I bought a new road bike. It's a vintage turquoise little beauty, with 18 speeds and brakes that sound like a duck gone wrong. I rode it down the Cherry Creek Trail to the beach near REI where a gaggle of young punks were slopping water on each other and bumping between manmade blocks of concrete on inflatable tubes. When I came screeching around the corner, they looked at me like I was crazy even though they were the ones knee deep in dirty water. Since I was still feeling a little insecure (which is how a new bike feels for awhile), I swung 'er round and promised myself I'd go further than the beach tomorrow even if it means I might crash and have to carry my bike up the stairs.
Maybe you can't forget how to ride a bike, but you can forget how to feel at ease on one, and that's just as important as riding it. I know a lot of people who refuse to bike not because they can't, but because they don't want to fall over. Once, in Chicago, I slammed into a car door that opened a split second before I got to it, and I flew across the street with particles from the bike and the car and the shattered side mirror, so I figure not much worse can happen on this new bike on this nice and protected path.
I was reminded, on my journey, of David's adventure floating the Platte (he took a yellow Walmart raft down the infested river late one night with one of the Schnepels, stopping only when they reached Breakfast King at dawn) and as he put it upon take-out, "All my mucus membranes are infected."
I thought about what mucus membranes are and all I could come up with are eyeballs. Funny how some things stay with you forever, like words or riding a bike, even when you don't really understand them. All I knew was that I would never get in the Platte and I never wanted to hear "mucus membranes" mentioned again. David's the same way with the word "meal." He won't eat one after you say it.
What else? My old roommate, Mel, couldn't stand the word "moist," it made her gag, and my mom says she hates the word "appropriate" because when people don't know what to say in nursing, they say, "that's not appropriate." Luke hates all forms of "got," Quincy hates the phrase, "what was that?" and I hate words whose meaning I know, but whose pronunciation, from my mouth, comes out all wrong, like "assuage," and "poignant," and "foyer."
So I was thinking about all these words floating down the mucus river, when a gnat flew in my eye and I couldn't get it out. I had to pull over, so I squawked to the side of the path and gouged my eye with my fist for a while before continuing on. After that, I got going so fast, my legs seemed to be just catching up to my own movement without any autonomy. I think momentum makes many decisions that we think we're making for ourselves.
Take Denver, for example. I used to ride down the Cherry Creek Trail to its end in Aurora when I was little. Back then, it flattened out into sandy beaches, with a scattering of houses here and there, but mostly brush butting up against undeveloped road. Now, linear apartments made of steel and brick and ferned balconies squat uninterrupted along the length of the creek. It's like the city started to get out of control in its sprawl, and now, whether we want it to or not, momentum will push its devilish spawning and development until it touches Moab then Reno then Oakland then Alaska.
The only thing that stopped me again in my tracks was another gnat in my other eye.
But thank God for bugs because I think our legs might move faster than our prudence.