I got my first bicycle when I was 8 years old and, with it, my first taste of freedom. Of course, at 3, I’d pedaled a tricycle around the backyard. I found it took more energy from my toddler legs to pedal the trike forward than it did to just run to wherever I needed to go. But once I mastered balance and pedaling at the same time on my two-wheeled bike, there was no stopping me. I adored the rush of wind brushing against my face as it swept my hair behind me while I pedaled to join up with four or five of my friends for a group mystery ride.

During summer days in the 1960s we thought nothing of setting off on a multi-hour, multi-town journey with no particular destination in mind. Pedophiles were not something our mothers worried about back then. They made us sandwiches to have for lunch and told us to stop at a gas station and get directions if we ran into any trouble or got turned around. If we really got ourselves lost, we could call home and one of them would retrieve us (though I don’t ever remember that happening).

We carried a worn, creased map of the immediate area like a security blanket, just in case. And we all took notice of distinctive landmarks we passed, convinced that like Hansel’s and Gretel’s breadcrumbs, if we remembered them, they would lead us safely home. We explored streets we’d never been down before, rode through a nearby state forest, circled around a lake. After riding for two hours, we stopped to eat lunch in a lovely park. Then it was time to reverse course and hope we’d been observant enough to find our way home.

We felt like pioneers being able to explore on our own, free to head in any direction we chose, never knowing what discoveries we might find. Making our own decisions and sticking together gave us the feeling we could control our destinies. These rides continued until we entered high school, when, suddenly, bike riding became taboo. Our interest turned to four-wheelers, excited for the day we’d pass our driver’s license exam. For the next three decades, plopping onto the seat of a bicycle wasn’t in the cards for me.

Then one day in 2000, my neighbor and I decided we were out of shape. Our bodies were pudgier than they should have been. She had an old bike, and I bought myself a new Trek bike. Now in midlife, we were racing down more heavily trafficked roadways, taking wide turns at intersections, mapping out a six-mile route we did every day, trying to shave seconds off our previous day’s time. Facing into the wind felt so refreshing. Bike riding still filled me with a sense of freedom. Now, though, it was a welcome diversion from the humdrum daily routine of work and life.

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