The word freedom is often loosely tossed about. We hear it on the news every night and we take it for granted as we go about our daily business. To a 12-year-old boy who's world is confined to his neighborhood the word freedom means very little, until that special day when he holds that first two-wheeled machine in his hands. That first real bicycle represents so much, it tells the boy that he is trusted, that he is encouraged to go see the world through his own eyes and come to his own conclusions. That first bicycle tells him that it is time for him to start making his own decisions...left, right, or just a little further. That first bicycle has the potential to teach him the meaning of the word freedom in a monumental way.
One of the most important days in my life...
I received my first bike that I considered a real bike when I was 12. This bike had ten gears, drop handlebars, and brake levers that offered braking in a couple of different hand positions. It was love at first sight. I remember staring at my Huffy Santa Fe, promising that I would always keep her clean and never treat her poorly. To me, it was the most important day of my life. I could now travel at faster speeds, cover more ground, and stretch my boundaries outside of my neighborhood. I didn't know where I'd go; I just knew I would go.
I took things slow at first, riding to baseball practice, cruising around my school, or just riding circles on the street while my best friend and I solved all of our problems. It wasn't long before I discovered the phrase, "Mom, going for a bike ride!" as the screen door slammed behind me. I was free!
Always looking to the horizon, wondering where the road will take me...
My best friend and I would meet at the top of my road. Many times we'd have nothing but a water bottle, and miles of road ahead of us. One memory stands out for me as I think back to those days. My friend and I were contemplating where the wheels would take us when it came to me suddenly, "I know! Let's go to the lake where my Dad and I go fishing!" I knew the way, but I didn't have any comprehension of the distance. The length of time the ride might take or the distance didn't matter to two 12-year-olds, all we had was time. So, we started pedaling and talking. We covered all the topics available to men of our age; the price of burgers at McDonalds, how much we didn't want to return to school in the fall, and of course girls. It wasn't long before we were outside of our city and deep into the country. "Do you know where we're going?" was his question as the blacktop turned to gravel. I was positive of the route and the miles were peeling off our rear wheels as we continued forward. I assured my friend that everything was fine as the heat of summer was upon us. We took a short break to remove our baseball hats in an effort to keep cool. There was no such thing as helmets for kids in those days, in fact, we had no safety gear whatsoever, nor did we have the knowledge or means to repair our bikes. The thought of something going wrong never occurred to us. At that time we existed in a place where everything was perfect. Clipping our hats to our seatposts we pushed on.
Surviving journeys that may have been one mile too long...Photo courtesy of Jeremy Kershaw...
Finally, we had arrived at the shores of the lake we'd been pedaling toward for hours. Flicking our kickstands down we high-fived as the waves lapped at our wheels. We had done it and we were proud of ourselves, but we were a long way from home. The realization that we had to turn around and cover those miles again in order to get home landed squarely on our shoulders. This would mark the first time I would enter what I now refer to as the "dark times". There were no more topics to discuss and we were tired. Our moods flew up and down as small arguments erupted over trivial things, but it wasn't long before they'd pass and we'd become the masters of our universe again.
Exhausted I stepped into the kitchen several hours after I had yelled those insignificant words about “going for a bike ride”. My mom, hands on her hips, was there to greet me. The tone of her voice was one I knew all too well; she was concerned. I'd been in spots like this before, but this time I might have pushed it a bit.
Riding at -15 F...
Even as a young boy I always craved a sense of adventure. For example, as a five-year-old, a friend and I went for a "rock climbing" expedition. With my family cat in tow we covered approximately five miles in search of climbable rock with nothing more than a small backpack, a rope, and of course our cat. My parents launched a full-on community involved search for us. We had no idea that we'd done anything wrong.
So, seven years later, here I was again, answering the same question, "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?” I casually announced the name of the lake and watched her mouth drop open. She was in disbelief as it was about a 65-mile round trip. My Dad came home from work with my Mom giving him the news of what I'd been up to in the hopes that he'd be just as displeased as she was. He feigned concern and later gave me a wry smile, a pat on the back, and an "Atta boy". I was hooked
My Huffy Santa Fe and I went on many more bike rides after that day. I fell deeper into the curiosity of what lay over the next rise and around the next corner. I also fell deeper into the feeling of being free. Today I look over a different set of bars, but what I see is the same freedom I saw when I was that 12-year-old boy. That will never change.
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Tim (Eki) Ek
Tim Ek was born and raised in Duluth, Minn., and still calls it home. He’s always had a passion for competition and seeking his own extremes. Tim's true love is the woods: Out in the wild is where he clears his head and finds his peace, and he prefers getting there by bike. Tim Ek: The Eki Chronicles, ekichronicles2.kinetic-fitness.com