There are a lot of stories about boys and their bikes. This will probably end up being one of those stories.
The summer before 10th grade I was a strange sort of loser. I had just moved back to Pennsylvania after living in Connecticut for several years. None of my friendships were organic, instead they were people I used to be friends with before moving. The problem was I had changed so much I was no longer recognizable as the same kid that had left North Versailles all those years ago. Gone was the skinny, little kid without a muscle who was so unsure of himself. Instead he had been replaced by a champion wrestler that was good in school, read poetry and dug heavy metal. If I had stayed in Enfield I would have been a different person. In Connecticut I was respected, even as a teenager for my wrestling ability, I was in special classes and was on the trajectory of a kid from the wrong side of the tracks that was going to make good. It just wasn’t in the stars though. When I moved back to Pennsylvania the high school I went to, my previous school, didn’t even have a wrestling team. I didn’t have any real friends because I had moved away for so long and didn’t fit in with the group of kids at the school. I really felt like a fish out of water.
While I was hanging out with the kids I used to know before moving I was also making some new friends, all a special kind of freak as well. This was the late 80’s, for the most part these kids were skater punks and BMX brats. They all had bikes and cool haircuts, Vision Wear shirts and Sex Pistol t-shirts. Well, most of them did. One of my old friends was into BMX’s as well. He didn’t fit the mold but dug them just as much as I was beginning to dig them. We used to drool over the bikes and cranks, rims and brakes at the local Schwinn shop. I eventually got a Quarter Dash for my birthday. Damn, did I love that bike! Here’s a picture.
So, the summer before 10th grade had morphed into my sophomore year and beyond. I was an odd kid, wearing a varsity jacket for a sport my current high school didn’t even have from a high school my classmates had never heard of in a state some of the kids I was hanging out with couldn’t even find on a map! My attitude was definitely more Northeast than Western Pennsylvania, I had a lousy family life with divorced parents who couldn’t even tolerate being in the same room and lived most of the time with a mother that was classified as neurotic at the best of times, oh and I liked a strange mix of classic rock, heavy metal, punk and the newly developing alternative music. I didn’t have girls beating down my door as you can imagine, not a lot of takers on the motley mix I just laid out for you. I had two things going for me, the bike above and the freaking fantastic skater cut seen below.
So, I didn’t have a lot of things to do with my time. I rode my bike. I rode my bike a lot. I rode my bike across bridges and up hills; I rode it through neighboring towns and to my growing collection of odd friends. I pedaled through the pain both metaphorically and literally. That bike became my gateway to freedom. While riding it I plotted my escape, away from two-bit town I was living in, away from the problems of my dysfunctional family, away from the life I was forced to live…I rode hard, I rode long, I rode well. I rode that bike until the summer before 11th grade, that summer my friend and I discovered if you played the right music at the right location with just the right amount of beer (or at least the rumor of beer), girls would come. The bike didn’t stand a chance.
Today, twenty-some years after my last ride on that Schwinn Quarter Dash, I went for my first real bike ride. I’ve had the bike sitting in my garage since my wedding. I always told myself I would ride it. Since my wedding I’ve had a son, given up smoking and pretty much don’t drink at all (I have a girl now, so I no longer need the right mix of alcohol and music). I’ve broken free of the dysfunction of my youth and begun creating the dysfunction that my son will someday dream of escaping. Thanks to the not smoking, not drinking and son my wife has edged me toward a healthier diet. I’ve lost weight and am fitting into cool clothes again (like a kick ass Dokken shirt I found). It’s no secret that Kim and I have never followed a straight path in our life or careers. We’ve explored and sampled, we’ve been poorer for longer than a lot of our friends, we’ve struggled and worked hard to have this life we do now. What I discovered was while on that bike, sweating and struggling to get up the hills and working so hard to keep my balance, all of the stress of life melted away. All the drama Kim and I went through to get where we are now no longer mattered. Every toxin that I’ve stored in my body, the smoke, the poisons, the chemicals, all that makes up our modern life, began to seep from my body in the sweat that was burning my eyes. I felt more Zen than I have in decades. I was shocked that the simple joy of riding a bike and pushing my body past limits I forgot I had could help me achieve that Zen. My body hurt, my heart raced, my lungs burned. I was in Nirvana.
Maybe next time I’ll tell you a story about a boy and a girl.