Thanks Mom! by (1 Story)

Prompted By Riding a Bicycle

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My mother grew up on an island without paved roads and never learned to ride a bike.  She also never learned to swim due to the artic water temperatures but that’s a different story.

I learned the freedom of flying the day my mom let go of the bike.

Living in California meant a bicycle was part of the terrain. Riding a bike to school was the norm. Clothes-pinning playing cards to spokes was also the norm and a requirement for fitting into the neighborhood.

Tricycles were part of the experience but it was the “big girl” bike that I remember the most. The one my mom taught me to ride. Once the training wheels came off, she would run along side of me to prevent me from tipping over. I don’t recall falling so she must have been an awesome runner to keep up with my furious pedaling.

I learned the freedom of flying the day my mom let go of the bike. She had been running behind me, holding onto the seat when I suddenly realized she was no longer there! Fear was the first reaction until I realized I was still upright! What a thrill, to go from fear to freedom in a split second. With this newfound independence, I became one of those kids who was obsessed with riding and loved being on my bike.

In high school, it wasn’t cool to be seen riding a bike to school so my faithful companion collected dust in the garage. That is until a group of us decided to ride our bikes at night just for fun. We lived in one of the beach cities in southern California so would ride to our favorite beach at night with those little lights that worked from friction and were only visible when the wheels were turning.  A far cry from the halogen lights of today. In hindsight, we were lucky that we made it to our sweet sixteens. Foolish by today’s standards but glorious fun back then! We probably rode about 10 to 15 miles a night weaving up and down the back streets until we made it to the strand. No water bottle cages and no water bottles in our pockets so we would stop for a Coke or Dr. Pepper along the way. I always bought a bunch of tangerines. Maybe this was foreshadowing my decision to study nutrition and to become a registered dietitian.

In college, I started riding to school again. I suppose I have a predisposition to exercise so this was one way to burn up energy and a great start to what became a life-long dedication to cycling. Through the years I rode to work as much as I could, with commutes from 30 to 50 miles. My boyfriends and husbands were cyclists because I knew I could only be with someone who understood the need to ride for hours at a time then come home and inhale the refrigerator. Riding with an elite cycling group where I was in the minority as a woman honed my skills and conditioning.

After 35 years of cycling at a high level, I finally hung up my cleats. The wear and tear on my body from sitting in front of a computer for too many hours and the funny position from sitting on a bike, finally took its toll on my back. Now I occasionally take a leisurely ride around town but have no desire to push myself as hard as I once did. Today, when I see Lycra-clad cyclists fly by, one of two thoughts goes through my mind. On windy days, I think to myself, “Thank God I don’t have to ride in this wind” and on calm days I lovingly think, “I used to do that.” Maybe I’ll give it another go. One of these days.

Thanks Mom.  For teaching me to ride.

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Characterizations: right on!, well written


  1. Susan Bennet says:

    Congratulations on a lovely first story, AADW. I have to think lots of jaws are dropping at the thought of your 30-50 mile bike commutes. We salute you. I love your evocative tale of your So Cal night rides. Brian Wilson could do a lot with that, I think.

  2. Marian says:

    Welcome to Retrospect! I admire your athletic ability and confidence to be able to do all the bike riding you did, and the playing cards and bicycle descriptions made me smile. I wish there were gentler ways to still experience the freedom of riding without so much wear and tear on the body.

  3. Thanx Susan for your wonderfully written story and sharing your passion for competitive cycling. And brava to your mom for helping you find the joy she never had.

    Here’s to strong women, and welcome to Retro!

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your love of cycling comes through loud and clear and you had an amazing run! My father-in-law was a founder of the Charles River Wheelmen, so cycling was in the DNA of my husband, who, unfortunately, had too many serious bike accidents and was forced to hang up his cleats.

    I love the way you describe the playing cards pinned to the spokes. I remember that era well. And riding with your friends to the beach, stopping to get something to drink on the way home, but you’d get fruit, previewing your vocation. Great story, thanks for sharing it.

    • Thanks Betsy. Unfortunately, accidents are part of the experience of being a dedicated cyclist. I’m sorry to hear it forced your husband to hang up his cleats. I’ve certainly had my share of accidents – gratefully only ones that resulted in broken helmets and a couple of broken teeth. It was the chronic issues that finally forced me to stop. Although I’m thinking of pumping up the tires and giving it a go to see how I feel about it now. Stay tuned… 🙂

  5. This was a very ambitious story to take us from your first ride through those thrilling high school night-time adventures, through your spousal/partner choices and eventually to your “retirement” from serious riding. Ambitious, but very evocative and fun to read. I am particularly drawn to that group of adolescents buying soft drinks during those night rides, and you with your penchant for tangerines! Wonderful details and I am kind of retroactively envious that I didn’t have any such similar peer group or experiences back in my home turf of Indiana.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I enjoyed your memory of your mother teaching you to ride. I remember putting those cards in the spokes and loving the clacking sound. So wonderful that you enjoyed cycling for so many years. Welcome to Retrospect!

  7. Khati Hendry says:

    You capture the joy of riding beautifully, and the memories of being a kid with wheels—thanks for that story. Cycling became a major part of your life and once you lose the need to be competitive, you might indeed find that joy still there “one of these days”. I like the way you give thanks and remember that it was your mom, who apparently never rode herself, who got you started. Welcome to Retrospect!

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