I don’t remember when I decided I wasn’t going to ride the rust red, hand-me-down two-wheeler. But somewhere between the day someone took off my training wheels and the day I potentially would be whizzing down Russett Road on a big kid bike, something in my little kid heart rebelled. I strapped on my roller-skates, put the bike in the shed, and didn’t look back.
That is, until I was 21 years old and living in East Grinstead, England. In a place where I had no car and where public transport was infrequent and unreliable, bikes were the best option. So, for the first time since I was a child, I walked a bike to the Sainsbury parking lot behind our flat and with the help of some friends, tried to learn to ride it.
My next attempt occurred when I was living in Alaska and had a stretch of straight, low-traffic road between the fishing lodge where I worked and the beach. A fellow employee named Carl helped me get a bike in working condition so I could practice riding. I went out a few times and made some progress, but they were wobbly attempts, at best.
So the other day when my friend, Courtney, suggested that I train for a triathlon with her, I laughed and told her about my shameful little secret. When she volunteered to teach me to ride, it seemed fitting for the theme I wanted to focus on this week: doing something that made me feel like a kid again.
Courtney pulled up to my house with two bikes and a helmet in tow. At first, she ran beside me as I swerved and wobbled, gripping the handlebars with all of my strength. When it seemed like I could try a lap around the block, she mounted up and joined me on her own bike.
For the most part, I was able to stay balanced and even carry on a conversation with Courtney. But any time I heard a car approaching, I consciously had to redirect my thoughts from visions of pitching into its path and becoming road kill. That would put a damper on the day, after all.
But despite my fears of death-by-car, trouble with turning corners and questionable push-off starts, I was getting the hang of it. Courtney was a patient and good teacher, and it was a lot of fun to be riding with her. We talked about life and things we wanted to do in the future, and I was impressed by how firmly she had her feet on the ground as she effortlessly pedaled her bike beside me.
After a few passes around the streets in my neighborhood, Courtney packed up the bikes and we called it a day. But that evening, she joined me in another attempt to have some childlike fun.
Armed with a box of crayons and a scribble pad, we headed over to the children’s section of the local Barnes and Noble bookstore. After spending some time reading through books I haven’t seen since I was a child (like Fun With Dick and Jane, Amelia Bedelia, and The Berenstain Bears), I found and purchased something beyond awesome. A Wonder Woman “Quest For Justice!” coloring book.
Courtney and I sat at the little table there and set to work with the crayons we smuggled in. I worried that an employee would think we had just taken the book of the shelf and started coloring in it, but the only one that came by told us she was jealous and declined to join us when we offered.
It’s funny how coloring seems to bring out great conversation. I really enjoyed talking with Courtney as we embellished pictures of Wonder Woman beating up a gang of thugs, picking up a truck with her incredible strength, and using her “bracelets of victory” to shield herself from harm. Every once in a while, a child would come by to watch us and we’d offer to let them color also. When a shy little girl approached with a woman, we extended the same offer and they accepted.
The woman, Irma, was the mother of the the little girl, Angelica’s, mother (she wouldn’t let us use the “G-word”). She took a page out of the coloring book, as did Angelica, and also used a page from the scribble pad we’d brought to draw and autograph us a picture.
Irma was a delight and had us laughing the whole time we talked with her. After we finished coloring, she insisted we take some pictures on the room’s stage with a Hello Kitty backpack that was hanging nearby. She gave us her phone number (if we ever “wanted to call Angelica”) and took pictures of Courtney and I on her own camera. It was fun to make a new friend in this lady who was as colorful as the tropical scene she created on the torn page from the scribble pad.
After leaving Barnes and Noble, Courtney and I headed back to her house and she made some M&M’s cookies while we watched a movie. It was so fun just to play and spend time with a great friend who, in many respects, is a real-life Wonder Woman. From her work as the Clinical Director at the treatment facility where we’re employed to her efforts to help young women in her church to any number of other things she does, Courtney is a really edifying person to be around. And while we spent most of the day playing like kids, it was fun to be with someone who exemplifies the kind of person I’d like to be when I grow up.