Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Bike by Bike

From time to time I have mentioned the wind here in Caithness. It was much on my mind today as I was praying for a tailwind to get me home from Thurso on my new bike. I didn't get a tail wind. In fact, most of the time it was in my face. When it wasn't in my face, it threatened to push me off the road, and then when it switched again, it was to push me into oncoming traffic. I kept thinking that it might somehow find its way behind me. It didn't, and so I fought the wind for every inch of the way from Thurso to the farm road.

Even downhill, I had to pedal to help gravity in its fight against the Caithness wind. I keep forgetting I am not in Indiana. As I assemble the pieces of my new life, I get to pick and choose what bits of previous lives I can or want to include on this canvas. I have wanted a bike for three years. Since the first time I saw Caithness, I thought what a lovely place for a bike. Even with the hills and the wind. Despite my aching legs, I still am glad to have my new bike.

With my bike, I can slide by wonderful patches of purple heather that would go unnoticed in a car. After nearly two hours on my bike, on the very last hill before the farm road, I noticed a tiny patch of Solidago in full yellow flower. I would not have seen that otherwise. I have read eagerly and with just a bit of jealousy Ralph's "Out and About" features in the local paper about his biking adventures . Ralph bikes around very interesting places and takes his bike far afield on trains and overland routes. I'll never be that adventurous, but I have enjoyed riding a bike and the adventures associated with it since I was old enough to wobble up and down my driveway trying to believe in training wheels and the scenery here even on a windy day is worth the effort.

I don't clearly remember my first bike. Perhaps I have repressed that because I left it in front of the garage door where we had been told not to leave our bikes. It was smashed flat by one of my parents running over it and my punishment was to be bikeless. For several months I was without a bike in a very bike-oriented gagle of kids. Somehow running up and down the driveway or taking turns on someone else's bike was just not the same.

I remember my green and white Huffy. It had a fringed compartment to keep my toy rifle in. I kept that bike until the seat could no longer be raised. I then graduated to an elegant 3-speed racing bike, the ultimate in biking technology in its day. A high school friend who left Scotland shortly before I got here rode with me all around the back roads near our houses the last summer before I went to college studying corn fields as they ripened through the summer. I thought of him today as I huffed and puffed along. I could have used his encouragement and he would have liked the hills of sheep and cattle.

That may have been the bike that went to college with me. I was noted then for wearing olive green jeans and wearing knee high boots of a russet colored leather about the time that Bob Dylan was singing "Boots of Spanish Leather." I was studying, among other things, French, wrote poetry, and dubbed my bike, "Bicyclette." In the 60's it may have made sense. A friend who is coming to visit me here in a couple weeks one day wrote a note in French and put it on my bike. I don't remember why. Maybe she does.

The next bike phase was matching 5-speed racing bikes after my then husband wrecked the car. I rode that bike to work and to classes and until I was so pregnant that my bike wobbled again as it had in my earliest days lurching from training wheel to training wheel.

When I moved to Philadelphia, I added an infant carrying seat on the back of my bike and my daughter and I traveled the student ghetto until she was too big to fit on the bike. I continued with my bike but in the urban setting, I needed a large chain to keep my bike no matter how secure a site it seemed to be. I must have been quite a sight with my large-link chain slung like a bandolier across my chest. It was not enough to deter thieves. After losing two expensive bikes, I rode for awhile on a bike that was so old and clunky that no one, I thought, could be bothered to steal it. Even that, however, was not safe. Perhaps they stole it because they were annoyed that I had stopped buying fancy bikes that were worth stealing and, once again, I was being punished with a bike-less existence.

I remained bikeless for many years, except for a very brief episode with a moped and a fat-wheeled pink bike for a week in Cayman, until I rewarded myself for getting my master's degree with a blue, hybrid 23-gear bike. I never used all 23 gears in the city but I managed to keep hold of this one even when threatened. Having lived in the city for several years and having lost so many bicycles, I was wary as the man approached me with his hand out as if to shake hands. I extended my hand but kept the other firmly on my bike.

As I suspected, he did not shake hands but grabbed the bike and gave a tug. "Give it to me, he said. It might have been more sensible to have yielded but the ghosts of all those lost bicycles were haunting me. I gritted my teeth and said no, with a few more words that don't need to be repeated here. He had no knife or gun and so we were just locked there in a tug of war until I started yelling. I hollered help without ever really expecting anyone to come, and no one did. Since he was an opportunistic thief, he didn't want publicity and just faded into the streetscape.

That bike moved with me to the small town when I had enough of urban adventures, and, once again, I was touring corn fields. I remember one fabulous golden afternoon turning a corner onto a side road and having dozens of turkey vultures take flight--slowly as if not too bothered by a single person on a bicycle--and then settling in again after I passed on my way. I like that unobtrusiveness of bicycle riding.

And so bike by bike, I am now the proud owner of a grey Giant bike with 23 gears or so. I don't expect to use all of them but Caithness certainly offers more opportunites for that than Indiana ever did.


At 4:53 PM, Blogger ZACL said...

I used to ride my bike around Caithness and that's when you discover the county (contrary to what people will tell you)is not, I repeat, is not flat! I should love to be able to ride it now but physical problems now stop that pleasure.. I may investigate alternatives some time. Anyway, back to the post...

Thurso to where you live - or in local parlance, where you stay, is 10 miles with or without wind. You have ridden a round trip of 20 miles and not in the easiest of circumstances. I have done that same run over the years. It takes a while to build up stamina for some of the 'easier' slopes (definitely trompe d'oeille)so you have done exceedingly well and deserve a grand accolade!!

At 1:27 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

I think I know every bump between here and there. It seemed all uphill. I am giving it another go today. The wind, at least at this instant, is quiet and the sky is that radiant blue that is like smile from the inside out.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger landgirl said...

Hey, zacl, good news is that without the wind it only takes about an hour. woo hoo. Now I am looking forward to adding in the side roads.


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