As a kid, I remember wanting so badly to finally be an adult and do whatever I wanted. Like every kid, I knew that adulthood would be the life equivalent of a sweepstakes shopping spree: go anywhere, do anything, any time, and nobody says no. Ever. Because you are an adult, and adults don’t answer to anyone.
No one tells grown ups what to do. Nobody even tells them when to go to bed.
Grown ups could just hop on their bikes anytime and ride anywhere they want. Without even asking. Except, they don’t want to, because they’re old, and they don’t even like to have fun anymore.
And now, firmly wedged in the grown up phase of my life, I sit here wishing somebody made sure I went to bed at a good time every night, because part of me is still a reckless kid. When the actual kids go to bed in our house, suddenly I feel unleashed. And then I stay up way too late doing things far less productive than I imagined when I wistfully dreamed of that “after the kids go to bed” time of day.
On the plus side, as a grown up, I do always get to pick my own bedtime stories. Riding my bike, though, is a different story. I don’t need to explain to anyone that a mom with four kids (ages six and under) doesn’t just hop on her bike and head off for parts unknown at any given time. So much for that Grown Ups Just Do Whatever They Want notion.
Much of the time, my shiny red bicycle sits patiently waiting in our shed. Sometimes I take it for a spin around the yard for a few times until one of my kids needs something urgent, like help with tying my kitchen utensils to the back of a toy tractor to make a trailer.
On Saturday, however, something magical happened. My kindergartner had a birthday party to attend at the city park in Lanesboro, MN. Suddenly, I was stuck for an hour and a half in the town that everyone else in the world drives to for scenic bike rides. Eureka!
Minivans, in addition to being great kid haulers, are exceptional shiny red bike haulers. I loaded up my red-headed boy and my red bike, and we headed to town. I dropped him off in the capable hands of several sets of parents, where the birthday girl’s dad informed me that in addition to lots of playground time, he would be filling the kids with all sorts of sugar before sending them home. I told him that sounded perfect, and I went back to unload my bike.
I hopped on my bike, and suddenly, I was free. No, FREE!
Turning after the cool restaurant with the colorful chairs, then heading over the old railroad bridge, I was off on the trail all by myself. Well, by myself, along with every other person who, like me, wanted to cram in as much outside time as possible on a nice Saturday in late October.
The only thing missing was a shiny silver bike bell to ring. I have an overwhelming desire to come up behind others on the trail and give them a friendly but affirmative bring! bring! as I pass. In fact, I’d ring my bike bell all the time until I’d either annoyed everyone or my thumb got too sore from bring-bring-ing. Yes, I’m like that. Maybe Santa will bring me my bike bell, but I digress.
I pedaled down the narrow paved trail, a mini highway of happy bikers. A canopy of trees formed an arch over the path, the branches now mostly naked without their leaves. Passing by a family stopping for a snack, I asked the dad to take my picture. I needed a photo of myself, the mom on her freedom ride. Apparently, though, this bike ride was meant to be private. Something was wrong with my stupid smart phone, and while it courteously made clicking noises indicating pictures being taken, no photos remained in the memory. I guess the day was for my eyes only.
I came to an intersection with a gravel road, and looking down the road, saw the Root River crossing below a cement bridge. I pedaled over, and looked down at the water. In the last month, I twice paddled under that bridge in a canoe, first with friends and then my family. Now I stood on top of that bridge on my bike. Not bad for a stay-at-home mom.
I headed back down the trail, smiling to myself as I overheard a conversation with heavy Minnesotan accents, “Oh, I doon’t know how you can watch a cat eat a mouse.” “Well, ya, but that’s what cats dooo.” (I do believe he should have added the obligatory “don’t cha know” for emphasis.)
After a few more minutes on the trail, I turned around and went back to the gravel road. Too many friendly folks on the trail smiling and saying “hi” as I passed actually became a social burden, and I wanted some solitude.
I turned onto the gravel road and instantly felt better. For a crazy minute I actually wondered if it was ok to be on the gravel road, since nobody else was doing it. Then I felt ridiculous for thinking that. I used to spend hour upon hour riding my bike around gravel roads, tooling around home here in SE MN, and then later in Montana.
That was back when I was that adult that hopped on my bike and rode anywhere I wanted, without needing to ask. I’d regularly hop on my bike and ride for a few hours, quietly pedaling along, discovering new back roads and all sorts of things that I never noticed in a car. That “no time constraint, no destination, no problem” kind of bike riding came to a halt, though, with our first baby.
I have no regrets with my current life. In fact, I quite like it. But I certainly do appreciate all the more a long bike ride all by myself. It’s a small epiphany to rediscover something I love that I haven’t done for a long, long time.
After my ride, I returned to the city park to find a happy boy on the swings. I gave him a few pushes, then we picked up his candy-filled goody bag and headed home, both of us sucking on candy and feeling quite content with the afternoon.
All told, my excursion was only two hours away from our house, with commuting time. But as I pulled into our driveway again, the enormous mental break made me feel like I’d been gone for a full day, a world away. I came home hungry and happy, excited to cook and then devour a steak and potatoes meal with baked apples and ice cream for dessert.
What I didn’t really understand as a kid is that adults still have to listen to all sorts of people, and you are never your own boss, even when you are your own boss. On the bright side, I used to be sure that adults barely even liked to have fun, but I am more and more pleased to realize I was completely wrong. There is no automatic shut-off valve on the fun pipe of life.
An adventure on a shiny red bicycle will always bring great joy. Brrring! Brrring!