Learning to Ride a Bike

I guess a lot of my young life was not that different from other country boys. However, I did live in the mountains of Colorado in my early years, and that perhaps made some small difference.

For instance, I often woke up to the sound of a large animal moving around outside my bedroom. I would, of course, immediately jump to the window to see what sort of wild beast it might be. Alas, it was never a lion or elephant or anything exotic, but only a herd of cattle grazing in what we called our yard. Our area was open range, and ranchers let their cows run loose. Another small difference was knowing that the our "play ground" was haunted by rattlesnakes and mountain lions. That scared the snot out of our sissy relatives who came to visit--Eastern city folks--but we didn't much care. We were, after all, bullet proof: We were boys.

And speaking of relatives, the summer when I was 16, one of Mom's Easterner uncles came to visit, and he wanted to spend a night camping out. You know, he was looking for adventure. He was probably in his 40s, and had never slept outside a building in his life. My mother told Dean--he's my brother, two years younger--and me to take him out, so we did. When we arrived at our chosen spot, it was not in a "campground," just a pretty spot we liked. It was way back, several miles down a rutted dirt trail, alongside a mountain lake. We were Alone. There, Dean and I cut a bunch of branches from bushes and trees and made ourselves a foot-thick pile. Then we threw a tarp on top and our sleeping bags on that. By then it was getting dark, and without a thought, we undressed, climbed into our sleeping bags, and went quickly and happily to sleep, the stars in our faces. We didn't give a second thought to our guest.

We didn't know until much later that our uncle had locked himself in the car and stayed awake all night, terrified of what sort of monster or wild beast might devour us, unprotected out there in the wilderness. When Mom told us about it later, we were surprised, and thought the guy was either some sort of pansy, or just had a screw loose. Dean made a comment, something about the uncle's undergarments and lace. I don't remember exactly what he said, but Mom didn't think it was funny.

But back to riding a bike. In my younger days, we faced one problem, living where we did, and that was that we had no flat ground, and no straight roads. Unlike Kansas, where the dirt goes mostly from side to side, like all well-mannered dirt, in the Rockies it goes mostly up and down. And it's not so much dirt as it is rocks. A whole bunch of rocks.

Our town, Idledale, was a couple hundred people scattered up steep, windy dirt roads running off of a canyon with a "crick" and a two-lane highway following the crick down the canyon. "Downtown" was a small general store, a liquor store and a post office. The liquor store burned down one night when I was about 6 or 7, and it was the biggest event in town all year. I had nightmares for a week.

Our location and the lack of flat land and decent roads were big factors when we got old enough to want to ride a bike. But we were bright and innovative, and with the help of some older boys in town, we adapted. It had to be a team effort, because there were only a couple guys in town who owned bikes, and they had to let us use them.

So that's how I found myself up a rocky, steep, winding dirt road one day, with a half dozen other guys. I was going to learn to ride a bike. The routine was simple and fast. There was only one lesson, and a big incentive for success.

The victim, er, learner was placed astride the diabolical machine while a couple guys held it upright and still. Then, when the "rider" was in place and set--that was me, remember--the two-boy launch crew stepped back and gave the bike a little push. It went like a jet off an aircraft carrier, and reached warp speed in about 2 seconds, bouncing from rock to rock on the way down the hill. I was mostly airborne, though think the tires were on the ground for a little bit of the time.

Now like most lessons, this very efficient course of study had a couple tests. To pass, I had to meet two standards. First, I had to make it to the bottom of the road with all my skin and bones unbroken, and with me still on the top and the bike on the bottom. Second, I could not have peed my pants.

Simple, right? No grading on the curve--in fact, you might say the curve did the grading --and no staying up all night, cramming for the test. Just step up to the bike, turn off any hint of good sense, and in a state of utter stupidity, climb on. The experience had a wonderfully focusing effect on a young mind.

You might understand the situation better if you knew that on the right side of the road was a solid wall of rough, jagged rocks, because the road was cut into the side of a steep hill. Trust me, you did not want to hit it. On the other side was a sort of barrier, consisting of a cable strung between posts about 15 inches above the ground, beyond which the ground fell straight away in a drop of 10 to 75 or so feet, depending on where you were dumb enough to go over the edge. At the bottom was the only paved road around, the highway through town. If the fall didn't get you, the cars would.

So to fail the test carried some pretty tall consequences. But we thought that was good. Those sissy city kids, with their training wheels and all sorts of helpers and protection, never learned to ride as quickly as we did. Of course, they probably spent a lot less time in pain, too.

Oh, I forgot to tell you: I passed. I reached the bottom, unbloodied and unpeed. Perhaps that explains why now, old and gray-bearded, I am most at home on my mountain bike, hauling down a fast trail. It's great fun, and I have an impressive array of scars to prove it.

2 Comments

Larry, I just bought a house in Idledale. I am fascinated to hear about all the interesting historical events that happened in town over the years like the liquor store fire. Do you have any more stories? Thanks

Scott, nice to hear that someone still lives in Idledale. It was a good place for a boy to grow up.

The Idledale church was the school when I was there, two rooms that went up to perhaps 5th or 6th grade. After that, kids went to Evergreen.

All the boys in town would occasionally divide into two teams and have B-B gun wars across Sawmill Gulch.

Lots of memories. There are some folks there who still remember my mother. (I used to teach at Colorado Christian University, and one day a student asked me (for her grandma) if my mother ever lived in Idledale. Well, yes, I said, and by coincidence, so did I.)

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  • Larry Baden said:
      Scott, nice to hear that someone still lives in Idledale. It was a goo...
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      Larry, I just bought a house in Idledale. I am fascinated to hear abo...

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