Sunday, September 28, 2008

Autumn is the New Summer

I've alluded to my newly acquired bikes a couple of times already. It's sort of a thing for me: I'll get my mind on something - an iPod, a kitchen for the boys, a stereo to play the iPod (for both home and car, of course), and most recently... bikes. I'll research these products online like crazy, get a sense of retail price, and then turn to the most logical place for acquisition: Craig's List. My college suitemate turned me onto Craig's List when she got a piano for free. FREE. I love that stuff that's burdensome to others can become a prized treasure. Plus, there's the added bonus of avoiding the retail circuit and finding just what you need tax free and at a fraction of the cost. It's like re-gifting, but not as tacky.

Most recently, I've been scouring Craig's List for bikes, since the weather has cooled from unbearable to mostly lovely. Not just one bike, but lots of bikes. Here was my plan: find a decent bike for me, an Adams Trail-A-Bike for Jackson, and a baby seat for Cooper. I read family cycling sites and saw pictures of these three things existing like a Trinity of mobility and fun. So, last Saturday I sent out a slew of e-mails to various people, all named sale-851248493, or something, and by afternoon, Jackson and I were headed to Grant Park to pick up the first of our plunder: a bike for me.

This bike was particularly important, since the rest of the attachments (literally) hinged on its existance. I found a mountain bike for a remarkably cheap price, and I was thrilled when I got it. The seller, who lived directly across from Zoo Atlanta, said something like - "This is an almost-new bike, I just wanted to get something a little lighter for riding on the roads." It was perfect - tall enough, sturdy enough, inflated enough, bike-y enough. It had two wheels and a seat with functional, though squeaky, brakes. I was delighted.

J and I moved on to part two: the Adams trail-a-bike. We found this near Brookhaven, and picked it up from a very kind UCC Congregant who was listing it on Craig's List on his brother's behalf. The only hitch was that... there wasn't one. No, really - the hitch that attached the bike to my seat post was missing. The seller promised me he'd look for it and have his brother look around and call me, and then cute puppies would show up at my door and unicorns would come back into existance, and all would be well. In the meantime, we headed home with our trunk full of plunder.

It took me a little while to explain to J that we would have to order the part that connected his bike to mine, and we'd have to wait a few days for it to come in. He, like me, is way into instant gratification and was totally bummed that we didn't have all the parts we needed to try it all out when we got home.

So, here's the timeline for the week that's passed:

Sunday: I ordered the part from Boston, with the promise that it would arrive on Wednesday.

Monday: Confirmation that the part had shipped from Boston, with the promise that it would arrive on Wednesday. Find baby seat on Craig's List. Get in bidding war with two sellers.

Tuesday: Settle bidding war. Pick up seat on lunch break. Feel elated at good fortune. Part still scheduled to arrive on Wednesday.

Wednesday: Continuously check e-status of package scheduled to arrive from Boston. Feel like a superhero when I decide to ride my bike to work. Head out to meet Bruce for lunch, leave early, sail down Candler Rd. with the wind in my hair and joy in my heart. Get to the part where Candler Rd. starts heading uphill. Get winded beyond recognition. Legs turn to noodles. Overcooked noodles. Take "this hill is too steep for my out-of-shape-self" walk of shame up the hill. Coast into parking lot of restaurant and pretend like I'm not about to throw up because I'm old and out of shape and not 15 years old anymore. Make believe, as I lock up bike, that I totally rode the whole way. Try to regain composure and blood pressure while waiting for Bruce. Feel revived halfway through lunch. Ride bike... to MARTA, and give noodle legs a rest. Arrive at work, coasting down the last three blocks of Peachtree as if I'd been at this the whole time. Lock bike up and gloat to co-workers. Change Facebook status to reflect my efforts as a smug bike-to-worker, inspiring friends and acquaintances to feel guilty about driving. Find a ride home. Hey... it was late and dark outside. What am I, a superhero?

Thursday: Package hasn't arrived. Papapalooza has begun, since both Matt's father and my dad were simultaneously in town for a short while. Check UPS website every 15 minutes. From work. Like I could do anything there. Harumph.

Friday: Get message from UPS. They forgot the package on Thursday. Jerks. It's scheduled to arrive today. They promise. Take bike and boys to Bicycle South in Decatur, where they show me how to attach Cooper's seat with the use of some handy brackets that my "department store" bike didn't seem to have. Curious. Arrive home, and Matt hangs out with napping Cooper while 40-pound Jackson and I took our first trip together to Oakhurst Village. I plopped him into the Topeak "baby" seat, and very nearly toppled. With a little practice and a lot of encouragement from J for me to "keep balance," we made it alright. Although, I was incredibly exhausted, perhaps beyond reason, since the ride is mostly flat. Clearly, I'm an old, flappy wreck of a person. But that old, flappy person got herself and her son to the local coffee shop for treats. Rev. Noodle Legs hasn't lost it yet!

By the time we were finishing our Grown Up Sodas and smoothies at the coffee shop, I checked my e-mail and discovered: THE PACKAGE HAD BEEN DELIVERED!!!

We headed home with the fury and speed of ... something really fast, but moving uphill and really out of shape. So, really, not fast at all. But, we were determined and excited. Matt greeted us at the door with: THE PACKAGE! which we ceremoniously opened with fanfare and measured enthusiasm. After all, it's not a secret decoder ring or anything. It's a hitch for a bike.

We head outside, toolbox, allen wrench and pliers in hand and set to the task of attaching both of the seats to my shiny new department store bike. The time: 3:24 p.m.

Around 5:00, our neighbor arrived home. He chatted with us, and inquired about our project. I tried to fill him in on the details about my bike's deficiencies and the trouble of attaching both pieces, and the next thing I knew, Neighbor Jeff was wheeling a bike around for us to try. A Vintage, 21 speed Trek Multi-track 730. In perfect condition, save a couple of flat tires. My mouth dropped open. This bike was almost exactly like the one that was stolen from me during college. I accepted his offer to try our trinkets on this bike, and was more than a little surprised when Neighbor Jeff spent the better part of the next 2 hours helping me attach everything, including moving tiny extension pieces from one place to another. It was frustrating work, and a less kind neighbor would have moved on, but Neighbor Jeff stuck it out until, at nearly 7:20, we had a bike that could hold me and both boys.

As the sun was setting on our last little house in Atlanta the first house in Decatur, the boys and I rode climbed on our new contraption, helmets donned, water bottles full, and hopes high.

We immediately crashed to the ground. Cooper wailed. Jackson brushed himself off. Matt consoled all of us.

After some coaxing, Cooper agreed to try again. And this time, it worked! It really worked! I instantly had visions of us biking to Oakhurst, Columbia, Decatur, Dancing Goat, Target, Saint Mark, Tennessee, Minnesota, the moon... nothing was going to stop us! The sun was setting, and Cooper was still a little rattled, so we rolled into our driveway and locked up the bikes - one for all four of us, thanks to Neighbor Jeff.

Today was the first day that we opted to try out the family bike in the neighborhood. I got home from church, and encouraged all the folks to put on bike-appropriate clothes. I mean, they were already wearing helmets, 'cause they haven't taken them off since last Saturday. After a bit of confusion and delay, we got on the road, waving to Neighbor Jeff as we took off with Cooper in his baby seat with Matt and Jackson pedaling eagerly behind me. We biked across Candler, and down the neighborhood streets, crossing over onto Midway and onto Columbia's campus. As I type, I'm remembering how easy it felt to glide (mostly downhill) into our destination's parking lot, and I realized while I was pedaling that I didn't feel like an aging, decrepit shell of my former, youthful self. On the contrary, I felt tremendous! The smell of the air in my nose was intoxicating - it was liberation... from gas-fueled vehicles, one-car sharing, closed up spaces, slovenly living... I haven't felt that overjoyed in so long. I felt powerful, fit, able and like I could go for miles. I felt... like I was 15 again.

So, I thought back to my first attempt at biking any length: Wednesday. I was wrecked about 4 minutes into my ride. What was the difference? It's not like I'd gotten a tremendous amount of exercise in the preceding days. I wasn't any better rested or nourished... why, then? Mystery "Fountain of Youth" water? All of the help I was (seriously) getting from Jackson on his tandem?

Suddenly I realized... Matt was nowhere to be seen. Nowhere. Jackson casually suggested that we wait on Daddy, and it hit me:
THE BIKE!

Matt was riding my Craig's List find. My "department store" bike. The guys at Bicycle South were just being polite. It wasn't just that my bike wasn't equipped with accessories. No, no! It was a gigantic, steaming piece of crap! Matt finally gasped his way up the hill, looking winded and weary. Let me be abundantly clear: Matt is in great shape. This bike is the fitness devil. It somehow manages to suck away all energy, momentum and happiness. The only way to ride it without feeling like it's a Dementor is to ensure that you're riding at a slight incline. Always.

We all coasted into Columbia's campus where Matt had to go and scavenge for a book on Martin Luther King. You know, a little light reading for Sunday. While he was in, the boys and I biked around, Cooper tried out the tandem, we rolled around in the grass, they peed on the sidewalks, we hung out with the African drummers (seriously!!!). It was a great afternoon. By the time Matt returned, we'd logged another mile or so on the bikes and were ready to get moving. We stopped by Ms. Anna's house to lament the tragic and untimely passing of her chickens that we'd had the chance to observe since their chick-hood. Cooper dubbed these chickens "Bok Boks," and he was having trouble understanding that they were no more. We paid our respects, and sailed into Winnona Park.

It was here that we found what most certainly must have been paradise. In this gorgeous neighborhood, just a short bike ride away, we came upon the Winnona Park Neighborhood Association's annual picnic. There was a live jazz band, children, strollers, puppies, babies, parents and barbeque everywhere. If we'd arrived a little earlier (and known at least one person on the field), we might have stayed for dinner. So, instead, we gazed down with longing eyes at the beautiful community before us. Our tired legs and hungry bellies reminded us that stargazing doesn't get you fed or home any faster, so we worked our way into Oakhurst for an amazing dinner at Colvita's, which came recommended to us from some of our first friends at Saint Mark.

We sat on the patio, drank water and ate delicious and creative food while our children chattered proudly about all the biking they'd done. The weather was stunningly beautiful, and it was a fine day to be a Flemming. As the sun began to set, both boys urged us to get home. They sucked down the last of their bike-bottle water and flopped into bed, sweaty and happy. Three hours of biking will do that to you (especially if you're on the dementor bike). I apologized and sympathized with Matt about his rage-inducing, poorly constructed, challenging laws of nature bike, and he was an incredibly kind sport about it.

Now, my new project? I'm gonna re-gift that bike to someone on Craig's List.

1 comment:

Katie said...

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one finding my fantasy biking world (complete with European-style baskets to carry my groceries of course) to be a bit less realistic than the uphill, out-of-breath, tired legs, biking world I'm actually in. Maybe one day we'll ride our bikes to your house and see if collapsing on your front lawn works as well as on our own.