Friday, November 6, 2009

A cold March day

A story from my teenage riding days:

I remember my first big kid bike.  It was a cheapo "mountain bike" from Wally World.  I did actually use it for trails.  I lived out in the boondocks so there were no greenways, no maintained mountain bike trails.  I discovered some old logging roads on the hill behind my house. I had to take a circuitous route to get back to them but then I would ride their grassy lanes for hours.  I know I couldn’t do the same loop today if I tried. 

I remember one day getting too cold about halfway through the route.  Halfway put me nearly directly behind my house albeit probably nearly a mile away.  I never ever cut across the loop because the river ran on a parallel line between the two long sides of the loop.  The trail was on one side, my house inaccessible across the river on the other side. Well this particular day in March I was done riding at that halfway point.  It was too cold to keep going.  I decided to bisect my loop.

The logging road at this point was directly above the river and that drop was pretty damn steep.  No way could I ride down it.  So I picked up my bike and clambered down the hill.  On a tiny strip of land at the bottom I stood looking across the river, plotting my attack.  I had of course come down where a stream joined the river and where it was pretty wide.  It was not super deep, but it was swift. 

 I touched the water to gauge the temperature.  Um, it was freezing.  I decided I could ride across on my bike so I wouldn't have to get wet.  I would need to take my shoes off incase I tipped and needed to put a foot down.  For some reason this seemed perfectly logical at the time.  I strung my shoes together and looped them over my shoulder, placed the bike in the water and pushed off.  I got about 1/3 of the way across before I reached the place where the current became strong.  My bike slipped on the gravelly bottom of the river, and I starting tipping.  I stuck out my sock clad foot and caught myself, but there was no way I would be able to get back on and start across again.  The water was higher in the middle than I had thought and the current so strong I could barely hold my bike while standing. 

 The shock of that icy water was unreal. It was painful.  And I still had to get more than halfway across.  I took a brief moment to reassess.  If I turned back I would have to climb back up to the logging road and still ride a couple of miles to get home.  But ahead of me the river looked fierce and the distance to the other side was intimidating.  My jeans were getting heavy as they got more and more wet while I stood there debating.

I plunged ahead, almost losing my bike from my grasp a few times.  As I neared the opposite bank, I realized there was no good place to climb out.  The bank was high and the water very deep right next to it.  I turned downstream and cut an angle towards the lowest point I could see.  I was freezing and all I could think was pain.  And then I slipped and fell.  I managed to keep ahold of my bike but now I was soaked.  At that point there was no reason to try to maintain any dignity.  I thrashed and stumbled my way to the bank.  I threw my bike up ahead of me and dragged myself up by a tree root.  I lay there panting and thinking that it was still a ways to get home.  My feet were so cold all I could feel was pain.  My jeans were starting to stiffen with the cold.  My shoes had gotten soaked in the fall—so much for the idea of keeping them dry!

After a few minutes, I got up and walked my bike for a few hundred yards until I got to the grassy lane that ran along the edge of the large field between me and the house.  I got on and slowly started down the trail.  My range of motion was limited due to my wet jeans. I didn’t make it very fair before I had to get off.  I couldn’t stay upright.  I slowly pushed my bike along the lane thinking only that every step was so painful I could barely make myself keep going. 

I finally turned the corner and there across the field was my house.  I could see the lights and the smoke from our chimney.  As I started across the field, I was hit by a blast of wind.  With no trees to blunt it the wind was strong and of course cold.  It was after all March and there was snow on the ground.  It’s probably only a few hundred yards across the field, but that day it felt like miles.  I remember staring at the ground in front of me instead of my house which seemed to never get any closer.  I finally reach our yard.  I was shivering and my skin hurt.  I put my bike away and stumbled into the house.  My mom took one look and came running.  She helped me peel off my frozen clothes and wrapped a blanket around me and then took me to sit next to the woodstove.  I drank some hot tea while telling her about my little trip across the river.  She just listened shaking her head the whole time.  After a warm shower I looked out our back window at the hill I had been on only an hour before.  It was starting to get dark and I remember thinking, “Next time…” 

That doesn't happen after a day of watching TV or playing Playstation. 

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