious onlookers passed by, among them the small children and grandmothers I had floated past earlier.
“I’m sorry,” I replied, “I thought we were getting close to the end.”
“We are, just another mile. Remember, we have Gatorade in the cooler back at the car.”
“Gatorade!” No drink had sounded so intoxicating since my college days.
My heart rate slowed to a normal pace as a family with two toddlers pedaled past us. When an elderly man cycled by on a recumbent bike, I decided I would not be shown up by an octogenarian, and we got back up to continue the ride.
For the rest of that mile, I tried to ignore the white-hot rock that my nice cushioned bicycle seat had transformed into. I stood up to pedal to give my sitting parts relief, but my legs protested the extra work. My ass, not to be outdone, reminded me that, bicycle shorts or not, I would probably sleep facing down for the next few nights.
We got to the last one hundred yards of the route and the trail turned downhill toward the park where our car was waiting. I leaned forward into the warm wind and let the bike gather speed as I coasted. The spokes lulled me with a pleasant hum, and the sharp tar smell of hot summer roads rose from the path below. I drifted along to the sounds of children playing near the soccer fields and the tinkle of a bell from the ice cream vendor.
As the wheels on my bike spun around, I imagined rainbow streamers flying out from the handlebars, and a white plastic wicker basket with large, bright sunflowers on the front. Andrew waited at the car with an ice cold Gatorade as I rolled up, and I gratefully accepted his offering, ready for the ride to be over, ready for it to last forever.
©2018 Terrye Turpin