It’s a Sign

Celebrating the new "No Turn on Red" sign where I was struck because of an inattentive turn on red.
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Have you ever wished for a sign?

Me, too. And I got one!

A “No Turn on Red Sign” has been installed at the intersection where I was hit by an inattentive driver.

It is hard to explain how happy it makes me to see this sign. It feels like a big love letter just for me from Arlington County.

I am so grateful for the biking and bike advocacy community in Arlington and the DC area who I have gotten to know better in these last few months. The folks at WABA & BikeArlington are doing great work and offer many helpful resources.

I am especially grateful to Gillian Burgess of Kidical Mass Arlington and everyone else at the Arlington County Bicycle Advisory Committee who drafted and submitted a letter to the county manager requesting the “No Turn on Red” sign at this intersection. They specifically cited my being struck as an example for the need for the sign.

It is nice to know that sharing my story has helped improve a little corner of my community.

After the Crash

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I have delayed writing this post with an update after the crash. I was hoping that I would have a triumphant post with a photo of me on my bike.

When I sat in the middle of the road that morning in October still in disbelief that I had actually been hit, I could not imagine that I would not be back to my regular routine more than 2 months later. This is partly because I was in shock and partly because I was in denial.

Something that sticks in my mind that my physician said as I hobbled out of her office a few days after the crash, “She has a great attitude.” That sounds really positive. But what I have found that in our healthcare system, a good attitude coupled with high pain tolerance and low levels of complaining will get you a lot of medical delays.

As a person who tended to avoid allopathic treatments, I had always assumed that these practitioners would be chomping at the bit to conduct a battery of tests and expose me to every kind of radiation and imaging possible.

As it turns out, they seemed to be reluctant to conduct further testing despite my continued pain. Every time I was in the presence of a health care practitioner, I asked the question, would it be a good idea to get some more imaging? Perhaps to look at soft tissue injury?

It took 6 weeks of appointments, phone calls & physical therapy sessions for the health care practitioners to begin to consider what I had intuited all along, there is something more going on than just bruises and strained muscles. Though, there were plenty of those, as well.

Maybe they were trying to save me money? Maybe they really thought it was just bruised bones & muscles? It is hard to say exactly why they were not inclined to order an MRI until time showed that my pain persisted.

On Christmas eve, I spent 5 hours getting my MRI sandwich. MRI followed by Arthrogram of my hip and then another MRI. It was not a pleasant way to spend the day but you know me and my good attitude, I figured I should appreciate it especially if it resulted in a definitive answer. Something clear. Something fixable.

As it turns out, I did get an answer. I have been walking around with a fractured sacrum for all these weeks. Geez, no wonder it hurts so much.

It looks like it could be quite sometime before I am back out on the bike.

I am sad to have had the way of life that I had finally embraced taken away from me against my will.

I am tired from so many appointments at different doctors offices. But, I am grateful that I have access to high quality health care even if its processes and my healing both move at a slower pace than I like.

Seattle to San Francisco 1987

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Holding up the map of our 1200 mile journey at the edge of the Golden Gate Bridge.

This post is #2 in the series – My History with Bicycles

With my first tour under my belt & my new-found focus and success in school, for the summer of 1987, I requested Rome to Paris Cycling again .

Denied.

So, I opted for Seattle to San Francisco Cycling.

The program was a 6-week tour. We rode 1200 miles in those six weeks. We spent our first few days on the San Juan Islands getting to know each other & practicing riding as a group. We also did a ropes course, went on a white water rafting trip,  &spent our last few days in San Francisco.

The first trip taught me about the nuts and bolts of how to tour by bicycle and live in a group on the road. The Seattle to San Francisco trip introduced me to a whole new world – the Pacific Northwest. A landscape and a place that became the stuff of my “escape where I am from” dreams.

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The Oregon Coast

As a teenager, I was pretty sure I was living within the 7 circles of hell (one of them being the beltway). Later on in my life, I did manage to gather escape velocity and I moved to Oregon via bicycle. Not a coincidence.

These trips shaped my life in so many ways. Having been an educator, myself, I know that it is easy to wonder whether the kids are getting anything from your efforts. Some age groups are more gifted at inspiring these kinds of doubts in well-meaning teacher types.

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The Redwoods

I want all of the leaders of these bike trips to know that I was affected deeply by these journeys and your efforts to get me to connect to the land, to appreciate a different pace of travel, to teach me about bike mechanics & camping skills,to learn about finding ways to express myself with more virtuosity – they all worked on me & set the course of the trajectory of so many of my life choices (the best of them).

So, how do I remember all of this stuff? Mostly, because I wrote a lot of it down. I have been an avid journal keeper since I was 14. I have shelves and shelves of notebooks filled with the messy record of my thoughts, miles traveled, sights seen, boys loved and recounts of my dreams( both the ones during sleep & aspirational ones).

My basic format for bike trip journals became writing about how many miles we rode, descriptions of the terrain and what we ate. When you expend the energy required to move a full loaded touring bike, food is on your mind A LOT.

The more 15-year-old aspect of my journal writing was a disappointing focus on boys. The one from home, wondering if he would write, did he miss me? did I miss him? And then slowly the focus shifting into the present moment. As in, the boys on the trip.

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Early Morning Riding Team

So as it turns out, from Seattle to San Francisco, I got to be someone’s first girlfriend. It was a sweet romance of racing our bikes on the coastal highways, peering in the tidal pools of the Oregon Coast & running in the sand, hanging out in cheesy seaside resort towns, getting our ears pierced & being a part of a temporary tribe of bikers that lovely summer.

A poignant memory recorded in my journal was when we rode over the hill and could see the golden gate bridge. It was overwhelming, I remembered I cried from a mix of excitement and sadness of knowing that this new world of the bike trip life was coming to a close.

This trip solidified some values that I still hold, it is important to communicate clearly within groups that we call our community, nature is something to be cherished, appreciated and is worth fighting for. This is true about people,too. That biking makes me feel happy, powerful and free.

A slightly more serious version of me biking down the west coast - summer 1987.

Now I seem to be a “serious” cyclist – summer 1987.

I hope to be getting back to it soon. My 15-year-old self wants you to know that I am sighing deeply with the pain of not being able to get on my bike but, I am feeling warmed by the memories of my sweet biking days.

My History with Bicycles

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This is the first post in a series.

It all started when I was 14. One day, my mom handed me a catalog of adventure travel for teens and told me to have a look and see if I was interested in any of the trips.

Given the poor choices I had made that school year, I was surprised she was making such an offer. Perhaps, she was looking for a little break from my eye rolling and heavy sighing. Whatever her motivation and whether or not she knew it at the time, her choice to show me that catalog led to an experience that l believe saved my life.

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I browsed through the catalog. Most of the trips included traveling in a van with other teens and participating in activities like kayaking, backpacking, rock-climbing, minstrel theater…and then something caught my eye.

“ROME TO PARIS CYCLING”

Ooh. la. la.

“This one, Mom!”

“No.”

A little disappointed, but not surprised by her response,I accepted her suggestion to choose something closer to home. I thumbed through the catalog again and found a 4-week cycling trip from Vermont to Connecticut.

She signed me up.

The trip was a self-supported cycling tour, which meant no support van and all the gear had to be carried in panniers on our bicycles.

To prepare for this wholly new experience, our next stop was Metropolis Bikes in DC where we picked out my Nishiki, a sturdy touring bike ready to carry the 40 pounds of gear I would strap to front and rear racks.

I arrived at the airport in Burlington,Vermont to meet with the group which included kids from all over the US. The group consisted of  nine 14-year olds and two counselors in their mid-twenties. We made fast friends. The photo below is my favorite because we look so happy. It was the message of the sign that brought us so much joy after a long climb.

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We rode from Grand Isle, Vermont to Hartford, Connecticut.We averaged around 30 miles/ day zigzagging across New England. We saw the New England country side from the seat of our bicycles.

We learned how to work together to move on the road safely and keep the group together. We learned how to set up our campsite and shop for and cook our meals on a camp stove. We learned how to change flat tires as they happened. It wasn’t always easy but it was exhilarating and we were in it together.

Saved my life? I know that sounds extreme. But, I really don’t think it is overstating the fact that my first bicycle tour woke me up in every way that I needed to be woken up.

Before the summer of 1986, I was that kid whose parents were called into to discuss how I wasn’t living up to my potential. I actually had a competition with the boy I sat next to in Ms. Bartlett’s freshman English class as to who could turn in the least amount of homework.

After cycling 700 miles carrying my own gear, I was energized and felt a sense of myself that I had lost somewhere in those years of hormone poisoning. I made the honor roll, ran cross-country and track and began to contemplate my life’s purpose.

It changed everything & I found a new love, bicycle travel. Between 1986-1999, I went on 8 self-supported bike trips totaling over 10,000 miles.

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The YUBBIES say goodbye-circa 1986

Unwelcome Answer to My Question

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At approximately 7:25 a.m. on Thursday, October 24th, I was struck by a car while riding my bicycle. It was after daybreak, it was light out. I was riding in a bike lane with traffic on Fairfax Drive crossing a side street ( Wakefield St.) and preparing to enter the sidewalk to connect to a multi-use trail.

I was wearing my usual gear- my bright, yellow and reflective safety vest over my bright fuchsia rain jacket. My lights were on, I have reflectors and reflective tape in all the right places. The light was green for me. I obeyed all traffic signals, stayed to the right within the lane, scanned the intersection to make eye contact with any persons in stopped vehicles.

Despite all of my efforts to be predictable, alert, lawful and highly visible; the accident came down to a disturbing and unwanted answer to the question from the blog post I wrote 24 hours prior to being hit, entitled “Can you see me now?”.

The answer came directly from the driver of the car that struck me. She said to me, ” I was only looking for cars. I didn’t see you. I wasn’t looking for bicycles.”

Another answer to my question came to me while waiting for X-Ray results in the hospital bed in the ER:

A person cannot see what they are not looking for. If you do not believe you are going to encounter something, you will not see it.

So, this left me wondering what was missing from the equation. I had done everything right and still I was hit. I was being a PAL ( Predictable, Alert, Lawful) but the driver was not.

The driver was turning right on red from the side street and because she was only looking for an opening in the car traffic, she did not see me in my ridiculously bright clothing as I crossed the intersection ( no “A” for alert).

As she hit me, her car was going too fast to have been stopped behind the crosswalk and I did not see her car when I initially scanned the intersection. This leads me to believe that she had NOT come to complete stop before proceeding to turn right on red. ( no “P” for predictable or “L” for lawful. )

How do we demand that people pay attention? Especially in a world where people are traveling through the environment more and more distracted. I am not sure.

How do we raise awareness about how important it is to look for EVERYONE, especially pedestrians and cyclists, when driving?

I imagine the woman who hit me with her car will look out for cyclists for the rest of her life. Probably everyone who knows me or has heard my story has had their awareness of bicycles on the road raised to a new level. Maybe this is part of the “something good” that can come out of me being hit by a car. Although, I don’t think this kind of accident martyrdom is a sustainable model for raising awareness.

I certainly can’t recommend the experience of getting hit by a car. It really sucks ( a lot more than riding without incident on a cold, dark rainy morning).

I am grateful that I wasn’t killed or that my injuries aren’t more severe. But I can’t say I feel lucky. I am in pain and dealing with the shock and trauma of being hit by a car.

I will get back on my bike ( assuming it is ride-able). I might hesitate at first to go that particular route again. Although, it is a heavily traveled pathway for cyclists and pedestrians. Perhaps, Wakefield Street would be a good candidate for one of those “No Right Turn on Red” signs.

Can you see me now?

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I was on the road this morning at 5:45 a.m. It was cold, dark and rainy. As I heard the approaching car from behind me, I repeated my breathy  mantra while pumping up Wilson Blvd, ” Please see me, please see me”.

On days like this, the escape velocity to get out of the orbit of my warm bed inside my warm house is off the charts and feels nearly impossible.

Against all odds, I made it out and you know what? It sucked. Just a little but then once I made it to the gym,  I felt proud. It wasn’t really as bad as I thought it would be.

The irony of biking to a spin class is often hard for me to overcome but is it really any less ironic to drive a short distance to exercise at a gym?

Thankfully, the rain stopped while I was inside the darkened cycling studio that feels like a  post apocalyptic training center for those who are to compete in some kind of stationary TRON-like sporting event. Don’t get me wrong, I love these classes. Perhaps that is obvious to you based on what I am willing to do to attend one.

As I suited back up for the outside world, I put on all my reflective, hideously bright gear, turned on my lights and headed out for the trail. Back on the multi-use trail, I often notice or rather my vision is accosted by something.

Some people have insanely bright lights. Too bright. And they have them flashing. The rear light flashing, I get that. I do that. But why do they insist on turning my ride into a potentially seizure inducing, blinding rave from hell?

More is not always better. I know that you want to be seen and be able to see. Good idea! But if the other cyclists are blinded and the drivers annoyed, you may actually be more dangerous than the ninjas who like to go without lights and wear dark colors.

Virginia law requires that you have one headlamp that is visible at 500 ft. I am actually not sure how bright that needs to be. I intend to get scientific about it and investigate. Does anyone know if those cute little lights Bike Arlington & other organizations give out meet this requirement? I hope so because I love those lights!

I am fairly certain that the lights I have seen far exceed that requirement. I could be wrong.

But I stand firm in my assertion that a blinking front light is a terrible idea.

My final plea to my bright-lighted cycling compadres… Please consider the eyes of those that you will cross paths with and point those lights towards the ground and make them steady.

An Audible Warning

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Multi-use trails, a respite from the hectic traffic that the DC area is known for, right?

If you have ever set foot, bike tire or hoof on the W & OD trail on  sunny  Saturday morning, you might know that the experience can be quite the opposite.

It is great that so  many people use the trail for bike commuting, running, walking, rollerblading , horseback riding, standing still in large groups to have conversations and confused looks when angry cyclists swerve around them at dangerous speeds.

The issue is that with so many different uses & high traffic there are countless opportunities for accidents, frustrations and weird interactions.

So there are these cute little signs that have a list of rules and recommendations for trail use. They are in fairly small print and lengthy to boot.

I am a rule following type so I actually have stopped and read the rules ( more than once). It is pretty unrealistic that the entire population would have this same tendency and really unlikely that those who do read rules interpret them the same way.

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http://www.nvrpa.org/park/w_od_railroad/content/rules

http://www.wodfriends.org/trail.html

One of the rules posted on signs along the trail is to give “an audible warning when passing on the trail”.

I think this is a good rule.

Nothing like being snuck up on by a person on a $5,000 bicycle outfitted in $500 worth of clothing to scare you into to doing something stupid like swerve right into them or off the trail.

Is it really such a bother to say ” passing on the left”?. I know you may not want to weigh down your carbon fiber masterpiece on wheels but bells work great.

If you are pedestrian using a multi-use trail, I have one piece of advice, expect bikes to pass you. They might be of the silent ninja variety or over-eager bell ringers, or vocal  ” on your left” types.  But there are bicycles on these trails, my friend.

I am a bell-ringer, myself and I am always amazed by how many pedestrians look  shocked when I sound my bell.

There are times when I have a choice between to different bike-able routes to a destination. The question I ask myself is – Do I want to deal with the bike and pedestrian traffic on the trails or the car traffic in the bike lanes?

It might seem like an obvious choice given the potential for serious injury with cars. But I often choose the bike lane to deal with the cars ( when I am not pulling  my daughter in the trailer) because of the stress I feel with dealing with the complex soup of passing pedestrians who are passing other pedestrians and sharing the trail with cyclists that are unpredictable due to the variation of rule following styles.

I have had some terrifying near misses that have mostly to do with people moving too fast or pretending like they will have the whole trail to themselves as they travel through blind curves.

There was a recent accident between a runner & cyclist.

http://fallschurchtimes.com/41477/jogger-and-cyclist-suffer-life-threatening-injuries-in-trail-crash/

Bike Arlington ( a program aimed at increasing more biking in Arlington) has a cute acronym to remind everyone about how to travel through the environment with safety in mind.

Here is a link to their website:

http://www.bikearlington.com/pages/pal-safety-on-our-streets/

“Be a PAL” is their campaign. It stands for be Predictable, Alert and Lawful.

I like it because it short and to the point and applies to everyone, no matter their chosen form of transport on a given day . So many times lists of rules become overwhelming and the tendency for many of us is to ignore them.

So, be a PAL when you are passing someone on the trail and give an audible warning.

Stopping to read the rules AGAIN.

Am I addicted to the combustion engine?

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It is funny how much driving I do for someone who does not own a car.

I am just coming down off a stint of having access to a Ford Mustang followed by a short getaway weekend with a Hyundai Accent.  ( I mean in a Hyundai Accent.)

I am not sure if it is a product of the time and culture in which I grew up or the fact that my father is a “car boy”, but I have to admit something. I really love cars.

Now before you get your tie dye hemp shorts in a twist, I don’t mean that I wouldn’t rather drive some super clean futuristic zero emissions perfect car. I don’t think those exist, yet. But there is something beautiful about a well designed car, a powerful engine, steering that handles well and the connectedness of a manual transmission. Cue great music pumping out of the [insert the car of your dreams]. Isn’t it the quintessential American symbol of freedom and independence? Interesting.

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So, yeah, I think I might be addicted. When people ask me how the “car-free” thing is going, I sometimes have to feign excitement. Or if I am feeling particularly desperate, I give them puppy dog eyes and sigh. “It’s okay. Hard, sometimes.” Secretly hoping that they will say, ‘Can I park my car in your driveway while I am traveling? And be sure to drive my car as much as you want while I am gone.’ (This actually is how it went down with the Mustang.)

The more time without a car, the more okay I am with not having one. But once I sip a taste of that quick movement with minimal physical effort, I am hooked.

I liken it to my challenge with sugar consumption. The polite term is – I have a sweet tooth. A more accurate account would be that I am a strung out sugar junkie.  For example, I decided to give up sweets for 21 days or the month of September ( which ever came first). You can see that we are already dealing with the illogical mind of addiction. So on day 20, I had a concert at my house and prepared some desserts for my guests. I caved that night and enjoyed a taste of each of the two desserts. It was a huge accomplishment for me to get that far. And I haven’t totally binged out, but I have noticed an incremental creep of sugar back into my diet. Perhaps, I need to go to a SA ( sugaraholics anonymous) meeting.

Back to the question about car addiction.

I just dropped off the Hyundai with Zach at the car rental place. I felt a little twinge in my heart as I parked in the lot. Scanning my brain, is there anything else I need to do with a car before I let you go? Grocery store? Heavy items to buy?  The withdrawal symptoms set in  as I tightened the laces on my running shoes to run home.

A little panic followed by wondering when I might get another hit.

‘No car, today.’ I sigh to myself. There is no option to go the lazy route and skip biking my kid to her dance class. No leisurely drives to run errands I could totally do on my bike. Or longer trips that I definitely couldn’t do on my bike now out of reach. Back to local living.

Look, I want to be the bike mom hero. I totally do. Going cold turkey again today. Deep breath… I am thinking maybe I should start a chapter of CA ( car-aholics anonymous).

Yelling and Yielding

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Sharing the road isn’t always easy.

On occasion while riding my bicycle,  I am yelled at by a person driving by in a passing car who seem to be angry at my mere presence. I have been told to “get on the sidewalk!” or “get off the road” and it made me so mad that I wanted to spit. I yell back with all my asthmatic might, ” I am a vehicle, this where I belong.”

I like to be informative.

It is true, though. Bicycles are considered vehicles on the road.  And yes, people riding on bicycles are expected to follow the same laws of the road as those traveling in motorized vehicles. I know, I know, a lot of cyclists don’t. It is maddening and I curse under my breath every time I see a cyclist blow through a red light.

On the other side of it, adults on bicycles have no business riding on sidewalks. The thing is lots of people do not know this either. And faced with being on the road with cars going 10 mph over the posted speed limit, I understand why folks make this choice.

When I have followed all the rules, planned my actions carefully and someone decides to slow down in the middle of an intersection, risk the lives of everyone around, to express their displeasure with my existence on the road, I feel defeated.

I wonder if this person assumes that all people on bicycles are riding for fun. For many cyclists on the road, their bicycle is their only vehicle.

I think it would help if we all do a couple of things.

1) Remember that inside the vehicles are human beings. You know, people, just like the ones you know and love.

This is a daily exercise for me and I often fail miserably.The road is such a tangle of movements and decisions by so many players, it is easy to witness someone doing something completely ridiculous or dangerous or just plain stupid and then react and comment.

So when I make commentary on other people’s driving, whether from the seat of a bicycle or behind the wheel of a sweet Mustang borrowed from an incredibly trusting friend, I try to remind myself to be kind and think of the person inside/ on the vehicle.

And then someone cuts me off and I am back to vocabulary like  “idiot” or “dumb-ass”.

I am a work in progress. As is the whole system.

2) Acceptance of what is.

Look, if cyclists are constantly annoying to you, I understand. But here is the thing, they are here to stay. In many places, like Arlington and DC, riding a bike makes sense on every level – economic, health, time, environment  So, it makes sense for us all to learn how to drive around cyclists and cycle around cars and pedestrians. As well as,  learn the rules/ laws and follow them.

Learning to get along with a little more yielding and a little less yelling matters. In fact it is a matter of life and death.

Lets think of it the 3 components like rock, paper, scissors.

car = rock

bike= scissors

pedestrian = paper

Except in this scenario paper never wins.

Car vs. Bike- Car wins

Car vs. Pedestrian- Car wins

Bike vs. Pedestrian- Bike wins ( seriously you can kill a person with your bike)

So pedestrians always lose in the collision department. They deserve extra care. Is it really so bad to wait for them when they have the right of way?

Some great resources for learning the laws and good habits on the road are:

http://www.bikearlington.com

http://www.waba.org

http://www.bikeleague.org

Learning to Ride a Bike

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On September 1st,  my daughter learned to ride her pedal bike ( as she calls it). Naturally, as parents, we are incredibly proud. She will be 4 in October.  This seems quite early to me and had I not seen other 3-year-olds riding two wheelers confidently, I would not have imagined it possible.

Balance Bike

We WERE aiming for an early start. Once we learned about the Skuut balance bike and saw a 2-year-old in action on one, the plan was in motion. We would start her on a balance bike and bypass training wheels.  In case you are unfamiliar, the balance bike is wooden and has no pedals. The movement is Flintstone style.  Once a kid gets the hang of it, they can push-off, lift their feet and glide down small inclines. Or go flying down big hills – mountain biking style – if their father happens to be my husband.

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I am another story, I didn’t learn until I was 10 years old. And based on that sentence alone, you can probably tell I felt that  I was “over-the-hill”. From my perspective as a kid, EVERYONE else had learned how to ride a bike without training wheels WAY before I had.

Perhaps, it was because I was a generally fearful kid who hated being embarrassed and was reluctant to ask for help. Or maybe it was my love affair with riding my Big Wheel. Much to the chagrin of those adults who might have had a little too much fun on Friday nights, my friends and I would ride the network of concrete sidewalks in Fairlington early on Saturday mornings. We would get out our plastic low-riding machines and make those hollow plastic wheels rip up a gravely sound as we raced each other. It was the coolest and I did not readily give up the experience.  When my knees started hitting my elbows as I rode, I should have probably taken the hint that it was time to move on.

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But NO, I had to wait for an awkward and embarrassing situation to get a clue. It was the day that Clayton traded up to a bike with a banana seat and when he offered to let me try it, I looked up from the comfortable plastic seat of my Big Wheel and said, ” No, I am okay. Oh, I know how to ride a bike, I just don’t feel like it.” Yeah, that taste of humble pie was my motivation.

 It was an eight year old boy named Ralph Ford who taught me to ride a bike. I have NO idea why Ralph took it upon himself to teach me to ride a bicycle. Maybe I begged him to teach me. I do remember that he was patient and kind and effective. I am forever grateful to him. After all, a great many wonderful adventures followed for me because I learned to ride a bike.

So, I am curious. How old were you when you learned to ride a bicycle?