What goes around, comes around

Like many a teen-age girl, I harbored a secret dream of waking on my Sweet 16 to find a cherry-red Cabriolet convertible wrapped in a huge bow sitting in my driveway. And, like many a teen-age girl, I woke that fateful morning to find the same old brown Buick station wagon parked over the same old gloppy oil stain. Which isn’t to say I wasn’t grateful for that piece of machinery. For a girl living in the styx, it was my ticket to social salvation and freedom from parental oppression.

Unfortunately, when I convinced my parents to send me to school in Boulder, the brown Buick wasn’t part of the package. My parents were giving me enough of a free ride already – if I wanted wheels, I was going to have to earn them. I eventually landed a job slinging pizzas to help me work toward that motor-driven dream. Only problem was, I had no way to get there. So, like many a starving student, I bought a bike. It wasn’t a cherry red Cabriolet, but two wheels were better than none, I figured, and it was a step in the right direction.

On my first day of work, I set out on my new steed – a shiny black mountain bike. However, being a product of Suburbia, I was not well versed in the rules of city bike commuting. I knew enough to follow the bike path, but when it ended I was stumped. The sidewalk seemed the next logical progression, so I continued on it – oblivious to any side traffic. I was getting some good speed on the empty, smooth walkway, perhaps a little more than I should have, when my ride abruptly came to an end. I approached the pull-out to a Denny’s at the exact same time a man in a sedan, groggy from his midday meal, was pulling out. Heat-forged aluminum hit American steel as I went airborne. The next sound I heard was skull hitting pavement as I landed face first on Baseline Avenue, a four-lane thoroughfare.

Thanks to what must have been a merciful act by the archangel of stupid college kids, there were no oncoming cars. And thanks to what can only be attributed to a hard head, I remained conscious. In a contusion-induced fog, all I could think about was being late for my first day on the job. I jumped up and attempted to ride away on a bike with a tacoed front wheel. Fortunately, the driver of the car had remained sane through the incident and guided me and my decrepit bike to safety. Unable to form sentences or complete thoughts, all I could do was point at him and mutter the same absurd phrase over and over: “You hit me.”

Of course, when I regained use of my faculties, I realized I was at much at fault as he was. This was to be the first in a long series of sometimes painful lessons of the road, namely not to dart out in front of moving vehicles.

Although my foray into bicycle commuting was a little rough, everything turned out OK. The driver paid for my new wheel, the lump on the side of my head went down in a few days, and I didn’t get fired from work. When they heard the news, my parents immediately sent a day-glow yellow jacket, which promptly found a place at the bottom of my closet, and a Styrofoam helmet, which I occasionally made use of. Perhaps the best outcome was that I continued my two-wheeled form of commuting – mostly out of necessity.

And while biking was fitting for a college student, once I had diploma in hand, I couldn’t help but feeling that bicycle as transport was undignified. However, several years later, I was still pumping pedal day after day. And one day, as I rode a clunker, three-speed green Schwinn to work, I had a horrifying vision: Me, at the age of 50, still riding my green Schwinn to work. A few days later, I went down to the local bank and signed away my life to buy a used car. The payments were around $100 a month, a stretch on my paltry tourist-town income, but with wheels, I could manage to work at least three jobs to cover it.

At first, it was as if my new car had validated my legitimacy as an adult. No longer was I a kid riding my bike to go schlep pizzas for minimum wage. I had arrived in my career and was making my way in the rat race like all the other good people of the world: fingers firmly grasped around a leather-wrapped wheel and my foot on the gas.

But, with heavy winter snows and no garage, manual hubs and an insatiable appetite for petroleum, the novelty soon wore off. And when I moved to the outskirts of town, making the car indispensable for commuting, I began to yearn for the carefree days of being able to hop on my bike and just go. As I sat idling in sweltering late afternoon traffic one summer afternoon, I vowed to get the now defunct Schwinn out of retirement. With a small investment, she was once again road worthy as was I. And like many things in life, I didn’t realize how much I had appreciated my solo, unfettered, daily journeys until I rediscovered them.

It took me several years, and several bikes, to come full circle in my biking metamorphosis, from fledgling rookie to confident veteran. And although I have come a long way, so to speak, some things have remained the same. For starters, I try to stay off the sidewalks and always use extra caution around Denny’s pull-outs. I also still have those visions of riding my bike at 50 – although I would rather make it to 100.

– Missy Votel




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