On being ... back in the saddle

By Ingrid Sapona

The subdivision I grew up in was called – believe it or not – Green Acres. (It was built long before the hit TV show of that name.) One of my favourite recollections of childhood was riding my bike all over Green Acres. My bike was a hand-me-down: a pink, girl’s Schwinn. It had one speed (unless you peddled really hard!) and to brake you simply peddled backwards.

I’ll never forget the first time I rode to my friend Donna’s house. She lived on a street that was not on my walk-to-school route, so finding it was a triumph of my navigation skills and stamina. After that success, I felt sure I could find my way anywhere in the world. (I know that sounds ridiculous, but at 11, Green Acres WAS the world!) Oh how I loved my bike and what it represented: the ability to explore.

Eventually I graduated to four wheels and I didn’t ride again until I was living in Amsterdam in the mid-80s. Shortly after I arrived there, I realized I’d be missing out on the Dutch experience if I didn’t have a bike. So, when a heard a co-worker was selling one for $50, I snapped it up.

When I took delivery of it, two things surprised me: it was red and it had more than one speed. Neither of these may strike you as noteworthy, but all the other bikes in Amsterdam (at least at that time) were black one-speeds. Nevertheless, my red 10-speed made me feel oh so Dutch.

I thought I’d have a hard time adjusting to having more than one speed. I soon realized, however, that given Holland’s geography, there was no need to ever change gears. So, the only thing I had to get used to was using handbrakes instead of peddling backwards. As it happens, I didn’t have time to get too used the brakes because someone stole it about a month after I got it.

In the short time I had it, however, I did manage to take one memorable trip. I decided to cycle to Delft and Gouda and back. A one-day trip may not sound that adventurous, but given that I didn’t have a map, it seemed it. But, I had heard you could get almost anywhere by bike by simply following the signs, so I thought I'd give it a try. So, one morning I simply set out. Lucky for me, the routes were very well marked.

Of course, given of my lack of map, I didn’t realize how far Delft and Gouda were. It turns out doing both in one day was – let’s just say – “ambitious”, especially for someone who hadn’t ridden much since junior high. (Did I mention the bike’s seat wasn’t particularly cushioned?)

After Holland, I didn’t get back on a bike until the early 90s, when I went mountain biking – or mountain braking, as I prefer to call it. A bunch of us attending a conference in Whistler, B.C. rented bikes and took them two chair lifts up the mountain. (For those not up on Canadian geography, Whistler will be the site of the 2010 Olympic down-hill events.)

Though the afternoon didn’t end up being as fun as I hoped, I did come away with an important insight: I need to be in control (and going down a mountain on two wheels is not easy to do in a controlled manner). I also learned that riding the handbrakes down a steep hill is really hard on your forearms.

Of course, my mountain braking adventure wouldn’t have been complete without a little insult to go along with my aching forearms. At some point, a mountain ranger came up to me and asked if everything was ok. I assured him it was – I just wanted to take it slow. Turns out, that was going to be a problem because they wanted to close the hill for the day. I had two choices: either speed it up or take the next lift back down. All I can say is the view from a chair lift is even more breathtaking on the way down!

Five or six years ago I won a bike. I was tickled with the thought of having one, but the idea of riding it in a city of 2.5 million people (and who know how many cars) terrified me. So, it went straight into storage – I never even tried riding it. But, when I moved, I made sure the bike came with.

My condo is along the lake with direct access to the City’s extensive system of bike paths. Many friends who visited over the winter commented on how great it’ll be to ride around here. Sure, I thought – if I have the nerve.

Well, the weather finally warmed up this week so the time had come to try the bike. Only thing was, the tires were flat. So, a friend came over and helped me pump them up; then she dared me to get on. I was a bit nervous and a bit wobbly at first but the old adage proved true – you never forget how to ride.

The next day I decided to go for more of a test drive. I cycled to my sail club, which is accessible via one of the bike paths. I couldn’t believe how easy it was and how much I enjoyed it! Though I did have work to get back to, since the club’s not very far, on my way home I varied my route to stay out a bit longer, much as I used to do when riding around Green Acres as a kid.

That night I was still quite high from my ride to the club and I started getting excited about being back in the saddle again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not ready to forgo my four-wheels for two. Hell, I’m not even sure I’ll ever be ready to get out on real roads on my bike. But I have to say, I’m excited by the fact that there are so many new paths to explore and by the fact that you’re never too old for new adventures.

© 2008 Ingrid Sapona


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