I think the last time I rode my bike for more than a mile was in high school...or maybe junior high. And even then, most of my "riding" was done in the cul-de-sac in which I lived. I run, I ride the stationary bike, but actually getting out on my bike and riding for long distances?...well, I just don't do that. I even got a new mountain bike for Christmas last year, but I only ride it on short, slow rides to the park (about 1/2 mile away).
Until last night.
John had this idea that it would be fun to take a bicycle tour of central phoenix, stopping at various restaurants and having drinks and appetizers at each one. "We wouldn't have to worry about a designated driver and we could exercise in between!" Amazingly enough, he was able to convince another couple to participate in his "creativity."
Our babysitter was available for five hours, and just as the sun was going down, we put on our coats, our gloves, and rode over to our friends' house to meet up with them. At first I was completely anxious. At every bump and curb I would hold my breath, and pray I didn't fall over. After the first few minutes my quads were already burning, and I started to wonder what in the heck we were doing. Seriously? four adults riding around town on bikes in the dark, with bike lights, restaurant-hopping?
At our friends' house, I raised my seat, buttoned up my coat, and off we went. We cycled through the neighborhood until we got to a paved road which borders a canal; our main thoroughfare throughout the night.
I spent most of the evening riding near the back of the caravan, positioned either third or fourth. I couldn't help but smile from ear to ear as I rode, watching my husband and friends pedal in front of me. I imagined John in junior high exploring the streets of Phoenix, finding himself and his independence. I watched my friend on her ten-year-old bike, a babyseat wobbling behind her, her long blonde hair streaming, and her feet pedaling twice as hard as the rest of us. Her bike switched its own gears, on its own free will. Her husband had a road bike, and had to purposely slow down to keep pace with the rest of us slowpokes. It all felt so silly, childish and free.
Our first stop was a Japanese restaurant. As we pulled up to the first parking space of the night (a lamp post) we giggled as we strung the lock through all four bikes and watched the "normal" adults drive up in their nice cars. We chose the tall bar stools at the counter and sat in a line, passing the edamame, rainbow roll, and unagi roll (eel) back and forth. The girls ordered wine, the boys, beer. In between bites we talked about family, wakeboarding, and early school experiences. We talked about moms, dads, brothers and sisters. Family structure, and the lack of it. Parental supervision, and the lack of it.
A few pedals more and we arrived at restaurant number two: a cozy den-like basement with stone walls and comfort food. We scored the cushioned seats near the fireplace and descended into conversations about books, TV shows, and movies. My friend just finished reading Bram Stoker's Dracula, and after listening to her summary, I decided to never read it. We talked about The Shack and how different people had such varying and emotional responses to the book. We talked about "Storage Wars," and "Pawn Stars," and decided that we need to have our own version of the show "Chopped" (a food competition).
After settling the bill, we headed back to our bikes for a longer ride, back in the direction of home. By now, I had met my own limit of two glasses of wine, and while no longer as anxious, I probably should have been! Thankfully my agile friend avoided my inadvertant attempt to crash into her.
As we cycled back through the canals we raced through the underpasses and along the water's edge. I could smell family dinners in ovens, and homeless men searching for places to sleep. I found myself standing up on my pedals as I cruised down the hills and back up the cement ramps. The wind was in my face, and my nose was cold. It felt amazing and free.
The third restaurant of the night was a too-brightly-lit sports bar. Huge posters for the "UFC" hung from the ceiling. Up until now, we had only eaten appetizers. Our growling stomachs' hope for dinner was dashed by the waitress's announcement that the kitchen had closed 45 minutes prior, "due to inactivity." The boys predicted doom for the establishment and ordered a beer. The girls ordered decaf with cream. Music, and concert attendence was the topic of discussion as Def Leppard and Aerosmith filled our ears and the speakers above us. We drank our coffee and beer, and quickly escaped out into the chilly night in search of food.
For less than a block, we pedaled our bicycles to the last stop of the night. We found a seat in an empty booth (they were all empty) and breathed a sigh of relief that dinner was still being served. As we finally filled our stomachs, our discussion tended toward religion, the Bible, and how God interacts with us in the world. We spoke of heartaches, unanswered prayers, family pain, and powerlessness. I was reminded of how much I have to be thankful for, and how important it is to let my loved ones know how much I appreciate them. Today.
We unlocked our bikes one last time and pedaled for home. It was almost midnight. It was hard to believe that six hours had passed so quickly. We arrived home an hour later than expected, paid the babysitter, and fell right to sleep.
Strangely enough, our bikes seemed to get us in touch with our silliness and childlike joy. It opened avenues of thought, scent, and memory which might otherwise have remained closed. Our midnight ride provided us a different lens with which to experience the city, the night, each other, and ourselves.
And, I didn't fall! Not even once.