A bit of panic started to set in, as not once did it occur to me to ask anyone how to stop.
I think I was about six when I got my first bike. It was a shiny, metallic green bike with training wheels. I learned to ride it in the back alley. This alley, by the way, was a dead-end kind of alley. The dead-end part was made up of a towering, impenetrable, cement wall, where only the force of Mother Nature pushing weeds up through its base could get through unscathed. That wall was towering to me, because at six-years-old, everything is towering. (Now, as an adult, at five feet one inch, I am not much taller than I was back then, but I like to think I now have a more refined ability to make sensible decisions.)
It seemed like a good thing at the time to listen to the two brothers, who lived two apartments over, when they said, “You just point and go.” It was Alan that insisted I start from the top of alleyway. “Going faster will help you stay straight.” (Little did he know, but that is probably another story.)
Alan was eight, and his little brother was seven. They always had something going on—a game, a scheme, an experiment, a way to take over the world—and I wanted to be a part of it, because I thought they knew everything.
It seemed easy, and I’d be lying if I said I was not scared, but I was also anxious to try it out. The thing about “trying it out” was that the beginning of our alleyway was a fairly steep hill that started out at the street level and made its way down to the back of the lower apartments. Let me be the first to acknowledge, my perspective of “steep” at six is much different than what it is now.
“Are you guys sure?” I asked, not entirely sure if they were kidding me.
“Ya,” interrupted David. “If I could do it, so can you.”
“Ya, I’m sure. It’s easy.” Alan pointed up the hill. “You just start over there.”
There were no helmet laws back then. I didn’t even think of any possible, problematic outcomes. Why would I? I was six. I was just trying to make my way in my little world by trying to impress the neighbourhood kids.
Looking up the hill, I didn’t feel any better; nevertheless, I pushed my bike to the entrance of the alleyway. I asked Alan if I was at a good spot to start from—like it really made any difference. I was really trying to delay the inevitable. I slowly turned the bike around and hopped on the seat. Of course it would have been way better had I tried out my bike on a flat surface, but what kind of bragging rights would that produce. Nope, it had to be pedal by fire. No guts, no glory and all that. And besides, with that mindset there was no alternative. It was either go, or be forever branded as a chicken. Generally, six-year olds do not like to be called “chicken,” and I was no exception.
I picked up speed pretty quickly on that hill. Wow! This is so fun, I thought to myself as I easily passed by the first apartment building. There were five in total. By the time I got to the third building, I realized I would have to stop fairly soon, or else my new bike and I would become part of that enormous wall.
I needed to do something really quick. My first thought was to immediately stop pedaling, but my bike was the kind where forward momentum kept the pedals turning, also known as a fixed-gear bike, or as I now like to call it, a six-year-old-shin-busting-ankle-biting-below-the-knee-chopping-blood-inducing-bike from hell.
I tried to stop any way I could. First, I stuck my legs in the pedals, you know, like one would jam a stick in the spokes of a wheel to stop it from turning. Not the smartest decision I have ever made; it hurt like hell. On the upside, it kind of helped. I did slow down, but not enough to totally avoid the wall. Then, I tried to scrape my sneakers along the pavement, hoping to create enough friction. Fortunately, I noticed the potholes in time, so that method was quickly abandoned.
Time and space had also quickly abandoned me. Before I new it, the wall was way too close for my comfort level, so rather than hit the wall head on, I instinctively turned the handle bars. I turned them so much, I ended up almost doing a full 360. When I finally stopped, gravel flying, and weeds tangled in my back tire, I could not believe my luck. I was still upright! My rear wheel was slightly bent, but I was still upright!
“Wow, you even hit the wall and didn’t even fall!” exclaimed Alan, slapping his hand on the cement wall.
“Whoa! That was so cool! How’d you do that?” asked David.
Fully realizing that my coolness level went up a few degrees on the cool-o-meter, I said, “It’s a secret. I can’t tell you.”
Problem was, it was such a secret, I really couldn’t tell them how I did it, it just happened that way. I could not have reproduced that stunt, if they paid me to, nor did I want to. I was still shaking from the sudden stop, but I knew I had to play it cool.
The first day out on my new bike produced some scrapes and scratches on both it and me. I told my mom I fell. What really happened on that sunny summer day in the back alley, no one will really know, but I am glad I survived to tell the story.
All names have been changed to protect the guilty.