elizabeth howard

Remember when you turned 16-years-old, held your driver’s license in your hands for the first time and then backed the family car out of the driveway? Or when you turned twenty-one years old and were able to sidle up to a bar and order a real drink? These are moments we keep available in the memory palace as landmarks on the path to adulthood.

There is another that while often pushed into the recesses of memory is still there to be recalled. That is the moment the training wheels are removed from your first bicycle and, with an adult standing close by ready to catch you if you should lose your balance, you are on your own. With those first few turns of the pedals you feel a sense of freedom. A sense of freedom you might never have felt before.

I have always been envious of the individuals who have undertaken long distance bicycle treks. Eric Masterson, the author of “Birdwatching in New Hampshire” and in residence at the Harris Center for Conservation Education in Hancock, New Hampshire, rode a bicycle from New Hampshire to Panama following the migration route of the Broad-Winged Hawk. Now he’s learning to ride thermals in a hang glider as another way to study bird migrations.

A fantasy I have harbored is riding a bicycle across the United States. It’s a distance of about 4,223 mile and following the TransAmerica Bicycle Trail Route one crosses ten states and can bypass major trafficked urban areas and cycle on country roads. For most people it takes about 75 days or a little over two months. As I can manage distance, but not speed, expect it would take me at least four months.

This summer, with fears of using public transportation and after months of being confined to our homes, biking has become even more popular. In fact, if you don’t have a bicycle, you might have difficulty purchasing one now.

Bike shops are desperately trying to keep up as people are dusting off bikes that have been pushed to the back of the garage, requiring tuning and new parts. MC Cycle on Main Street in Laconia keeps my bicycle in shape. This spring, after a complete tune up and a set of new tires, it rides as smoothly as when it was new. I had forgotten how much pleasure bicycle riding can bring and since April have been riding every morning, training for a much longer trip when we are free to travel again.

Pablo Neruda, the Chilean poet, wrote a poem entitled, “The Ode to the Bicycles.” Only when a bicycle is moving does it “have a soul” he writes, “otherwise it’s a skeleton that will return to life only when it’s needed, when it’s light, that is, with the resurrection of each day.”

Riding a bicycle connects you with nature and engages your physical body and your mind. Every morning when I begin to feel the breeze and look down at the earth, I’m convinced my bicycle has a soul. I’m soaring, as free as a bird.

•••

Elizabeth Howard’s career intersects journalism, marketing and communications. Ned O’Gorman: A Glance Back, a book she edited, was published in May 2016. She is the author of A Day with Bonefish Joe, a children’s book, published by David R. Godine. You can send her a note at: Elizabeth@laconiadailysun.com

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