LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. —
Common thought states freedom starts for a child when they get a driver’s license. I have seen it come much sooner and on two wheels.
None of us remember our first steps. We all remember the first time a bicycle made its first wobbles propelled by only our legs. Someone let go of the back of the bike and trusted we would not end up in a pile of spokes and sprockets. Those first turns of the pedal soon lead to dashing downhill, racing, and a few skinned knees. But this is freedom and as much a part of growing up as braces and broken hearts.
Your world is smaller when you are young, so a bicycle can get you almost anywhere you need to be. Mine made a lot of trips to Levi Jackson State Park. It was thrilling to be pedaling up to the pool with a beach towel tied to the seat. You would know you were close when you heard Steve Miller’s “Rock ‘N’ Me” playing on the jukebox. When the pool closed it was time to ride to the camping area for a game of basketball.
It doesn’t seem that long ago, because it was just this week. We threw the bikes in the back of the truck for a few spins around the camping area. My girls dash around the same roads I used to haunt. Wind whipping through their hair, they talk about how fast they are going. They see a mud puddle ahead and detour, directly into it. Then they worry momma is going to be mad because their school clothes are dirty. We snuck back in the house past momma and washed them so she wouldn’t notice.
They talk about how tough the hills are as their skinny little legs burn as they try to churn to the top.
I wanted to tell them a tough hill would be Oakley Hill in the Tour de London. I passed as many people coming back down the hill defeated as I saw going up. But that’s old man talk and they probably didn’t want or need to hear about it.
The bikes were abandoned when an owl flew past us and landed in a nearby tree. I have seen three wild owls in my long and storied life. They have already seen as many in a decade.
It won’t be long until the bikes are replaced by cars. Then they will have to worry about gas money, oil changes, and who dropped the large Pepsi in the back seat. That doesn’t sound as much like freedom as jumping on a bicycle and just seeing where your own energy can take you.