My Life on Two Wheels

by Marna

In the beginning...

I remember the first time I rode a bike without training wheels. It was back in the day of that fashion disaster, bell bottoms. (You know what's coming, right?) Well, I was riding around the cul-de-sac where we lived, and the hem of my pants got caught in something revolving. I don't know if it was the rear wheel or the chain, or what. All I know is that this was the beginning of my long and illustrious career of spectacular falls from two wheeled vehicles. (And, I'm fairly certain, the last time I ever allowed bell bottoms to grace my body.)

Fast forward to a few years later, and I've traded in the single speed, push your feet backward to brake, banana seated bike for a spiffy new red ten speed, a Christmas gift from my father. I was either ten or eleven at the time, and I loved that bike! If memory serves, it was a Schwinn, and it was of the discount store variety, but man, was it the coolest thing in the world. I spent hours, days, weeks, years on that bike, doing things that I cannot even fathom doing today. I would circle my block multiple times without ever grabbing the handlebars. Somewhere between ten and thirtysomething, I've developed a healthy fear of pain and head injuries, not to mention road rash. I have a deathgrip on those handlebars now, baby! I have two friends who are cycling gods (okay, one's a cycling goddess) and these people can dress and undress while pedaling and having a cell phone conversation. I'm in awe.

The death of my early cycling career came at age sixteen when I traded in the two wheeled mode of transport for something with two more wheels, a radio and an engine. It would be years before I got on a bike again.

When I was nineteen, and living in another city attending college, I came home from class one day to a phone call that my younger sister had been involved in an accident. Car vs. bike. It was bad enough that I bailed on my classes during midterms and flew across the country to California. The memory is foggy now as to when I got there, either the day that my sister had her surgery or the day before. What is still clear as day is how much damage can be done when you hit the ground at speed with your face. My younger sister and I had never been all that close. There was a healthy amount of competition there, and to be honest, while we were growing up, we really didn't like each other. I truly think that seeing her in the hospital after her accident was the beginning of the end of that road. She's one of the most important people in my life today, and the best Auntie I've ever seen in my life! (Meesh, you, too - but in the separate Godmother category!). Anyway, the deal with my sister's accident was that she'd gotten up before school (she was a senior in high school at this point) to go for a bike ride. She was heading down a hill and a car, who either didn't see her, or thought that he could beat her, turned in front of her to get on the freeway on ramp. As far as we can tell, she went over the hood of the car and ended up in the iceplant on the other side of the onramp. The jackass stopped long enough to call 911, and then took off. We have no idea who hit her. One of my fondest wishes is to have 15 minutes alone with him and a baseball bat. Anyway, Kristin wasn't wearing a helmet. They were more of an afterthought back then. The fall caused some bones in her head to shatter and she needed surgery to remove bone fragments from her sinus cavity and near her eye, where they were threatening to cause some serious damage. If she had been wearing a helmet, she'd probably have walked away from the accident. Instead, she had to have most of her head shaved (and she had beautiful long blond hair) so that surgeons could cut her head open. Ultimately, she was fine, and was back on her bike - she still rides the bike she was riding when she got hit. Her accident left a lasting impression on me, however, and I didn't think that I'd ever see life from the saddle of a bicycle. And certainly NEVER a road bike.

The funny thing about the word NEVER is that it often comes back to bite you in the butt. Like me saying that I'd never have kids. Yeah, tell that to my 5 year old, who is the ultimate light of my life. Or that I'd never find a happy relationship. I did! Or that I'd never finish college. (God knows that's what my parents thought - but ultimately, I decided what I wanted to be when I grew up, picked a major, and earned that diploma!) So, of course saying that I'd never ride a bike was a statement begging to be negated. And it was, Christmas Day 2001. My boyfriend took me to the Santa Rosa Plateau, near where he lived, and let me try riding a really cool mountain bike - a Cannondale Scalpel. That day, I learned some valuable lessons. In no particular order, they are: size matters - when you're talking about a bike frame, anyway; bike shorts may look silly, but they're invaluable in avoiding saddle sores that would be caused by, say, denim. And mountain biking was FUN! But I couldn't do it on this borrowed behemoth of a bike. Which was a shame, as anyone who knows mountain bikes will attest - the Scalpel is practically a work of art. And those of you who do will cringe when I tell you about the bike I spent the next six months riding. About 2 years earlier, I'd purchased a mountain bike from a friend of my sister's for $50. It was a very old Trek Antelope something or other. Rigid frame (meaning no suspension to make going over bumps more comfortable), and HEAVY. Hell, when I bought the bike, it had a kickstand. I had a long way to go. So, I bought the bike, my sister bought me a helmet and some other necessary accessories, showed me how to change a flat, and I was letting that bike collect dust in my garage for 2 years. We resurrected it the day after Christmas 2001 so that I could ride a bike that was my size. That's when the monster was born.

I loved mountain biking. And I was getting really good at it. I was fearless. I could go over rock obstacles, I could fly down hills, I was on fire! Why? Because I had NO frame of reference for how much speed on one of those puppies could translate into pain. That all came to a crashing (heh heh) end one day in mid January. I came around a corner into a downhill, knowing that I should probably reduce my speed because of the funky way the hill ended. Now I know that that funkiness has a name: a cross-rut. Well, the cross rut won, and I experienced my first endo. That's right, sports fans, over the handlebars, face first into the hillside. I had a Nancy Kerrigan knee, a big assed lump on my arm, basically, I was a walking bruise. But I didn't break anything. And I got back on that bike. That was the beginning.

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