Before we moved to Iowa, a state without a single mountain, I sold my Trek mountain bike. The one my dad and I picked out at the small shop in town when I was finally tall enough. The one that wove around creosote bushes and kicked up desert dust on the way to friends' houses; the one that went up and down the Quail Ridge hill, over and over again. The one that took me to college classes on the rare days I braved the extreme heat, sweating profusely and cursing the sun and the air and every piece of clothing I wore. The one that could never keep up with Jason's road bike; the one that left me slow and jealous.
After our first year in Des Moines, the winter melted and spring enveloped me in warmth and dreams of evening bike rides. I found a cheap road bike on Craigslist, listed by a man cleaning out his garage. His daughter's old bike was neglected and in the way. I was replacing my childhood bike with another's so it felt right. In his driveway, on a bike for the first time in a year, I put the phrase "like riding a bicycle" to the test. Jason and the man watched me teeter precariously around the cul-de-sac. After figuring out the new handlebars and getting a few good pumps in, I returned to the pair and pulled out my wallet.
A good portion of that summer revolved around packing and moving and unpacking in a new place across town. But before we moved, we ventured into a nearby neighborhood to flex our legs and bond atop bicycle seats. We began zigzagging through the residential streets, admiring houses and dreaming about the future (Sunroom or porch? Big front yard or big back yard?). We came upon a mansion, quite grand for this old, modest neighborhood, complete with a gated entrance, turrets, wrapping buildings, a lawn that must take a whole Saturday to mow, and... goats (uh, yep). The best part about this find was that it was settled on a monumental hill. A hill high and stretching with just the right amount of curve to the road, wrapping down and around the mansion grounds.
We found ourselves at the top: Jason looking down expectantly and me hesitantly. We both lifted our feet and pedaled, he with gusto and I with panic, and then let gravity guide us (okay, okay, there may have also been some braking on my end). I don't know that our trip down was much longer than a minute, but during those 60 something seconds, I was weightless. I rose out of my body and united with wind and wind roared back in my ears, curled my hair and tugged at my face. We yelped and hollered and laughed all the way down. Afterwards the wind stayed in my ears and pounded in my heart. I kept thinking, this, this is what living is.
I can't romanticize the whole story, because climbing back up that hill, well, you can imagine. During the never-ending climb, the only thing propelling us was the residual adrenaline from the descent down. Nevertheless, I have thought back on that hill occasionally. The grand mansion with a rolling lawn and wrapping pavement. The euphoria of flying on a bicycle seat; a moment of feeling fully extraordinary and extra-human. A simple yet poignant memory for the bad days to remind me that joy is still out there for the taking.
I just need to lift my feet and pedal.