Physically limited by Polio, Margaret Frey first picked up a bicycle at age 12.
Bill Moore in Anguilla.
Marianne Schwartz rides on Stonesifer Road, just a short distance from her home in Taneytown, Md.
More Trail Tales
For the Spring/Summer 2011 issue of Rails to Trails, we asked our readers: What did you love most about cycling when you were a kid? We received the most responses yet for a Trail Tales question, so enjoy the wonderful essays below!
Margaret M. Frey of Sun City, Ariz., writes:
I dreamed of riding a bicycle as a child, but physical limitations from polio held me back. My brothers and sisters zoomed around on bikes, yet I could only watch.
For a family of 14, our two to three bicycles were in high demand. However, one day I did pick up an old Schwinn that lay on its side. At 12 years old, I began my pursuit to ride. In those days, there was no such thing as adjusting seat height—and it was high. I wore a brace on my weakened right leg, so the effort would come from my left side. I found a high spot in the
yard which became my take-off point. The slight downhill grade proved helpful. I practiced and fell, got on again and fell. Day after day, I attempted to sail through the streets as others did. Then it happened! I was up! I stayed up!
At 20 years old, my first paycheck bought me a new Schwinn 10-speed. At 40, a Trek was my dream bike. At 60, I received a retirement gift of a Gary Fisher comfort bicycle and all the gear. My husband and I travel and camp. We have ridden many roads and trails throughout the Western states. The rail-trail movement has provided us grand opportunities for sharing and solitude.
We now live in Sun City, where bicycling is a means of transportation. We eliminated one car. My endurance for walking has decreased (a fold-up cane fits nicely on a bike), but my passion
for cycling still grows. For that I am thankful.
Bill Moore of Brooklyn, N.Y., writes:
It looks strangely dark, and a glance up into the surrounding hills reveals the peaks shrouded in clouds. The bright start to today is disappearing rapidly. At the foot of the rise, a line is drawn straight across the road. This side dry, that side wet. As I begin the climb, I ride into a curtain of rain; as I ascend, the downpour increases; soon water is cascading off my helmet and begins soaking slowly into my padded pants.
Traversing the bridge at the top of the grade, I glance briefly at the roaring stream and begin to descend. The slick road and my 200cc tires do not inspire confidence. The water seems to be running faster than my churning wheels. Roaring down the other side, I become aware of a stream of water crossing the road at the bottom of the hill.
In an instant, I flash back more than 50 years years to England, when I'm taking an autumn ride with my father on my newly acquired, all spare parts bike. We came to a steep descent, deep within country hedgerows grown thick by summer. My father sped ahead as I clung onto my careening bike, when to my horror I noticed a green and slimy stream crossing the road at the foot of the hill. In my panic, I wasn't able to do anything other than roar through it with a splash, screaming to my father's delight. Well, what worked then should work now. Speed can conquer all.
Marianne Schwartz of Taneytown, Md., writes:
I loved the fact that my 26-inch, blue Huffy coaster bike, complete with a nifty headlight and basket, was my reliable mode of transport when I was a kid. From the time I got my bike as a gift for my First Communion in May 1963, I was a free spirit who could eventually pump up the steepest hills in my northern Kentucky neighborhood, and come sailing back down those same hills as free as a bird.
When my mom let go of my seat as I was learning to balance on my new bike on Youngs Court, I knew then I could come and go like the grown-ups did with their cars. Maybe I couldn't go as fast, but I could get where I needed to go under my own steam. My bike opened up the world to me. I would go for hours riding up and down every street in the neighborhood and beyond with my friends. I learned how to pump up my bike tires using the gas station tire pump. Often, I would pack a lunch so I wouldn't have to interrupt my ride, with just a short stop at Woolworth's for my candy! Riding my bike as a kid taught me to be independent, responsible and sociable. But I think what I loved most about cycling was that I had fun.
Lyn Schlegel of Ft. Wayne, Ind., writes:
I was 4 years old when my dad bought me a 13-inch-wheel Schwinn bicycle. I rode for hours on the streets of Denver, Pa. As I got older, my parents trusted me to run errands and ride through the woods to go swimming. After school, my bike was always there eagerly waiting for me. On Saturday afternoons, when my dad rode with me, we journeyed six miles through the beautiful Pennsylvania Dutch country to see a movie. This bike was my first love affair until I was 9 years old, when I outgrew it and purchased a 26-inch-wheel Schwinn coaster brake bike.
I soon knew every loose dog, every shortcut to a patch of grass for softball or football games, and where every basketball rim was hung in town. I began to explore the roads around Lancaster County. In the summer I would ride my bike eight miles to a golf course to caddie, or ride to an Amish farm to pick potatoes or tomatoes.
Seventy-two years after I began riding a bike, it is no longer a toy but an exercise machine. I still like to feel the win in my face and the exertion that makes my heart beat faster. Climbing on it for a spin makes my day better. My wife doesn't understand my love for biking, which ranges from moderate affection to obsession. But she remains supportive, for she knows I'm much easier to get along with if I complete a daily ride.
Carol Thompson of Greensboro, N.C., writes:
A bicycle became part of my life Christmas 1956. That Christmas morning, my brother and I descended the stairs expecting to find the usual clothes, fruit, nuts and candy—nice but no great surprise. But that morning I was surprised, astonished, speechless. There, front and center before the tree, was a bright, shiny red bicycle. White grips gleamed on the ends of the chrome handlebars. Red, white and blue streamers flared from the ends. I pictured them flowing in the wind. My dad had bought a bicycle just for me.
Presents, especially big ones, were few and far between in our family. My parents were practical, hard-working people, and they expected the same from their offspring. I had chores every day outside and inside, so free time was precious, and the bicycle made it even more so. Finish the chores and I could ride the bike. We lived far from the congestion of a city, so the two-lane country byways were fairly free of cars. Pickup trucks and tractors were the staples of transportation. So, having done my chores, I was free to pack some food and drink in my dad's old army pack and pedal away on the curvy country roads. Mind you, my bike had no gears. I would ride until the sun was nearly set, happy as a bird released from its cage.
Today I ride a Raleigh M-50 and love it. I still feel that exhilaration and freedom when I ride the rail-trails of North Carolina and Virginia.
Elizabeth O'Connor of Chattanooga, Tenn., writes:
My early independence was rooted in two wheels. My first bike was hot pink with a sparkly banana seat and tassels dangling from the curved handlebars. I loved that bike, and most summer days I rode it to my friend Susan's house to swim. I rode it to elementary school except on slushy days of a New Jersey winter, and on the weekend I pedaled to the corner store to buy a giant marathon candy bar.
After moving to Florida in the 5th grade, I graduated to a blue single-speed, full-sized bike. I rode it to junior high, where I carefully locked it up. When we moved a few miles away from the public golf course, my friend Kim let me keep my golf clubs at her house. I had permission to ride over to Kim's house and play golf as long as I got home before dark.
My first epic bike ride, a harbinger of future metric centuries, was a five-mile ride when I was about 14 on bike paths and sidewalks from my house, past the airport, to my mother's friend's house. Five miles! I was proud of myself.
I cycled the bike paths in Melbourne, Fla., as far as they would take me, relishing the freedom and the adventure of seeing new places. Today, my bike paths are rail-trails, ridden with my husband Chris, building memories from our rides around the country, most recently the wonderful Silver Comet Trail in Georgia.
Tad Wente of Port Washington, Wis., writes:
On an August morning in 1969, at 13, a friend and I began our Door County bike adventure. I rode an English Phillips 3-speed, my first bike with handbrakes and gears. Vi had her old bike. We both carried precarious loads: bulky sleeping bags, frying pan, matches, flashlights, money, one canvas tarp and snacks. I shudder to recall parents waving goodbye to two girls embarking on a 200-mile bike trip in a pre-cell phone, pre-bike helmet era.
We reached Point Beach after a nice 50 miles and slept under the stars. Next? Peninsula State Park, Sturgeon Bay, another 50 miles. The wind was fierce. We pulled into an empty shed to wait. Traffic was bad, too. We rode Highway 42, dodging vehicles, pumping our heavy bikes onto the shoulder every few minutes. After dark, near the park, a car did run us off the road. The narrow shoulder gave way and we spilled down an embankment, a tangle of pedals and gears. My handlebar stuck me in the solar plexus and I lost my breath, unable even to cry.
Extracting flashlights from the mess, we reloaded. By 11 p.m. the park was closed, but an understanding ranger found us a campsite and we stayed for a week. We biked around the park and into town for groceries. We cooked canned food over the campfire. Raccoons ate our carefully transported breakfast eggs. It rained, too. Our sleeping bags caught on fire.
Still, the best thing was, we were on our own.
Denise Davenport of Morrice, Mich., writes:
My grandparents had a summer cottage on Mackinac Island, Mich. The island does not allow motorized vehicles, so you walked, biked or rode a horse. Visiting them was the highlight of my summers. Grandma and Grandpa had an assortment of bicycles available for their gaggle of grandkids to ride when they visited, and it was always a race to be the first one to grab the fine, three-speed bike for the day's adventures. The slower kids got "stuck" with the old, heavy, un-cool, single-speed bikes.
No matter where we planned to spend the day, it always started with the race down the big hill. Amazingly, there were very few accidents as we careened recklessly down the series of hills to see who would be the first to get downtown. We were free of adults (as they were happily free of kids), and we joyfully rode for hours exploring the island.
The first time riding all the way around the island (8 miles) was a milestone for each grandchild, and discovering the wooded trails inside the island and all the secret places they led to was always great fun. The greatest moment for each one of was the day we could ride a bike up all the hills that led back up to our grandparents' cottage, and if you did it on one of the heavy, "un-cool" bikes you earned the entire family's awe and respect as one of the greatest bike riders in the entire state of Michigan! Mackinac Island is still one of my favorite places to ride and enjoy the beauty of Michigan's wooded trails.
Elaine Dodge of Edgewater, Md., writes:
When I was 12 years old, I finally was allowed to have a two-wheeler, 3-speed English Schwinn, which was a dandy for the early '50s. Although the town where I lived was a small one, the bike gave me the freedom to explore beyond its limits. Now I could go for miles along country roads, visit friends who lived beyond walking distance, bike to the
reservoir in the summer for a swim, and best of all I was no longer dependent on my father for rides. Because he was a country doctor, he had little free time, and my mother didn't drive, so the bike meant liberation and began a lifelong love affair with cycling.
This same bike went with me to college, where I used it until it was stolen, but I quickly retrieved my brother's similar bike since he had long exchanged cycling for driving. After marriage and children, I used that same bike to commute to work in Colorado. Now in my retirement years, although I no longer have that Schwinn and have graduated to a 21-speed hybrid, my husband and I delight in exploring the rail-trail network all over the country. When we are not RVing with our bikes, we ride with a local senior bike club, which sponsors rides nine months of the year. When the weather is fine and the hills not too steep, I still enjoy the freedom that cycling gives me every time I ride.
Carol Isgro of Berea, Ohio, writes:
When my two sisters and I developed a strong urge to have a bicycle, our father, in his usual fashion of guiding us to be responsible on our mid-Ohio farm, gave us perameters. If we managed to save enough coins earned from polishing his shoes at a nickel apiece, picking strawberries and raspberries and selling them on the road at the end of the driveway at 50 cents a quart, and tucking away any other loose change we could accomplish from other chores like feeding the chickens, ducks, lambs, pigs, dogs and cats and cleaning up after them, seeding and weeding the vegetable garden, picking fruit from the apple and pear trees, and mowing the lawn with a hand-pushed cutter, then we could finally buy one bicycle to share.
Then came the BIG payback for the hard work! Ahh! I'm on my own—the bicycle is mine! My childhood was all about sharing everything that came in my life, including my mother's womb before birth with my twin. Getting out on the back rural roads was my opportunity to make my own decisions, to have silence, to savor the beauty of the countryside, and to reach for a goal I established and achieved.
Now, with my seventh decade coming up next year, the child within me continues to savor the freedom of existence on the self-propelled means of transportation within the beauty and silence of the natural world.