I got my first bike for Christmas when I was 10 years old, a three-speed Raleigh, an “English,” not an “American” bike like the ones my friends had.

After dinner that day, my dad insisted that we go outside so I could begin learning how to ride it. It was freezing cold and the street was a patchwork of car-packed snow and ice, with a few bare spots. No time like the present to learn how to ride.

Out we trooped, me with my new bike and my dad with this slightly crooked, notched stick, about 6 feet long, made from an old tree limb, stripped smooth of bark. He had given this project some forethought. As I tried to maintain my balance and pedal, he’d run behind me, attempting to keep the notch of the stick in contact with the seat post to keep me upright.

After an hour, I carried my bike down into our basement, cold and slightly sore from numerous falls. But my first lesson wasn’t quite finished. He told me to wipe down my bike to remove the dirt and snow and that I should always keep it dry and clean. Other lessons on how to maintain my bike followed, including how to fix a flat tire.

We continued this routine throughout the rest of that winter and by early spring, I had the confidence and ability to finally ride alone on the street.

About 20 years ago, I found that notched stick in a pile of scrap lumber when we were cleaning out my parents’ basement before they moved to Colorado. I never asked and now I cannot ask him why he had kept it. It brought back the memories of those many hours I spent with my dad on cold winter afternoons learning to ride my bike, with him running behind me with that stick. I didn’t keep that stick, but I’ve kept those memories.

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