Do you remember your first bike? Mine was brown with big tires that could get through the mud and do pop wheelies like Evel Keneivel. When we went to the store for my birthday I had a choice out of all the bikes, but the brown Huffy was the first thing I saw and I was afraid that if I said I didn't want it Mom would change her mind and buy me something cheap instead, like a puzzle. So, even though she kept pointing to all the girls' bikes that were sparkly pink with rainbow streamers, I said no. No, I want this bike.
Sometimes I had to act like a tomboy just to get through the social trials of the neighborhood, so having a boy's bike could be quite lucrative in the scope of things. It did, indeed, secure me a spot in a little competition the boys had been having the last few weeks. Construction crews had created a huge pile of loose dirt while working on a sewer ditch, and so that became a part of a obstacle route, with the finale riding up the hill without falling backwards. The whole thing started at the east end of the forest, winding through, ending up at the west end—near the Koniziter's house. Each time I followed the track, I was able to cut a few seconds off my time, but I could never get to the top. If I felt gravity pulling me backwards, I'd veer to the right and pedal back into the forest to start again. The trick was having enough speed and pulling a pop wheelie at the right time, which acted as a sort of power boost to cut through the forces of inertia. Several boys had made it but I was, sadly, still a failure.
That Friday evening, after everyone else had gone home for dinner, I looked at my brown Huffy and decided to try the track just one more time. I could do it—I'd gotten so close before. The boys, and all their celebrating, had distracted me. Surely this time I could get over the hill. When I did, I'd knock on all their doors to tell them about it. They could believe me or not.
I started strong—it felt good to be in the forest all by myself with dusk reaching through the branches, though it was cold and I wished I had brought a jacket. Following the creek, I ran over branches and rocks, moss, the old stone bridge. It all became a blur as I approach the last, great obstacle. First confident, I now felt the adrenaline seep from my stomach, leaving only doubt and fear. My feet refused to listen. This time would be a success.
Loose dirt fought against the Huffy's tires, like butter. Birds shrieked from the darkness of the trees go home, go home. But I couldn't. Not now. All those boys had to know I meant business. That I could accomplish things too. Girls weren't weak, we didn't just want dolls and dresses, though I did want those things from time to time. But right now I wanted respect. I wanted to hold my head high.
As I approached the top of the hill, gravity began to pull me backward. I leaned in and ground the pedals as hard as possible. Then I attempted the pop wheelie. Lean in, pull up fast! But I must have pulled back too hard and the Huffy and I began to tumble backwards. Nothing would save us now. I knew it, like someone falling to the earth without a parachute knows they're going to die. We floated in an arch, landing down at the bottom—bike on my left.
I told myself it was okay. They hadn't seen. If they had seen it would be much more of a devastation. It was dark when I walked the bike past all their houses. I felt the shame of having tried and having lost. Many years passed before I realized how good it was that I'd tried. That I'd had the inclination to want to win. Wanting and trying are better than safe and not knowing.