Back in the relatively comfortable saddle again

[Originally ran in the October 2015 issue of The Village.]

A pre-helmet ride along Kennebunk's Bridle Path.
A pre-helmet ride along Kennebunk’s Bridle Path.

It’s about twenty miles from Longmeadow, Mass. to Vernon, Conn. That was the apex of my cycling adventures as a boy growing up in suburbia. Ray Mentor, Greg Heger and I pedaled our way down to the outskirts of Hartford on our ten-speeds one gorgeous fall day when we were in eighth grade, without telling our parents where we were going. It was the ‘70s; no self-respecting kids told their parents what they were up to. That being said, we didn’t know where we were going until we got there.

Before a brief series of similar treks during middle school and early high school, bicycles played an integral role in my life, as they did in every kid’s life in Longmeadow. Adults had their streets; we had the sidewalks, which in suburbia ran alongside every road. Life without a bike was unimaginable, even if there were occasions when trying to impersonate Evel Knievel (like jumping one’s Sears banana seat bike from one log-propped ramp to another, coming up short like Evel did so many times, and slamming one’s crotch on the crossbar) made one believe bicycles had their downside.

There were intermittent bouts of biking around during high school and college, but after that, I simply stopped. It was sort of like outgrowing Legos and Matchbox cars, in that I didn’t officially quit one day, but rather came to realize, years after the fact, that I had done with them. I had a few bicycles after college, but they mostly kept the other things I had moldering in the cellar company.

A few years ago I adopted an abandoned red mountain bike. I rode it as often as I downhill skied (on average, once per annum). It was an improvement over my other bike, a retro “Leave it to Beaver” number that made five-percent inclines feel like the north face of the Eiger, in that it had twenty more speed settings. It was fun to ride down the Bridle Path in Kennebunk, but again…that would be once a year.

This summer I determined that it might be a good thing to become more aware of my health choices. To that end, I decided to dust off the mountain bike, peel away the cobwebs (literally), pump up its tires, spritz it with WD40, and actually start riding it regularly. And by “regularly,” I mean “considerably more than once a year.”

A couple of my bandmates are avid cyclists; I have no delusions about reaching their level anytime soon (or anytime ever), but within my own cycling paradigm, I have taken a great leap forward. The turning point for me, I suppose, was when I rode over Durrell’s Bridge to the Kennebunkport Bicycle Company ostensibly to replace my bike’s ridiculously old, narrow, and punishing seat, which was less a bicycle part and more a colonoscopy prep. The friendly bearded guy recommended and then installed one of those seats with the open canyon running down the middle (low-tech AC, much appreciated), relieving me of the old one, which he may have donated to the Bicycle Museum of America in New Bremen, Ohio.

Though a child of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, I finally overcame my helmets-are-for-wussies attitude and adopted the wisdom of protecting my cranium from an inattentive driver or poorly placed tree root. As the friendly bearded guy said, my head is worth fifty dollars. I’ve always thought so. And of course I needed a new zippered pouch thingy for the back of the seat, so I could conveniently have tangerines and cab fare on hand.

With those three purchases, I ensured at least one good season of guilt-based cycling. That day, in fact, I rode through Dock Square, down along Gooch’s and Mother’s beaches, up the Bridle Path, over the turnpike, blah blah blah, tallying up twenty-three miles. I was inordinately proud of myself, even though I fell far short of my thirty-seven-year-old cycling record. As long as I keep a safe distance from my crossbar, I ought to be able to meet that goal soon enough.

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Dana Pearson is a writer living in Kennebunk, Maine.
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