Biking for Gumballs

stephanie's picture

When I was a kid, I loved to ride my bike.   I don’t recall the first time I learned to ride a bike, which you would think should have been an earth shattering moment for someone like me. My middle sister, Holly, claims to remember my Dad running along beside me right before I ended up with bloody knees and elbows.  Yep, sounds about right.  I do know that once I discovered the freedom my bike gave me, I was hooked.  It was a statement of independence, maturity and getting to go where I wanted to more quickly than walking and without the extra supervision and planning needed to get a car ride. 

I have fond memories of biking up and down the tree lined streets of Williamsville, NY, where I lived during my early Elementary School years.  I made several, sometimes failed attempts to ride my oldest sister, Angela’s, cool ten speed “boys bike” which was a pretty, blue Schwinn.  It was too big and had an incredibly scary bar that went straight across the frame, but lucky for me, we didn’t have many hills.  I only recall one extremely painful and discouraging fall off the pedals where I landed smack on the bar.  Once. That’s all it took. 

I can still recall the smell of fresh mowed grass and feeling the change of temperatures from warm to cool as I rode down the streets to visit my friends.  Back then, allergies were not an issue for me.

A few years later, when I was in the 6th grade and lived in Huntington, WV, I received my very own beautiful, shiny blue “girl’s bicycle” with a white banana seat for Christmas.  I loved it!  It was perfect for me and eventually led to a lucrative bribing business of doubling my best friend all over the hills and around town in exchange for white baseball-shaped gumballs at the ball field.  We rode to the park, the swimming pool, up hills to visit friends, downtown to the movies, and to the “Smurf House” – our favorite place to babysit.

Naturally, in high school and college, I switched over to walking or driving when I had access to a vehicle.  I became excellent at parallel parking – which was a necessity in a college town - but it was a pain.  Walking was less of a hassle.  It was free.  And I preferred it.  During the day, I enjoyed jogging along the trails that paralleled the creek, or running around the track at my Alma Mater, Marshall University. 

After Graduating from College, my car became a necessity for getting to work as a Lobbyist for Motorist Advocacy issues, and later, an Outside Sales Rep.  I had large territories to cover in WV, then later in Indianapolis, IN.  I despised being stuck in traffic so much, and was frustrated by having a bad sense of direction, which meant I was stuck in the car even longer trying to find my way around.  That led to the days of being a newlywed, and soon after, a new Mother toting my tot to Daycare in his car seat around my work schedule.

After the tragic 2011 incidents, we moved to Johnson City, TN.  Our son was 5 years old.  It was at this time that my husband, Sam, decided it was time to ride a bike again.  He rode 5 miles for the first time in years, came home, spread out on the floor and announced he was going to die.  Miraculously, he was ok, and went on to build up to being a regular cycle commuter gaining front page newspaper fame as one of the only regular cycle commuters in the area.  This was despite the 2 lane, winding roads through the hills, summer tornado warnings, and occasional snow and ice.  One little “bump” on the road could lead to a steep fall off the side of a mountain, but it was worth it to him.  In addition, he went on “fun rides” – fundraisers - where he rode century rides (100 miles) to raise money for various organizations.  I was on call to “rescue” him if he ran out of water, tubes, energy, etc. 

Eventually, I decided I was missing out and wanted to start riding again too.  I ordered my first official “Road Bike” on with more gears than I have ever used.   It was a burgundy, 650 cm tire Motobecane Mirage.  Despite the extra number of gears, it was a simple, straight out aluminum bike that often skipped from the “big gear” to the “granny gear”.  It also failed majorly at allowing me to clip out of the pedals.  Yes, some of it was the bikes fault, and much of it was user error – err…mine.  I rode that bike for many miles and many years despite the annoyances.  I have since upgraded to my “Frankenbike” for road cycling and cycle commuting.  It is made up of various oddball parts from other bicycles in our lives and is a much smoother ride overall. 

I eventually added a Trek Trail Bike (which I called my Mountain Bike) to the mix so I could ride on the Virginia Creeper Trail which was about an hour from where I lived at the time.  I also attempted to Mountain Bike on it at some local trails in Tennessee.

Once we moved to Pueblo, Colorado, and I rode the single track trails at Lake Pueblo State Park, I learned what “real” Mountain Biking was all about.  The trail bike had to go.  I bought a Jamis Hardtail 29er from a local bike shop and began my journey of learning how to mountain bike as an adult.  I learned how to throw my weight back when riding down a steep hill, and how to use a “turn and lockout” on the suspension correctly according to what I was riding on.  I learned how to bail and jump off the bike altogether vs. landing in a cactus.  I learned how fun it was to be able to roll over stuff on big 29 inch tires while looking around and enjoying the scenery.  I improved my skills in changing a tire.  I learned the hard way NOT to squeeze the brake levers when the wheel was off the bike if you have disc brakes.  

I still have a lot to learn.  I still psych myself out if I’m going to go down a steep area which a sharp turn which I unsuccessfully attempted in the past.  I have no problem walking up, or down, part of a trail when I believe it is over my head.  In fact, on a recent trip to Moab, Utah, I spent a lot of time pushing my bike around Slickrock.  That’s a story for another day though.

I no longer ride for gumballs.  I ride for myself.  I’m not an expert rider, but I am an expert at enjoying the ride.  And, I’m good with that.