Freedom is Where You Find it
Every day kind of bled into the other, at least in the beginning. The midnight sun made it hard to tell what time it was unless you had a phone or a watch. I had no use for either at eleven years old, especially since I found it hard to find a reason to leave the house. You see, I had spent most of my childhood up until this point living in downtown Washington, D.C., and I was used to the soundtrack of the city. Busy and bustling people, hearing footsteps move around above, or sirens off in the distance. Here, in a little isolated town in Alaska, there was none of that. You could hear a car pass on the main road every once in a while, and maybe a car would pass the house but that was it. I had never known such silence, nor had I been so close to nature before and I was quite intimidated by it. Naturally I tried to just stay inside and watch television all day, but I could only get away with that for so long before boredom took over. I also got tired of watching only what my grandmother wanted to watch; Fox News and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman could only hold my attention for so long. My mother was also urging me to go outside. Eventually it wasn't a suggestion anymore, and I no longer had a choice in the matter.
Being forced to do something isn’t nearly as exciting as doing the thing without direction, so in spite of my mother I simply sat outside. The only thing to sit on outside was a crusty old camping chair that had been in the same spot for so long the concrete had changed color underneath it. The material was crunchy and bleached from sitting in direct sunlight for what looked like years and it felt scratchy and rough against my skin. But there I sat.
As I sat there, the neighbor's wife pulled into her driveway across the street. I personally found the neighbors an odd couple and nothing like the busy people I knew back in the city. In fact, Patsy still drove her 1995 Red Subaru, as she refused to drive anything else. Her husband, One-Eyed-Jack, was the kind of man that knew a little bit of everything, and was a decent mechanic and handyman. He always had two or three 1995 Subarus in the yard, just in case Patsy's ever needed a spare part. She must have noticed me in my silent sit as she waved at me when she got out of the car. I offered a smile back, to which she yelled across the street, “What are you doin’ just sitting there?”
I looked at her, and said, “Mom said I have to spend more time outside, so I’m sitting outside.”
“Well, you got anything to do?” Patsy asked.
I shook my head and looked at her. She told me to wait at the end of her driveway, that she would be right back with something for me. She’d piqued my interest. As I walked over and waited I wondered what she could possibly be getting. My childlike curiosity was very much spinning around in circles hoping this would be the one time someone hands me a Nintendo for free, but no, she came back with a bike. It was one of those trick bikes with no brake on it so you had to put your feet down to stop. The black and red paint on it was chipping off and one tire desperately needed some air, but she said that I could have it if I thought I would use it. I graciously accepted, even though it wasn’t a Nintendo. She walked it over to her husband's air compressor, a very natural and convenient thing for one to just have, and filled the tire with air for me. She smiled at me and sent me on my way. I was free to repaint it if I wanted, and I didn’t want to ride it until I did. After a fresh coat of red and black paint, it looked brand new. If you could look past the tired rubber handles and the little bit of rust on the gears, it was actually not a bad lookin’ bike. It finally gave me a mode of transportation, something I’d never once owned before. Not like this.
Once the paint job was finished, and I’d gotten Mom’s blessing, it was time to take it on its first real ride. I figured I’d just take it down the road and back a couple times, nothing too crazy. I cautiously set out. I was really worried about a car coming up behind me even though by that point I knew when and who would be coming down that road. It’s not like it was ever busy. I was keeping my eye out for any signs of a person, too. God forbid I’d fall and there’s someone around to see it. How embarrassing would that be? I also was still trying to keep as much dust from the dirt road off the new paint job as much as possible; I wanted it to look nice. As I was making my turn at the end of the street to go back I noticed a little creek that I hadn’t noticed before. I thought to myself, “I should take a walk down there and explore around it one of these days.”
I took to my second lap just as cautiously as I had my first one. Taking occasional looks over my shoulder, just in case.
On my third lap, I decided that this time I’ll stop by the creek, but not for long, I just wanted to take a look. As I was riding along, it struck me that I had absolutely no reason not to take my time. Whose time was I on anyways? I had nowhere to be at any certain point. In addition, no cars would be coming through anytime soon, and I had seen no signs of human life along the road thus far. Did I really have to be so terribly cautious? With that thought in mind, I slammed the balls of my feet into the pedals and leaned as far forward as I could without falling off to gain momentum. The air wooshed past my ears, and my eyes started to water just a bit. I did this until I couldn’t take it anymore, and needed the oxygen to return to my lungs. As I coasted, letting the dirt and gravel road erupt into dust behind me, I turned my face upwards to the sky. I allowed the warm sun to kiss my face as I inhaled the clean air for the first time. The wind was still pushing me forward with ease, almost like a baby in a tram, and I was beginning to like the silence, and learning the beauty in isolation.
I let the bike coast almost down to the end of the road. As I brought my gaze down back to the earth I suddenly remembered the creek. The sun glistened water was undoubtedly inviting, offering a new adventure, but I had no intention of getting off my bike now. I’d thoroughly enjoyed the newfound sense of freedom and delight, and I did the same thing on the way back, and three more times after. Until my knees felt like they were about to buckle, my legs felt fragile, and my ankles were screaming for relief. I slept for what felt like the first time that night and was eager to get through the soreness that comes with riding a bike, especially as hard as I was.
I still search for that feeling I got on that first ride that summer. I always loved the places my bike could take me, and was excited about the things I could find in those places. It was, in my opinion, the best way to learn what a sense of freedom really was. In the story "Sister Flowers," Maya Angelou writes, “The essence escapes but its aura remains” and I do believe I carry that aura with me even now. I had many more adventures with my bike, but I always made a point of going for a ride when it was nice out, when the sun was shining and there was a warm breeze.