Musical selection: Symphony #6 in F, "Pastorale," Op. 68, First movement ("Awakening of Joyful Feelings Upon Arriving in the Country"),Allegro ma non troppo, Ludwig van Beethoven, courtesy of Classical MIDI Archives, © 1999 Pierre R. Schwob


Maybe it was because my parents never let me have a bike when I was a kid, We lived on a long, steep hill in a densely populated town in northern New Jersey, and after they saw me tear down that hill on a sled or a pair of roller skates (the metal kind with the skate key), my oft-repeated pleas for a bicycle of my own were never heeded.

Therefore I didn’t learn to ride a bike until I was 15. We were staying at a beach resort, and I rented one. My left knee still bears a small scar as a reminder of my early battles with that bike, but eventually I mastered it and rode that bike all over town and loved it. However, I was rapidly approaching the age when most kids eagerly anticipate trading two wheels for four, and it was considered most uncool for anyone over the age of 12 to be seen pedaling a bicycle.

I didn’t even own a bike till I was 24. You always remember your first love (I married mine) and your first car (I totaled it). I still remember my first bike -- a white 5-speed Raleigh “Sprite 27” “girl’s” bike. It cost 95 bucks -- a goodly sum in 1972--and when I showed it to my mother, she just shook her head and said, “You don’t know what to do with your money, do you?” Perhaps it was then when I decided that I no longer needed my parents' approval all the time in order to feel validated. I rode that bike all over town. I had never learned to drive and even in winter time, riding a bike to the shopping district beat the hell out of walking several blocks to the bus stop and waiting 45 minutes only to have 3 or 4 buses arrive at once.

I bought my first "real" bike in 1988. It was a turquoise and white 12-speed Giant RS 920 road bike with a cro-moly frame and Shimano BioPace chainrings. I saw a picture of it with a male model in a Giant catalogue and decided that was just what I wanted. Nice frame, clean lines, just the sort of thing I could ride and enjoy. The bike was nice, too. (Hey, I’m married but I’m not DEAD...)

And the things I've seen on my two-wheeled travels. A mailbox with a sign on it saying "Shithole Farm." (What do they grow there, or do I really want to know?). A 2-in-1 church (Baptist entrance on the left, Lutheran entrance on the right). Snowy egrets, ospreys, great blue herons, and red-winged blackbirds. The mountains of Jamaica and a brothel, beaches, and a sugar plantation in the US Virgin Islands.

What does a bicyclist think about on a long bike ride? Basically, nothing. That’s the beauty of it. Of course, you have to watch out for the traffic, but this heightened awareness enhances all the senses. The smell of warm, pine-scented air. The sight of an old, long-forgotten burial plot tucked away in some remote corner of a field or a turtle popping its head out of a lake. The sound of the wind rushing past your ears or a horse whinnying in a distant field. The taste of that first swig of cold water hitting the back of your hot, dry mouth. The feel of the bike rolling smoothly and effortlessly along a quiet country road. I personally think of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (the “Pastorale”), which is a musical depiction of a day in the country, or the First Movement of Mendelssohn’s Fourth Symphony (the “Italian”), which was used to great effect in the movie “Breaking Away”. Your mind completely shuts off all thoughts of work, school, family, bills, etc. to concentrate on more immediate concerns: Get around that pothole. Gear down for that hill up ahead. I think I’ll get a soda at that deli -- hope they’ll let me use their bathroom.

Bicycling is a wonderful sport, and you don’t have to be in any great physical condition to enjoy it, as I can resdily attest. There’s a bike for every budget and type of riding -- commuting, riding around the park with the kids, racing, touring, neighborhood transportation, off-road, just noodling around. Cyclists are veey friendly people. You’d be surprised how far and how fast you can go on a bike in a short period of tme. If you don’t believe me, hop on one and see for yourself. If you can ride one block, and you ride 3. If you can ride 3 blocks, you can ride 8, then 1/2 a mile, 1 mile, 3, 7, 10, 15...

A long bike ride is a voyage of discovery. Sometimes you coast downhill with the wind at your back; at other times you slog up a steep hill in a headwind. You rest, you go on. Sometimes you feel as if you could ride forever, at other times you think you’ll collapse from exhaustion if you have to turn the pedals just one more time. You marvel at what you find just around around the bend. You savor the moment. And sometimes you wonder why the hell you’re doing it when you could be comfortable at home. You feel the rush of accomplishment when you’re done. And always you travel one pedal stroke at a time. Perhaps bicycling is a metaphor for nursing school and nursing school is a metaphor for life itself.