Monday, January 9, 2012

Season 41

It was the fall of 1973, and I was a sophmore in high school. The prior summer was my first taste of teen-age freedom on a German-made, 3-speed bicycle from Sears. I had ridden the 5 miles into town to do my paper route, ridden around town with friends, and even carried a gym bag of clothes for an overnight. This wasn’t yet commuting, touring, training or saving the planet. Intervals, cadence, gear inches, derailleur, hydration, pace line and the rest of the lexicon of cycling were not yet part of my vocabulary.

Ready to ride, early 1972.
Bicycles were supposed to be the gateway drug to cars, pickups and motorcycles, just a phase for a couple of summers until the calendar said you could drive legally. My friends and younger brothers all made that transition. I never did. That fall was spent trying to figure out how to get a better bike, something that would be easier to ride farther and faster.

With Christmas and birthday money, the 3-speed was replaced in January of 1973 with an off-brand 15-speed bicycle, $115 of steel frame, cottered cranks, steel derailleurs, steel rims and gum-wall tires. It was called a Parliament, and it was a Taiwan-made bike imported for shops (like Ann Arbor Cycles) that could not find enough bikes from anywhere to satisfy America’s sudden love affair of with “racing” bikes from Europe.

Whenever the weather allowed that winter, after school and on weekends I was on the bike, not just riding somewhere, but just to ride. Starting with a restaurant place mat with a map of most of the nearby county roads, I used a colored pencil to fill in the roads I had ridden. That map became an ever expanding web through the small towns and the dozens of lakes around our home. Rides of 15, 20, and 30 miles, 2 and 3 hours long, to Brooklyn, Norvell, Cement City, Manchester, Vandercook Lake, Clark Lake and beyond. I was riding places we seldom drove, exploring on paved and gravel back roads.

At first I was just riding in jeans and t-shirts and jackets, and then switched to riding in jean cut-offs. It would be another year before i would try bike clothing. I remember the afternoon that first summer when 2-3 riders passed through Brooklyn in the same clothing the racers in the magazines wore, in articles that talked about something called chamois. At the time, most bikes shops around us were still Schwinn shops and hardware stores, and they didn’t sell clothing.  Only a few small bike shops were available in the nearby towns of Adrian and Jackson, either an infrequent trip.

I did start adding gear - a seat bag, water bottle and cage, and a tire pump and tire levers. Then a handlebar bag for my Kodak Instamatic. A cyclometer was added, and now the click of each wheel revolution slowly turned over the mile counter, a tenth mile at a time. Dead reckoning distance and questions to Dad (my “How far is it from home to where Austin Road and Fay Lake Road cross?”, followed with a “You were where?” response) were replaced with my first “log” entries on notebook paper in a 3 ring binder.

That was the summer the foundation was laid for the road to here and now. It was not just the bike, or the gear. It was not just the miles, or how fast I rode. It was more than the freedom, or the appreciation of a 10-mile view from the top of the hills on Horning Road. It was the totality of all those things, as they became a place were I fit in and belonged, even when it was just me on a new road 20 miles from home. I have never lost the wonder of that first summer and season of riding, and I am still that 14 year-old at heart, finishing one ride and already thinking about the next.

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