The Journal an editorial

Anyone who wintered in Tobacco Plains Country knows the spring of 2017 was a long time coming. The winter was cold and the snow got deep. Even after the snow melted, the promise of spring was withheld for far too long. Outdoor enthusiasts were challenged by conditions. When breaking trail on cross-country skis became too much I strapped on snowshoes and set out across the yard on a crust of 24 inches of snow. I briefly felt as if I was suspended on a cloud. Then, the crust began to break through and each step became a process akin to walking through knee deep mud. The snowshoes went back up on the wall and the skis, for the most part, remained leaning in a corner of the deck. Teddy and I began looking forward to the hiking and biking season.

I happened to have a mountain bike that I deemed perfect for Teddy, once a professional tuned it up. This is where you must trust your professional. It presents a situation where you might show up with a $100 dollar bike and pay $150 to have it made road worthy. It seems that all bike shops are run by somewhat cocky, self-assured young men, even if they are usually polite and helpful. After assuring me the bike was worth an overhaul, the polite young man asked where we expected to do most of our riding. “Look at us,” I said, “We surely won’t be riding on any rough terrain.”

I should mention that the bicycle we were having fixed up was the one I’d been riding for the last six or eight years. I figured on finding a nice used bike for say, $250. I had not considered the specter of driving all over northwest Montana checking out the various possibilities found on Craig’s List or The Mountain Trader. But it so happened this polite, helpful, self-assured, albeit a bit cocky, young man had just taken a gem of a bike in on a trade and he was willing to move it along for $300. I hesitated to give away fifty bucks so readily until Teddy pointed out there would be no riding until both of us had wheels.

One week later we brought both bikes home along with two brand new helmets. I mention the helmets because it has only been recently that I’ve acceded to wearing one. I always thought they looked silly. What’s more, I never bought one for any of my children. Nowadays they take your children away for stuff like that. I think they call it neglect. Where were the helmet police when I took a mad, pell-mell ride down a long hill in 1955? I was 12 and bulletproof. It was Pleasantville, Pennsylvania – an actual place. In the window of its one small hardware store, there was a stunningly beautiful, peacock blue Schwinn bicycle with cream-colored accents. It featured a built in horn, a headlight contoured to the front fender (both battery operated) and a luggage rack with a built in reflector mounted above the rear fender.

This rolling beauty was priced at $62. While I didn’t have that amount lying around, I did have a paper route and so I was able to put the bike on layaway. I don’t recall how long it took me to pay for it, but I was nothing if not exultant as I wheeled it out onto the street for the first time. The bike was already looking pretty sharp, but I wanted more. To this magnificent ensemble, I added mud flaps, new handle grips and streamers, all bright red. You don’t see streamers anymore. They probably add too much drag. Not stopping there, I mounted a siren on the front wheel that I could engage with a pull chain, which I did every time I rode by my girlfriend’s house. Finally came the speedometer. Who doesn’t understand that no boy can have a speedometer on his bike without trying to “peg it.”

I selected a nice long hill with no cross streets, aimed ‘er downhill and began peddling furiously. The bike must have weighed a short ton and readily accelerated to 25, 30, the needle was climbing. The pedals were getting lighter but I stayed on them, 35, edging toward 40. Did I see 42? 43? I don’t know. Suddenly my feet flew off the pedals and I somehow managed to hold them out of harm’s way until I slowed up enough to catch up to them. Having spinning pedals rake your Achilles tendon is one of the most painful experiences that an ignorant young cyclist can suffer. Not for a moment did I consider wearing a helmet. Of course, had I crashed, losing 87 percent of my skin would have been as perilous as your average concussion. In any case, over 60 years passed. Teddy and I were set to ride out of the yard and down a rather steep driveway that would take us out to the gentle Grave Creek road. Of course, there would be no effort to establish a new land speed record this time around.

Perhaps I posited something to the effect of, “Are you ready to go?” Teddy affirmed that such was the case and I set my bike in motion, expecting she would do the same. Suddenly I heard that distinctive sound that only a bicycle can make when it falls over. Looking back, I see Teddy and the bike lying in a heap, but there was movement. She came up smiling announced she was fine and said, “I can do this.”

Somehow I’d gotten the impression that she had a modicum of bike riding experience. “That old bike down in the barn,” I said, “I thought you rode that.” “I did,” she said, “twice. One time I ended up in a ditch and the other time I was going up a steep hill and fell over. I learned you had to put your foot down when you stop. The last time I rode before that I couldn’t have been more than 12-years-old.

For a moment I considered our future. “You’re right,” I affirmed. “You can do this. Just keep your hand off the front brake handle – the one on the left. Maybe you should tighten that helmet strap a little more.

Gary Montgomery,
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