Just Like Riding a Bike (Jan Blazanin)

If you are or were a teen growing up in a rural community, your transportation options are limited. Public transportation doesn’t exist, and any summer job you find probably won’t pay enough for you to afford a car. Unless your parents give you one, you either have to walk or ride a bike.

From the day Dad gave me a shove at the top of the big gravel hill near our house, I was a bike rider. From elementary school through high school graduation, my bike was transportation and entertainment rolled into one. I was a good rider, too. I didn’t jump curbs or do wheelies, but I could ride with no hands, handle steep hills, and turn super-tight circles without falling off.

So it was logical for me to put Aspen and Laurel on bicycles in A & L Do Summer. With their bikes they could sneak through town in the middle of the night without alerting their parents. Bicycles have their drawbacks, too, but every story needs complications, so that was a plus.

During my first year of teaching I saved money by riding my bike to school. I wasn’t one of those hardcore riders who brave any kind of weather, but I managed two or three days a week. Then winter came, I became serious about running, and life got the in way. My unused bike sat in the garage gathering dust and rust.

Years passed. Now and then I thought about riding, but I couldn’t bring myself to skip a day of running. I told myself I was too busy working out, teaching, gardening, keeping house, and—eventually—writing to make time to ride my bike. Until this March when my cranky Achilles tendon decided to erupt into full-blown agony. Nothing helped: physical therapy, bags of ice, cortisone, or orthotics. My tendon needed a rest, and that was that.

It was time to dust off the old bike. I took it into the bike shop for a tune-up, and the salesman did his best not to burst out laughing. Everything on it was either rusted or crumbling. I left the shop with a new, step-through hybrid bike, guaranteed to provide a smooth ride for the slightly older recreational cycler.

My first ride was humiliating. I knew how to ride--in theory. But I’d forgotten a few things, too, like balancing, steering, shifting gears, and using the brakes. When I tried to turn corners I either fell over in the turn or crashed into whatever shrub or wall was straight ahead and then fell over. Where were my training wheels when I needed them?

I refused to let terror, embarrassment, and a few bruises hold me back. The next weekend I tried again. I got off to a better start, too. I did a couple of practice loops in the YMCA parking lot before taking off on the bike trail. The morning was clear and cool, perfect for a Sunday ride. And what could be safer than the bike trail at 7:00 a.m.?

I’d ridden two miles when the trail intersected with a gravel road. We’d had a lot of rain, and I was a little worried about crossing the wet gravel. I slowed down at the intersection, which you wouldn’t have thought possible if you’d seen how slowly I was already riding. There were bushes on my right and a clear road on my left. I began to ride across.

A car roared out from behind the bushes directly into my path. I yelled, “Stop!” but whether the shout was directed at the driver or my bicycle is up for debate since I still hadn’t mastered the hand brakes. The driver was staring straight ahead and didn't see me. I saw him, but I couldn’t do anything about it.

I crashed my bike into the driver’s side of his car, and seconds later I was flying into the air. I landed on my butt in the middle of the gravel road and lay there wondering how many body parts I'd destroyed. My rear end and elbow were ruined for sure, and the rest was up for debate. I’ll fast forward through the remainder of the story. Police and paramedics, trying and failing to walk, riding in an ambulance to the hospital, ice packs, X-rays, and pain pills. Nothing broken, everything bruised. The car and my new bike escaped injury.

That was a month ago. Most of the bruises have faded, and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can sit, stand, and bend without shrieking in pain. I’m able to walk short distances before the muscles in my rear end go into spasm. Physical therapy starts Monday.

Will I ever get back on my new bike? Yes. With lots of practice I’ll learn to turn corners and use the handbrakes instead of yelling, “Stop!” and hoping for the best. But if I'd kept up my riding over the years, I wouldn’t have to learn those things all over again.

It’s the same with writing. (I’ll bet you didn’t think I’d find a way to tie it in!) You can take weeks, months, or years off from writing and not forget everything you knew. But if you write regularly, your skills will improve instead of slipping away.

My suggestion: Write every day if at all possible. And throw in a bike ride once a week, too. You’ll be glad you did!


  1. I love the way you push the boundaries . . . in writing, on the bike trail, among the prairie flowers and guinea hens.

  2. Ouch, Jan!!! Sorry to hear about your accident, but glad you are getting better and not deterred from bike riding! I loved riding my bike as a kid and a couple years ago my dad got a bike for his birthday and encourage me to take it for a whirl. Since that old saying implies that you can never forget how to ride a bike, I went for it. Like you my balance was off and I'd totally forgotten how to operate the brakes. I only went a block though before half leaping off into the grass and I was unscathed, but I don't know if I'll try again. I might stick with the rollerblades. That is the childhood form of transportation that I appear to still be functional at!

  3. Rollerblades aren't a bad idea, Steph. You wouldn't have nearly as far to fall.

  4. Ow! Sorry to hear about your fall, Jan. I agree with Sharelle. Keep pusing the boundaries! They can make us get older but they can't make us grow up.

    I had my first fall in several years one week ago. I only got some scrapes so I got back on the bike and finished the 21 miles that we had planned. The bad part of mine was that I landed on real skin rather than scar tissue. It doesn't hurt so much when you land on existing scar tissues.

  5. If I keep riding the way I have been, I'll have plenty of scar tissue to land on.

  6. Shiny side up is always a good rule to follow.

  7. Ouch!! Sorry about that. Those are some serious bruises. You know, as a kid I used to ice skate all winter. We lived in Chicago and I got a new pair of ice skates for my birthday ever year (it's in September). And then I moved to Texas. And so much for that. Fast forward a few years to when son was about seven and they opened an indoor rink about 20 miles from us. "Here," I say after I lace up both our pairs of skates. "Let Mommy teach you." And then I fell flat on my butt. It hurt a lot more than I remember falling used to hurt. I took him a few more times. And then I chose to give it up. Which makes me sad. But keeps me in one piece.

  8. Joy, I saw a piece on TV today about people who are taking up gymnastics in their 40s on up. One guy was in his 70s! I can't imagine anyone over 20 voluntarily doing flips. My parts are still hurting!


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