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Riding on determination (54 days till “The Ride”)

April 30, 2012

   So of all the places I would choose to have my worst fall to date, wouldn’t you know that it would be right outside my mother’s house? She was displeased to see that I had decided not to ride each time with the bubble wrap and knee and elbow pads, so taking the spill in front of her brought on a silent “I told you so” inside my mind in her voice.

   I decided to venture beyond my street because I wanted to get a feel for riding straight for more than a block. My driveway is the extension of my mother’s street, so I figured I’d head there to show that I am progressing and to grab a cup of coffee.
My neighborhood really should be called Johnsontown, with how many of us have resided there for more than two decades. Just north of the City of Buffalo, our section of the Town of Tonawanda is a quaint, 3-by-4-block area that is surrounded by the General Motors Powertrain Engine Plant. We often tease that it’s the area nobody wants: We have a Buffalo ZIP code, but our children go to Kenmore-Tonawanda schools. The neighborhood identity itself is somewhat confused, with a mix of single-family homes, boarding houses and corner bars – reminders of the area’s prosperity in a time when the GM plant necessitated such amenities.

   Now, it’s Johnsontown, but this is indicative of the neighborhood’s reputation of housing many generations of families. My mother was raised in the home adjacent to where she lives now, and when she returned to Buffalo with the family from Erie, Pa., in 1990, we lived in her childhood dwelling briefly until taking up residence next door. Now my teen home is the family comfort zone, where my parents live downstairs, a sister and nephew live upstairs and another sister and her clan of seven live across the street. Growing up in Erie until I was 14 was great, and saying goodbye to my sister-like best friend, Lori, was difficult, but both of my parents’ families were in Buffalo, and that’s what brought them back – and what keeps me here.

   As I pedaled toward Mom’s house, Billy and Patrick jogged alongside me, and I did great the nearly two blocks we traveled. My mother, two sisters, a niece and my great-nephew were on Mom’s porch, cheering me on as I approached. I braked without falling, which is something that doesn’t happen often, and everyone started to congratulate me for making it. That’s when I went down. Hard. After I braked, I tilted to the right to dismount the bike, but I misgauged how far my foot was from the ground and panicked when I didn’t hit pavement when I thought I should. My knee crashed against the curb, and at that moment, I felt that if the knee had a funny bone, I had just wacked it.

   After a few minutes, a couple of bandages and some coffee with Easter candy, I figured out what happened. Each time I rode in the past, I had on what I call my Army boots – large, black, Goth-like shoes with zippers, buckles and an inch heel. This time, I had on my sneakers, so without a heel, I incorrectly estimated when my foot would reach the ground. Who would have guessed that the cuter shoes probably would have saved me some pain?

   Break time was over, and I wasn’t ready to quit. Patrick and I headed to a nearby community center’s basketball courts because it is empty most Sundays, and I practiced turning. I don’t know why I have had such issues with this concept: Point the bike where you want it to go. It sounds simple, but then I have to also remember to pedal to keep my balance and to watch out for obstacles around me. One of those little speed bumps got me. As I rode around the court, I came across a small branch. With great concentration, I ran it over expertly, but I forgot to keep tabs on everything around me and found myself headed right toward the fence. Instead of turning to avoid the collision, I gave more of an “I give up” motion and grabbed the fence as the bike met it. Clinging onto the fence, I lifted my body up and let the bike drop underneath me.

    At least I didn’t hit the ground that time.

    I circled the court a few more times, and with each near miss I was more grateful that the community center’s staff had encased the poles of the basketball nets with bumpers. It was as if they knew I would be practicing there often.

   When we returned home, I was proud of myself for not giving up after my initial spill. A survey of my right leg turned up bruises and abrasions that made it appear as if I had been in a major fight, but I decided that the scabs and sores would not serve as deterrents, but as reminders that while I do have some work to do, I am slowly succeeding.

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