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Amy Learns How To Ride A Bike: Chapter 1

In 1997, a young and happy Amy Mahon was riding her bike along Bayview Drive in Fort Lauderdale, FL, as she had done many times with a slightly older friend. She remembers passing the pink condo and the yellow condo. She loved the particular shade and hue of the yellow condo. She headed north to Commercial Boulevard, where she turned right and headed east, past that German restaurant with the really cool facade that hosts the annual Oktoberfest in Oakland Park. Past the Benihanas. Over the bridge and through strip malls to Lauderdale-by-the-Sea she goes. Has fun. Returns to the mainland. That's when trouble happens.

I had struggled with the downward slope the first time my friend and I went over the bridge, and I remember being anxious about it. When we crossed over it again I remember getting past the apex and thinking "this isn't so bad" until I started gaining speed, lost control of my bike, hit the bottom of the bridge too hard and flipped off my bike and into the middle of a street so small that there weren't any painted lines. At that exact moment, a car was turning right from Commercial Blvd. Thankfully, they saw me in time, and swerved to the left. I didn't have time to think about my injuries when I saw the bumper of the car coming at me, so I got up immediately, grabbed my bike, and moved out of the way to the right. Within moments I began to feel what had happened after my friend asked me if I was okay. We went into a salon in one of the strip malls and politely asked if they had any hydrogen peroxide. The reaction I got was as if I was one of their daughters. I must have looked awful, because three of them got up and rushed to help me. One stayed with me in the bathroom as I cleaned my wounds and kept finding them. I was surprised by how nasty they were. But to be honest, it could have been a lot worse. I could have broken a bone or been struck by a car. Instead, what happened was that the scrapes on my arms and legs became infected, I couldn't walk or bend my arms, and I was on antibiotics for several days (only after several days because I thought I had cleaned them enough, but within a few days they were covered in green goo and smelled; I was also in a considerable amount of pain). (Also, if you're curious, I don't know what it smelled like. Others told me they smelled. It was really difficult to shower and my bandages kept getting wet. I remember that. I remember the stinging pain, but I don't recall noticing a smell. Again, thankfully this skin infection didn't go deep. I also have minimal scars that you can see if you look closely, but a year and a half later I got chicken pox and spent the next 10 years or so religiously applying moisturizer to my body. I was not about to have scars. Anyhoo.)

After that, my neighbor and I didn't ride bikes for awhile because I didn't want to. I mean, I also physically couldn't because I had a crust of infection over my joints and the skin was stiff for almost 3 weeks after the incident. I couldn't wear pants to school because it hurt my skin that badly, and I had to wear short-sleeved shirts and blouses. (You'd think that's fine in Florida, but keep in mind that our buildings can sometimes be refrigerators and that "taking a step outside to thaw off" is a real thing.) And it wasn't something traumatic that I cried over or was emotional about, but I really just didn't want to get back on a bike.

Over time, however, that fear grew. Biking was something I actively avoided because of a bad experience, and that made it worse and worse. So even though it would have been amazing in college (and Elon, North Carolina would have been the most lovely place to bike through) and throughout my life, I have just not wanted to face it. Cars are convenient, after all. My excuse has always been this: in a car, I'm safe because I have doors around me. On a bike, there is nothing between me and external forces. In the battle of Amy versus car, car will always win. Car almost won against Amy. It's something I get very defensive about, because yes, I'd love to love to ride bikes, but you know...I can't get that image of that bumper out of my head. Who knows, probably pulling into Benihanas. But I saw it and the tires, and luck was on my side because they had just enough time to drive around me. Didn't stop to ask if I was fine, but I am at least grateful that they didn't hit me.

Recently, as in, like, Wednesday (it's Friday) I finally put 2 and 2 together when it came to some of my goals and then had a marvelous realization. Last week I was with my friend at a park taking his portraits when he pointed out the bike trail among the amenities it offered, and that we should be careful not to be on their path. And I thought to myself, "Oh, that's a good idea! I can learn how to ride a bike in a park! Of course! Why didn't I think of that? This way I can go at my own pace, get out of the way, not worry about cars, and hey, that sounds cool to bike on hills." (Before you begin to wonder if I traveled out-of-state, no, we have a few "Mount Trashmores" in South Florida.) BUT, the reason why I don't go to parks with my bike is simply because I don't have one. And I know a bike doesn't fit in my car because I used to give my friend rides in the winter from work in Virginia, and we drove through Norfolk very carefully and anxiously with her bike hanging out of the back of my trunk. I do not own a bike rack. And like hell am I learning how to ride a bike in my neighborhood...people who drive luxury vehicles are assholes, and, again, I don't do bikes and roads.

Buckle up, kids, we're about to hear what excited Amy this week. (I know you've been waiting for it.)


So, I live behind a state park. (Birch State Park, baby, home of every Fort Lauderdale kid's first group camping trip.) It's now open for kayak rentals. So I was like, "YUSSSS, time to go rent a kayak" when - *gasp* WAIT WAIT DID I JUST SEE WHAT I SAW - I saw that you can rent a bike.

I feel like I knew that before, but I knew it in that moment. You see, folks, this month I am tackling 3 things I have carried since childhood that I'd like resolved. And even though I was a teenager when that bike incident happened, it still affected me.

The state park doesn't allow bikes on any of the trails, but there is a bike path that shares the road with cars. The road only goes in one direction. I've driven it several times, and it's plenty wide. The speed limit is very low, and people driving through there know to look out for the people using it. Not a lot of traffic, either. For someone learning how to ride a bike again, it's perfect. I don't have to invest in a bike or helmet yet, and I can go in the mornings or other times when the park isn't busy. I can go kayaking afterwards if I want to. Or use the access path to walk to the beach. Oh, yeah, I did buy a state parks pass. I am on this.

Next week, weather permitting, it's on. I'm going to the park, I'm renting a bike, and I'm going to relearn how a bike ride.