Love on Wheels

I owe a huge debt of gratitude my elementary school classmates way back when. The ones who always strung me out as their last pick for teams during kickball and softball games.

True, it left me with an inferiority complex at the time and a sense that anyone else would have been more welcome. Yes, I must have been one of the least athletic kids on the playground. I might have even been considered a Jonah for whatever team they were forming.

But only years later do I realize the gift that gave me, as I went off to avoid other team games where I felt unwanted. I went off to find my own fun.
Yes, I took to my bicycle with a passion that only in retrospect seems odd for the 1960s on Long Island. Or should I say, I took off.

I can’t even begin to imagine how many miles and how much time I used to ride, off on my own, when those friends were playing softball or hanging out together.

Yes, I was a loner, as I headed off from New Hyde Park to Roosevelt Field or to Garden City, to the south, to Old Westbury or the Walt Whitman Shopping Center to the east, or to Roslyn or Great Neck in the north.

I’d be gone most of the day. Nearly every day I could.
Through the years I've thought it was my bicycle that saved me from a difficult home life, and my parents rarely knew where I’d gone.(My mother, who didn’t drive, probably couldn’t have imagined where I was.)

Most of the rides weren’t more than five miles away, and the point was rarely to get there, but rather to go off on my own, exploring.
Heading off to the North Shore — Sand’s Point or King’s Point, or even to Long Beach or Jones Beach on the Sout Shore, maybe 10 to 15 miles in either direction — was the furthest I pedaled.

Today it doesn't seem that far to me. But for a kid of 10, 12, 14, 17 years old, riding along busy roadways, it was huge. And I don't recall anyone else that I knew who did it.

Back then, I felt like there was only motorized traffic around, except for younger kids pedaling on neighborhood side streets. Nowadays, there are Spandex-attired, helmeted cycling clubs touring every which way. Back then, though, cycling seemed like a mostly European thing to do.
At least on Long Island.

And the main glory of cycling everywhere — aside from getting out of my house, maybe picking up a pair of drum sticks at Sam Ash in Hempstead or a new record album at Korvette’s — was the exploration itself.

Garvie’s Point, in Glen Cove, was a particularly special find for a teen-ager who felt landlocked and in need of connecting with nature in the mid-section of claustrophobic Nassau County And getting there along whatever side streets and off-the-beaten-path I could find was more than half the fun. Especially if it included a stop for an ice cream cone or a slice of pizza at a newly discovered, treasured find that I could truly call my own.

To this day, I love exploring new routes and back roads, whether I’m in my car, on my bike, or on foot. And I do believe there’s even a carryover to other aspects of life where exploration is simply fun, fun, fun.

My bicycle is almost always inside my little Impreza (I keep the backs seats down) so that if I’m driving somewhere and get the urge — especially on long drives where I crave stretching my legs and getting a sense of life off the highway — I feel free to pull off, park and ride.

And it IS about the freedom.

While I still tend to ride by myself (so that I can decide when, where and for how long at any time) and don’t consider myself a serious 50- or 100-mile-a-day cyclist at all, I look on cycling as a big, joyous part of my life. Then and now.

I’ve chosen to live in a place not too hilly and not at all built up, where cycling is always (when the weather and my aging body behave) available and free for the taking. I’m never far from a ride that doesn’t cost anything except a bit of my energy.
In fact, I almost always wind up feeling energized by the ride. And now that I look back on spinning my wheels as a byproduct of getting shut out of team sports, it seems ironic how much of an energetic spin I’ve gotten.

On my own.


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