A Freewheelin’ Pre-Teen

 In Weekly Forum Discussion

My younger self spent all my school age summers in the same neighbourhood. The trees grew taller each year until they formed an arch over the roadway in front of my three story home on a narrow city lot. My mother didn’t get her driver’s license until I was in junior high, and even then my father usually took the car to work. As a child I learned to take the bus by myself before I turned six. Walking, skipping, hopscotch, and an old trike, shared with my brother, summed up our transportation and summer fun.

By age 10 or 11, the tricycle had long been relegated to storage along with the red wagon. Walking or taking the bus became the only modes of transportation without waiting for my father to be home. I walked to the swimming pool and library frequently. I hung out with my friends on the block and longed for a bicycle, as did my friends. Finally, the summer of grade seven, my folks bought a three speed bike for my brother and me to share. At that age we needed to figure out the balance required to ride it by ourselves; no one would run behind us to help us learn. It kept us occupied for hours as we were both determined to master it first, which obviously meant more time to ride it, or so we thought.

The back alley with its ruts and gravel, but no vehicles became our practice ground. I wobbled and dropped my feet from pedals to solid ground before trying one more time. More wobbles, less propping myself up with my feet on the ground, and trying over and over until I stayed upright and could turn a corner, at least in first gear. I would worry about the other two at a later date.

I still remember the feeling of accomplishment I had as I learned to ride that bike down the alley and around the block. However, I also vividly remember turning the corner from the alley on to the sidewalk and misjudging the distance. The handle bar hit the huge tree and the hand brake jabbed into my thigh hard enough to puncture the skin. I hobbled the short distance to home while my brother gleefully took a spin on our bicycle.

By the end of summer I felt ready for a much bigger adventure than simply riding around the block, or to the library a few blocks away. I pulled out a map of the city. I plotted a course that avoided the busiest streets and intersections that would take me a friend’s house about six miles away. I knew the route well for the first half of the journey, but after that I would need to rely on the map and my memory of the route.

I completed my plans, picked a date, and had both mothers agree to this adventure. I would spend a few hours at my destination and then reverse the ride and arrive home before dark. What a way to finish off a summer. I packed a snack in the bike’s basket along with some water and change for a payphone in my pocket,  in case of an emergency. I had my dad check the air in the bike’s tires and finally started by trek across the city. For someone who had just learned to ride at the beginning of summer I felt the enormity of the challenge of this ride by myself even as I embraced it.

So many thoughts filled my mind as I took this trip down memory lane. My free wheelin’ adventure stands out as a highlight of that summer. I had accepted a challenge and conquered my fears in order to try this new mode of transportation with the enthusiasm of youth. I realize that I learned that you are never too old to learn something new, to have an adventure and to be happy with the simple things in life. My mom learned to drive as an adult approaching middle age. I did not learn to ride a bike until my preteen years. Yet we were independent, using modes of transportation readily available to us with walking lots and taking the bus to further destinations.

I also learned that adventure can be found right where I am if I am willing to look for it, and embrace opportunities that present themselves – even when they look different than what I had expected.

Written by: Carol Harrison; Carol’s Corner

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