I got older this week. OK , I understand we get older every second of every day and that I am older now than I was when I last typed the word “I”, but we don’t mark the passage of time that way. We tend to take it in nice sizable chunks, usually years, and we count from zero. So this week, I turned over another year on my internal odometer, which tends to make me more introspective and reflective than usual. It is funny that I am more childlike and playful than I was 10 or even 20 years ago, particularly as I have reached an age where my Peter Pan routine is becoming a little unbelievable, even to me. So as I lay in bed just after dawn Sunday morning, contemplating the last thirty seven years I suddenly remembered the best birthday present I ever received, the one that changed everything…
OK, let’s set the scene:
April 5, 1979, a Thursday
Southeast Nashville, near the banks of Mill Creek
It is midafternoon, sunny and clear, off in the distance we see a shape, as it gets nearer we are able to make out colors, brilliant red, flashes of silver, deep blue, all mixed together in a blur of motion. Suddenly, a man cries out, “Look, there on the street! What can it be? Is it a bird? Is it a plane?”.
Nope, it is a seven year old Monkey on his shiny new red Western Auto bike complete with butterfly bars and banana seat, smiling for all the world to see. I can understand how you might have thought it was Superman, though. Besides the fact that we share devilish good looks and an unmatched purity of heart, I was also sporting my new supermanesque satin cape that my Grandma had made for me. So, how is that for the best gift ever? It was my first bike that was actually mine. I had already learned to ride a borrowed bike, but this one was mine, and that is the key to everything. You see, the gift that had me smiling at the ceiling 30 years later was not the bike, it was the freedom to see the world on my own terms.
Before I got my own bike, my world consisted of a few blocks and surrounding fields, as far as my KangaROOS could take me, but that red bike was a serious range extender. Suddenly, the entire neighbourhood was my domain, from the time I got home from school until the streetlights came on, anyway. A little later “Red” was retrofitted with BMX bars, a straight seat and knobby tires as we moved to the country and I suddenly found myself with miles of dirt roads to ride and rule. Sadly, “Red” fell victim to a wayward tanker truck that turned around in our yard, crushing my stallion without even noticing. It was a dark day, I was back to borrowed bikes, until a year later when “Son of Red” the Supergoose once again gave me wings.
Of course, as they say, “the only difference between men and boys is the price of their toys” and as I got older my freedom came at great and greater costs. Bikes passed into ATV’s, then motorcycles, gave way to jeeps, cars and trucks, but the thing that never changed for me is the freedom to strike out and wander, to see new things and explore for exploration’s sake. With each change of vehicle and evolution, my playground grew, from the Nashville streets, to the trails of Florida and eventually across the country. I guess that is what transportation has always meant to me, the freedom to escape, to get out and play. Ever since “Red” came into my life I have been wandering, trying to find out how far those wheels could take me, so it is funny that for my 37th birthday, I gave myself another vehicle, a new pair of boots.
I have heard it said that your family gives you two things, roots and wings. I have been given both, in spades, and I sure do appreciate it. So, after mowing the yard, yep adulthood is funny that way, I celebrated another year of freedom by hitting the trail with my wife. Wandering through the woods, exploring, seeing a side of the world that few people bother to check out anymore, finding another special place. So here I am 30 years later, still out there, grinning from ear to ear, exploring for no reason other than to see what is out there, looking for adventure, sometimes with my wheels, sometimes with my boots, but always with the freedom to “go”. I guess that is what Tolkien was talking about when he said, “It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” I always loved that image of the road as a flowing river ready to carry you along, that is a nice metaphor for time as well, I think. In many ways on the day you are born, you are dropped into a swirling current of time that you ride until you finally reach the sea. All we can hope for is that we ride one current long enough to come to the end of the other and that we share the journey with people we love.
Addendum: While there is no denying that my body is decidedly “out-of-warranty”, and that having things I remember clearly that were 30-something years ago is certainly sobering, I guess you could say I am still a kid at heart. I recently found “Son of Red” hiding in the back of one of our barns, in pretty rough shape, but after looking around, I have found some replacement parts online and I am planning on putting her back on the road again. I’ll keep you posted.
Update: May 2020. Promise kept.