I took an early morning ride down the street on my bicycle today. Well, actually down the sidewalk; ever since my brother was mowed down by an inattentive truck driver while jogging alongside the road, I stick to sidewalks unless I’m in a car. So I pedaled—fast—along the sidewalk, the grooves between the concrete squares tick-tick-ticking under my tires as I flew along.
It was early, to be sure, just barely light. A few crows marked my passage with irritated caws as I disturbed their road-kill breakfast, but other than that—silence. I live in a small college town, and nearly half the residents are 22 or younger, not an age that gladly greets the dawn. So I was a solitary figure, pumping hard along brick walkways slicked with dew from the lifting fog.
As I sped around a corner, my back wheel skidded on a patch of wet leaves, and I felt the bike sliding out from under me. For a split second I was perfectly weightless, suspended between up and down, the laws of physics deciding which way my body would go. And then somehow I regained my balance; the wheels were under me again, I was upright. And my heart was in my throat; I was scared to death.
Close calls like this used to irritate me. I’ve been in minor bike dust-ups before, as well as one serious accident. After all, when you’ve been riding a bicycle for nearly 50 years, you’re bound to fall every now and then. But back then, I’d pick myself up, check for scrapes, climb back on the bike, and pedal away. Now, I don’t fall anymore. At least, I haven’t since I discovered my bones are thinning out. And fear entered my life.
I imagine these turncoat bones, always so strong, suddenly growing porous. I grew up drinking milk, eating Velveeta and Cheez Whiz, playing outdoors from morning till the streetlights came on. Lots of calcium, plenty of vitamin D. Wonder Bread: It helped build strong bodies 12 ways. Including bones.
I played sports from the time I can remember. Soccer, kickball, tag, swimming, hide and seek. Later on, field hockey, basketball, track, softball, lacrosse, ice hockey. Badminton. Volleyball. After marriage and motherhood, jogging and road-racing, golf and tennis. Last summer, only a previous commitment kept me from lacing up my skates for the first time in over 30 years and going to a 3-day women’s ice hockey camp—at age 54. Obviously, I like sports.
And I like speed. Always did. I got to play with the big kids because I could run faster than most of them. Even the older boys couldn’t touch me in capture the flag; I was quicksilver. And hockey, blades digging into the ice till chips flew behind me, hair streaming in the cold wind, stopping with an arc of shavings—that was my love.
Now, though, as age has redefined my abilities and pared down my opportunities, my only speed comes behind the handlebars of a bike. I used to make split-second decisions—is the curb too high to jump? Is that car going to turn?—and react to the consequences. I was careful, cautious -- but not scared.
Now I’m afraid. Talk of a broken hip, spinal fractures, broken wrists make me think twice about taking chances. Quicksilver has turned, well, not quite to lead, but certainly to something safe and stable. Speed is a thing of the past.
Except on those mornings, like today, when I say to hell with it and ride my bike as fast as I can make it go. Almost. I apply the brakes going downhill, a prickle of unease sharing space with the wind in my face. I watch for sand, for leaves, for the groove between sidewalk and grass waiting to grab my tire. And the visceral fear of injury—of broken bones—slows my pumping legs.
For an ex-jock, I’m way too young to be old.
For someone with thin bones, I’m way too smart to be stupid.
Mind over heart. Sometimes it hurts.
Published On: October 08, 2008