When I was 6, well prior to the Reagan years, I got a banana yellow Schwinn Stingray bike with a glitter-white seat, and matching grips as a hand-me-down. This was my first car. The taste of freedom of movement, the rate at which commerce could now course forward was visceral. I was alive for only as many years as I had siblings, and could never communicate the brilliance of escape, that was born upon a bicycle; A real bicycle. Perhaps it's the ring around the tub, when you are the third or fourth kid to share the same cold bath-water, that builds the imperative for escape, and makes a bike-ride bliss. Of Course, I had stray cats, gold fish, guppies, frogs, toads, and spiders in jars, but really never understood how to care for something, nor felt compelled to, until I owned a real bicycle. I'd of course made enumerable promises that I would be the parent of any pet I was so fortunate to possess, but quickly shirked duties to siblings to keep my free-time open. Sure, I'd shared a monkey-shit brown Schwinn pixie with solid 16" rubber tires, bolt-on training wheels, and a removable top tube until this moment. I've henceforth felt the wind in my hair as I zipped down the block, racing Big Wheels and Trikes -- But somehow racing to the corner and back never stimulated my vagus nerve like a steerable, pneumatic tired glittering yellow machine. I cannot be certain if freedom comes with the pride of ownership, or that the new ride was alas not communal, but I was (apparently) now in command of a sizzlingly fast new destiny which turned a literal corner at break-neck speed. Of course everything would now be different. For starters, the bike would smell different. The vinyl of the seat would warm in the sun, and off-gas a brilliant sheen of glitter and carcinogens. The grips would rotate, and even slip downward as I pulled against them to gain momentum, and there was never enough glue or hair-spray to hold anchor under such extraordinary acceleratory forces. Oddly some minor maintenance issues are bound to manifest, as one becomes acquainted with a new steed, but a single spanner can remedy most of what ails your basic Schwinn bicycle. The Stingray, much like the pixie had been created as a VW Beetle, to be user serviceable. Bike shops saw patients, for sure, but no prideful owner left their bike for service, unless it was for burial. No, a Schwinn stingray, and pixie were drawn from a clean sheet using only a few lines, and even less hex bolts. To raise the seat, center the stem, or rotate the bars, required a nebulous wrench size which could be approximated with a crescent wrench. As sizes scaled down from incorrect tools, one may need to introduce a strange and enviable last resort weapon, called the "vice-grips". A vice-grips, seemed to always be spoken of as plural, and the tool really and metaphorically became attached to the bike. My hope was that all of my bolts, would remain un-sullied by a vice-grips, lest the bike end up in the bike shop for a really long and costly in-patient procedure. Mostly, by genius invention, and a presaged predilection toward simplicity, Schwinn engineers have created this (my first real) bicycle for maximum up-time. But, we all know that climbing a tree, has two outcomes, and climbing down seems to be the best exit.
If one may more ardently express their love for an item, such as this, my first real bike -- then it follows that separation could be the pole to which no gravity would pull me. A lustful bond would keep me up at night like a new set of Legos, considering and calculating routes, and connections for the next day, and expansive journeys into the future. It becomes very difficult and even annoying to shoulder the burden of such plans for where to ride next. My short-term goals may be to ride quickly past a scary ladies home, but nagging plans for prolonged escapades to parts unknown, would become the elixir of dream-craft. I could not map in my head the routes, if only because my skewed reference to cartography came to mind from the greenish rear passenger windows of a Station Wagon. I could contemplate cryptic ways to get to places, but the pieces of the puzzle which needed to fit together were only partly based upon reasoned way-points. In a child's mind, the stitchery needed to resolve a world-view of real orienteering had to come from journey. When a boy of 6 realizes whilst staring up at the dark springs of the bunk above that the map will only come into focus from several real world reconnaissance, then a flame begins to burn so brightly in ones mind, as to cause complete sleep deprivation.
So began plans for the first real trip; Not an epic journey, as with Homer, or Gulliver, but with no less toil for how to approach embarkation. The issue with planning is that it seems to be directly opposed to rest. If one could plan a vacation where the trip and it's lead-up were as relaxing as the intent to be "on vacation" then one would first need to reconcile that nearly every vacation plan from the age of 6 would now be far more exhaustive than the word vacation implied. In fact I know of no outing, vacation, or mere dinner date that truly brought rest. By design, an object at rest is antithetical to the concept of a trip anywhere. What is generally encountered is that after research and planning, ticketing and packing, and from the first step out the door -- we begin every journey with a distinct lack of sleep. My first bike trip was no different. I had planned to bring things with me, apparent necessities, which remained behind when I began to pedal down My Street. Provisioning for a trip these days, (as an adult) seems to require far more stuff, than as a scrawny lower-middle class boy contemplated. Just the same I knew in my sleepless thoughts of the prior night that provisions such as a sandwich, tools, and spare shirt may be important. I brought none of those things. Today, I may drag similar creature comforts with me, but only in a new form. What was a crescent wrench becomes a Torx and allen key set. What was once a boloney sandwich becomes an energy bar, and what was previously a spare t-shirt may be a gilet or jersey. We prepare the same now as we did when we were young, and our plans are no larger in our minds. Making plans is the antecedent to a great adventure and the thought of which looms heavy at any age bearing the promise of a rewarding respite, and the bliss of escape from the day to day.
So I left the house one morning in June as it was decided, perhaps far earlier than prudent, or maybe later than I'd hoped, but I left just the same, and the act of leaving always brings a tingle of indulgence. I was to ride to the cemetery, and if this went well then continue to the river. Lets not labor on the legality of my actions, as clearly at 6, one decides their destiny, and rationalizes the movement as pre-ordained, and permissible. After-all it becomes clear when one is in little more than attendance of their destiny that asking for forgiveness is far less complex than for permission. I set out with the sun on my right cheek heading northward on the sidewalk of course toward the Cemetery. This plan would be sound, and the pre-checks for this would be justified as follows: 1. If I had 5 other siblings to occupy space in the house, surely I would not be missed. 2. If I endeavored further than our block, it is still light outside -- and the rules nearly always stipulated the boundary as dusk, and to stay out of the street. Much as one may interpret laws to an end, I was fully vetted in my choice to travel, and was unaware of any consequences or calamity to prevent my adventure. Boundaries naturally seem to fade as travel advances.
I've witnessed children in a Grocery at the very moment when they realize that the hand they reached for was not that of their mother, but a stranger. Their look digresses quickly from calm surety to panic. It's generally the rule that your real parent is nearby, perhaps in the same aisle, but as soon as you grab the wrong person's hand and realize you are not with them, dread washes a kid completely. Instinctive dread may also come when you shrink from confident rider without a carte in the world, to unfamiliar terroir. Our first character test may be when we are awash with Panic and dread, but know that we need to compose some reason, and collect our thoughts, before sure terror overcomes us. Making due, and even tools with what you have handy, arrives rapidly in a working-class home. Resourceful is the right work I suppose, although I didn't have any sort of map, and my familiar bearing points were now concealed by new environs. I know that I am supposed to be timid to cross the intersection at each successive block heading north, but I think that I'm consumed with the momentum, and have not yet panicked. Once a quarter mile from home, my face changes slightly. I am confident in my location, and less so in my orientation, as such, I become slightly less sure about the way. I have seen this place before, know and recognize the landmarks, the height and placement of which certainly appear to be all in order, and all appear scaled to my height and stature. But I think it was at the hand of my grandfather that I last passed here, perhaps in a walk to the barber or bakery. I am not absolutely certain that I understand my distance, and next trajectory. I'm certain that when one first begins to question themselves, that it is in the face of fear. Instinct besets itself upon a person to grant protection by fear. I think fear is helpful in most cases, as it has certainly proven to preserve my hand from a fire, and my head from drowning, and I'm sure that the fear experience is what we rely upon when we don't (necessarily) have the answer handy. In other words being frightened brings clarity, if only just before it brings panic. The latter being certainly less helpful. I'm lost, and yet, not aware. As ignorance has a way of keeping one smiling in the face of danger, it sometimes happens that not recognizing evil or danger, can float you right on through it. How often have you eddied in a panic, when the solution presents itself seemingly out of the ether? For me It was more monumental, in hindsight than in the moment because of that same ignorance. Almost the moment that I discovered that I had no practical idea where I was, and how to get back, did I spot a landmark, which my brain could use as a waypoint to get back. Sometimes I think about kids and dogs who both seem to see things on surfaces decidedly at Adult height, which seem to be impossible to view from their sightline. In fact if you squat down to the height of a 6 year-old child or dog, and look around the room for things to eat, it becomes apparent that perhaps they have a second sight. The practical answer I'm going with, is that they see you with something edible, and watch where you place it. Because their brain is not clouded with all sorts of shit from work, to schedules, their recall is uncanny. Odd that I can't seem to recall where I set my phone at this moment. The intrigue of perspective is that seeing a building, sign, or car, which serves as a waypoint then is only helpful if you can put it in perspective to triangulate trajectory from that point. Seeing your parent place food on the counter, but not being able to see atop the counter, merely becomes a game of Go Fish, as you recall and triangulate the means from memory to get to that place to eat it.
My first solo adventure out on a bicycle was not eventful, in the sense that a Police Man walked me home, or that a mishap left me in a strange place in the dark, or even that I was missed at all, which is the merit of a free-ranging large family. What became significant was the dumb luck, and happenstance, mixed with dead reckoning and recall which brought me through it and back home. Returning to the topic, it is key to note that if you walk the same path each day, or drive your dog to the store with you -- You will not as simply recall the return path by another means of travel. Your dog will not find their way home from the store walking , and you will not easily drive back home if your only perspective was the pedestrian path. My first sojourn by bike was tremendous, because it was a solo act, and because it was round trip.
It is perhaps not the adventure that matters most -- but surviving to brag about it that has real value.