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“It's like riding a bike; once you learn how, you'll never forget,” is an adage that was coined for a very important reason. After all, as the saying itself suggests, there are plenty of things which, once learned, stay with us until our dying breath. Biking, however, is unique because it is a rather elegant metaphor for human life. First, we don't know how to ride. Then, as we learn, we constantly fall. After a lot of falls, we truly learn how to ride, and our falls become less and less frequent. We whiz on for a finite eternity, seeing and doing unimaginably amazing things along the way. Finally, our legs grow weary and we stop pedaling forever.

When people don't know how to ride, it seems like a genuine impossibility. For these unlucky masses, falls are the only certainty. But then, one day, something clicks in all of our brains and we learn that biking is the most natural thing in the world. It's foot after foot, pedal after pedal. As our falls' frequency decreases, our confidence grows. Once we truly begin to ride for miles, our breath becomes heavy and our throats become raw, but no matter how drained we become, it is always more natural to keep on going than it is to stop. As Newton famously said, objects in motion tend to stay in motion. And so it is with us bikers, and indeed, with all us humans. The trouble is merely getting started in the first place. For that, we all need a little push.

My father taught me how to ride. Like every child, I started out with training wheels, but my dad, a veritable yet sadistic scholar in the field of teaching bike riding, decided to remove them before I grew accustomed to them. One hot day during my sixth summer, my father and I rode a short distance to a tiny playground that my family often frequented. On the way there, my knocky knees were supported by training wheels. On the way back, I wasn't to be so lucky.

In the back of the playground was a small asphalt basketball court with two hoops. Or rather, it had two poles. One of the poles was still in working order, but some vandals had stolen the hoop from the other pole, leaving a bare backboard that was impossible to play with. Usually this would have been distressing, but today my dad found it lucky. “Good,” he said. “No one will interrupt us to play.” Sure enough, the whole park, basketball court and all, remained eerily empty that fine summer day.

My father lay my eye-achingly bright red bicycle on the cracked asphalt and went to work removing the training wheels. As I watched aghast, he popped them off. He lifted the little gearless bike with one hand and handed it off to me. “Ride it,” he said.

I rode for what my five-year-old self perceived as hours, but what was in retrospect more like forty-five minutes. At first I hesitantly went in small circles around the court, but as I realized I wasn't going to fall I grew bolder and began to do quick turns and race imaginary rivals. Occasionally I stopped to receive advice from my father, or get ice-water from my hard plastic bottle, but mostly I just rode, never falling once. My dad, smiling, said, “Five more minutes.” I grinned back, looked towards the beautiful sun in the summer sky, and crashed flat to the pavement, skinning both my knees.

I was quite prone to panic and tears as a child, but oddly enough, even the pain and disappointment of having fallen right before leaving did little to upset me. My dad helped me up, and after he determined that I would survive my scratched kneecaps, I pedaled for another minute, just to prove to myself that I could. I knew that my first fall wouldn't be my last, and that it certainly wouldn't be my worst, but I had survived it nonetheless, and I felt a quiet pride. Even after we had ridden the short way home, and my bike was safely tucked away in the garage, I had the sensation that I was still pedaling, and that I would never stop.

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dnaught12 said...
Nov. 3 at 10:18 pm:
Absolutely love the line "finite eternity." So thought provoking :)
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