A small boy discovers the freedom of the open road from his trusty two-wheeler.
Someone stole my boy's bike. Fortunately, a friend has loaned us a new one for now. But it's not that bike! I bought that bike for $20 at a consignment store when Dane was 2, when the rider he was to become was just a pedaling speck in my mind.
That bike inspired a self-reliance in my son that would have made Emerson proud. All that summer of his fifth year, we rode bikes. First in endless circles around our playground, then to the beach in Sausalito and along the Bay Trail between Marin City and Mill Valley.
We rode about 10 miles a week on that bike, with Dane zigzagging along in front of me, and me easing behind him on my bike, with his 4-year-old sister pedaling furiously, her trail-a-bike attached to mine.
At first, Dane's zigzags made my hair stand on end as serious cyclists zoomed by. Eventually, though, he embraced the right side of the trail, and I watched more calmly from behind. Soon he was off-road on the sloping sandy edges, broken cement paths, and tall grass lining the bay. He would stand up and test his tires in the sand, or point – first with a nod, and later, with a daring hand – to the great white heron or the snowy egret at water's edge. Come August, he advanced to the hills of Angel Island, working in 90 degree heat with the determination of a yellow jersey rider on the Tour de France.
Now we ride to school. None of his classmates do this regularly, so when he pulls his helmet off, hair sweaty and sticking up, his fellow kindergartners are incredulous: "You rode again, Dane?" they ask, and he smiles shyly with a proud sense of himself.
But riding isn't about attention; Dane loves the way riding feels. When his sister says, "Let's go feel the wind on our skin," we know what she means. Let's just get out and move ourselves along. Let's pick warm blackberries in September and brush rain off our faces in January. Let's pedal up hills, gasping for air, or speed through puddles, soaking our socks. Let's have an adventure.
That's what that bike represented: the beginning of a journey – a boy gaining a sense of himself and a sense of adventure, powered by his own two legs.
I knew that bike wouldn't last forever, that Dane would eventually need a bigger bike, and that someday he would even ride without me.
But, boy, I'll miss that bike. It was the vehicle to a new way of life – for both of us.