Sippican Cottage



A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

I Rode A Bicycle Today

I rode a bicycle today.

My wife and sons bought me a bicycle for my birthday. It’s a Schwinn. Looks like a tank, rides like a sofa. I haven’t ridden a bicycle in twenty-five years. That is to say, I think I haven’t ridden a bicycle in twenty-five years. Who the hell knows what I’ve been up to for twenty-five years? I sure don’t.

We live on what’s called a city lot. It’s only sixty feet wide, and fronts the street with only twenty feet or so of setback. The street I live on used to be the main road into town from west of here, but they built a highway behind our house, along the river, and our road became the one less traveled by. People still drive way too fast on it. Many of the houses are empty in this town, and people think “rural” and drive like it everywhere here. I don’t let my younger son ride his bike on our road alone.

I mentioned “people” earlier; but for all intents and purposes, there are no people here. Western Maine is emptying out; some collect in the southeast appendix of Maine — Portland — and the rest plain leave. There are few people and no children. Fewer people and no children has been a dream of many in my lifetime. It was never mine. If you saw what it looked like, it might change even the most hardened heart about the concept.

I wanted my son to ride his bicycle. I wanted to ride a bicycle with him. My wish was granted. A wish granted is wonderful thing, truly. I put the bicycle together in the basement a while ago, and waited for the 21-day bout of torrential rain to let up. Today is in the low eighties, and sunny. It’s Sunday. Let’s go, dad.

The entire town of Rumford is on a hill of some sort. Steep ones. The front of my house is two storeys tall, the back is four. It’s daunting to ride most of these hills. We dashed down our street over a couple of humps and valleys, and found a lane that’s tilted like a bockety table instead of a rollercoaster, and pedaled back and forth on it for a pleasant 45 minutes or so. The road is being repaved, so only the scratch pavement is on it, but it’s the smoothest patch of pavement in town. The underground structures wear orange cones for party hats here and there, and make it jolly to dodge around them. The pines have shed their needles for the season on the street, and mix their perfume with the smell of fresh rain and flowers in the air. The road goes from noplace to nowhere, and there are only a half-dozen houses on the whole length of it, and you can ride as you like without risking a flattening.

I’d forgotten the idiot joy of being on a bicycle. I rode a half-length behind and to the left of my little son, and the look on his face reminded me of it immediately. It’s gently, gently uphill one way, and then minutes of long, languid cruise downhill the other way.

Slow down, dad, and let me win!

I’m sorry, but there is no way you can win, son. I’ve won already.

(Many thanks to Kathleen M. for her constant support of this website)

17 Responses

  1. "I'd forgotten the idiot joy of being on a bicycle."

    It's like riding a bicycle. It comes right back to you. Especially if you were a genius at idiot joy to begin with.

  2. Thanks SC – Going on craigslist right now – gotta get me one o them there bicycle dohickies!

  3. Except for the post-apocalyptic taint, this was a very pleasant post to read.

    I'm taking my eleven year old boy on a long road trip in July. Gives me sober pause. Will it be Route 66, Thelma & Louise or World War Z? I'll let you know.

  4. I got a Schwinn – black and white, with an attached speedometer and built-in horn, too – for Christmas when I was eight. When my fiends would ride with me, they would constantly ask me how fast we were going. It was a not-too-cold December that year – 1949 – so I was able to ride up the street to a nearby traffic island and back as soon as the gift was out of the living room, next to the tree, taken outside. Vanderleun can have his motel and idiot joy memories; I prefer mine, of joy that was honest and true and right.

  5. Will be on the road with my son in a few weeks. Two wheels, but propelled by air cooled V-twin engines of almost antiquarian but still functional design.
    Idiot joy maybe, but then only a dog hanging his head out the window at speed understands…

  6. I'd miss the sound of lots of kids around (our village green is usually full of them) but I'd still like to visit Maine again.As for me and bikes, we just don't mix well.

  7. If you find it "idiot joy", then sign me up as a charter
    member of the club. Meetings can be held in a treehouse, or knee deep in the frog pond. My bicycle idiot joy was inspired by a picture on the wall of the barbershop….a sepia-toned picture of a long-ago
    police chief, garbed in law enforcement sartorial splendor, by his motorcycle. Thus inspired, half a deck of playing cards were clothes- pinned to the spokes of both wheels. A toy siren was purchased at the five and dime. Once in motion the idiot rider needed only to pull up
    a chain to engage the driveshaft of the siren. Perfection was achieved by diverting a Roy Rogers gunbelt with twin cap guns fully primed. The test drive was straight down hill for half a mile, the sputtering cards meant to mimic the motor, and the siren producing a trail of canine frenzy. Rattling to a stop at the wooden bridge led to the sad
    realization that a real man now had to stand on the pedals to get
    back uphill. Walking the bike uphill was for girls….Sadly that terrain is gone to development. I will not acknowledge idiot joys involving jumps from roofs of barns, farm tractors and goats. You and I, then and now, did all without an app on a smart phone…

  8. I'm with Anon and his V-twins.

    When I was young I could pedal like a madman and achieve the glorious speed of sound and fly like an eagle.

    Now I'm old and can only do it on my motorbike or when I'm skiing.

  9. Hey NSA, I had a tough time with the password when I posted my earlier comment. I have lost quite a few passwords over the years.

    When you read this could you please do a quick check and send me a list?

    Thanks in advance.

  10. I live in a hilly part of Tasmania and have a bike. As I am a knackered old shyte, I have one with an electric motor. Works a treat.

  11. I've gone through 20+ bikes in the last 10 years. I live on that sucker, gotta love it!

  12. Tons of rain, tons of hills, bad roads. You sure we live at opposite ends of the country?

    I'm you in reverse here – instead of wanting to ride with my child, she wants to ride with me. She's almost got the hang of it, and we should be doing fine by Summer's end.

    And I lied a little. I want to ride with her, too. The boy child might be flying fighter jets by the time he's 7, the way he's going.

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