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Biking in the City

When you’re in college, you’re either overwhelmed with an avalanche of work to do, or you have so much free time you feel like you’ll lose your mind. On a day I had free time, my friend Kathleen asked if I wanted to go biking with her. I thought absolutely! She had a spare ten-speed bike for me to use, but I had never been on one before. I grew up with banshee, banana seat bikes, and the only thing I learned in the country is to keep your eyes and mouth shut when a car goes by because of all the dust. She told me it’s a piece of cake, just click down your gear when you go up hill. Sounds good! So we left the college parking lot and she took OFF!! I mean Tour de France, record championship pace speed. I’m terrified because I quickly realize I don’t know how to navigate on a bike in the city! She’s from Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love, and she biked every weekend with her family. We’re in Wilkes-Barre, which is not exactly a city of brotherly love. At least not back in the 80’s. I’m used to seeing a car or two on a dirt road where I biked, and if cars stopped it was to talk to each other or exchange recipes. If two cars stopped in Wilkes Barre back then it certainly wasn’t to say hi. She’s weaving in and out of cars like nothing, and I’m thinking can I seriously even fit through there? Especially at a high rate of speed on a bike I just met? Then we start to go up over the Market Street Bridge and she’s shifting down a gear…so I tried but shifted it too low, so my wheels are barely moving. I decided no gears, lets just leave this bike wide open and see what happens. I had to stand up and peddle as hard as I could because I knew if I hopped off to run it up the hill, Kathleen would leave me in the dust. I’m sweating and can barely catch my breath, she’s as cool as a cucumber. I’m easily reaching speeds of 60mph to catch up when we go downhill…probably not the best idea. When we went to cross traffic we stopped at a red light; She’s so tall that she’s able to stand on her tippy toes to keep the bike vertical. I’m only 5’3”, so when I put my foot down, the bike falls a good thirty inches to the left so that I can touch the ground, which puts my bike at a 45-degree angle. I look ridiculous. So when the light turns green, she takes OFF! I have to push off on my foot to get my bike vertical, only to push too hard and send it 90-degrees right. Cars are beeping at me. I finally get going and she’s so far ahead it’s not even funny. If I lose her, I have no idea where I am, so I’m hauling again trying to catch up. I can’t even look to see if it’s safe to cross because I’m afraid I’ll tip the bike looking, I haven’t mastered that skill yet. So I just go for it and hope cars stop. This was back before helmets were a thing, so one wrong move and it’s game over. Suddenly my homework was looking better and better. Just then I saw a guy steering with his knees while he brushed his hair in the rear-view mirror and scraped his car from bumper to bumper on the sidewalk we’re on for a good 40 yards. Kathleen is unphased because she’s used to the city, I’m having a heart attack. I kept saying Kathleen slow down, and she kept saying I was doing great keep going! I said into the wind, “I really don’t think I am!” It was a lot of fun after I realized I was going to live, but it sure does make me nervous to send my kids to college after knowing all the crazy things we did for “fun!”

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