I rode my bike all the time when I was younger.
I rode a fair amount when I was 9 and 10, but the neighborhood where we lived in Chicago was laid out as a grid, so I never really had to worry about getting lost. I was also fairly young, so I wasn’t going to venture too far away from home. I would usually ride up to the park a couple blocks away and then circle back around, although I do remember widening my radius gradually around the time I turned 11. A month after my birthday, though, my family moved to Long Island, New York, which was a more typical suburban neighborhood. We had left the grid behind; our new home was in an area with winding streets and lush green lawns. Everything was new for me, from the strip malls and diners to the stand-alone houses and the people with their “Lon-Giland” accents. I didn’t meet a lot of other kids right away, so I spent a lot of time on my bike.
I rode everywhere. I rode farther and farther away from home, spending hours exploring my new surroundings. Once school started, I paid attention to my bus route and rode my bike past the other kid’s houses. I found elevated breaks in the sidewalk and raced over them so that I went airborne. I walked up hills so high that the air screamed in my ears when I rode back down. My bike was my independence and my sanctuary. It was my space to think and to not think. It was more than just transportation; it was freedom.
I rarely ride any more. Part of it is that I’m so busy with my different jobs and other adult responsibilities that I don’t have much time to ride. Part of it is that there isn’t really much space left in our one-bedroom apartment, let alone enough to keep a bicycle there. Most of it, though, is that I would usually rather spend my free time with my wife and son, rather than off by myself. I spend enough time on my own during the week, either commuting to and from work or traveling to and from home visits. A lot of that independence I used to cherish is now already built into my week. By the time I get home, I may be exhausted, but I’m ready to be exhausted with my family.
This past weekend, though, I did get to ride again. Trudy, Eitan and I made the trip into Manhattan and took the ferry over to Governor’s Island, where we rented two bicycles and spent a few hours riding around the island. Eitan relaxed in a seat on the back of my bike, while he took in the sights. We stopped at the Play Lawn, where we saw the art sculptures, playground and miniature golf course, which was particularly impressive, given the quality and artistic nature of the course and the fact that it is maintained entirely on the basis of donations. We grabbed lunch at the food trucks nearby and Eitan got to sip a milkshake from Mr. Softee when we started riding again. In the afternoon, we checked out the Urban Farm, where they grow different flowers, herbs and vegetables and raise chickens and goats. Eitan also got to see the Statue of Liberty from a distance and enjoyed showing us how he holds up his torch:
The best part, though, was the bike ride. Of course, the stops we made were interesting and fun and kept Eitan engaged, which helped him continue to enjoy the day. For me, though, the key was the return of that feeling of freedom that I had remembered. The breeze rushed by my face, my legs pumped as I pedaled along and I couldn’t help but pick up a little more speed when the road opened up in front of me. The difference was that, this time, I wasn’t alone. The sanctuary of independence that I had sought as an adolescent had been replaced by the company of my wife and son. The quiet opportunities to process my thoughts were now occupied by my wife’s comments about how relaxed she felt and by Eitan pointing out the boats, buoys and other objects by the waterside. I recognized the sense of calm, the acceptance of the world around me and the release of tension from my body. And I realized that, at that moment, I was exactly where I wanted to be.
The sanctuary looked different; but I wouldn’t have changed it for anything.