Columnist

Beth Dolinar has been writing her column about life, both hers and the rest of ours, for over 20 years. When not on the page, she produces Emmy-winning documentaries, teaches writing to university students, and enjoys her two growing children.

The last thing I said was, “right brake first, then left.”

And heeding those words, my friend Dan put his left foot on the pedal, swung the other one over the bar and sat down in the saddle for his first bike ride in a couple generations.

It had been 35 years, to be exact, since he pedaled a bike outside when his sons were small. As he took those first pedal strokes, I was impressed. It’s true, you don’t forget how to ride a bike.

Off we went down the trail. I passed to get single-file in front of him so I could lead him in maneuvers around slower riders. Every so often I looked over my shoulder to check on Dan’s progress. He was always there.

And then he wasn’t.

Just past mile marker one, my bike buddy went missing. As I stopped to see what had become of him, he emerged from the weeds. Seems he’d squeezed the left handbrake first, locked up his front wheel and tumbled. Judging from the grass poking out of the handlebars and clinging to the gears, it must have been spectacular. A passing runner saw it happen, and pulled Dan out of the brush before the ticks could find him.

“I am having a bit of trouble controlling the front wheel,” Dan said.

“That bike is probably a bit different from the last one you rode,” I said, picturing a low-rider kids’ bike with high handle bars, a banana seat and a baseball card stuck in the wheel spokes. I suggested he up shift, to get a bit more control.

I let him pass. This afforded me a front row seat to his next bit of trail fun, a crash that looked as if he was atop a horse that suddenly fell asleep and dropped laterally to the right. This time there was blood, from a nasty scrape on his shin.

Undeterred by injury, he pressed on, and made it to our turnaround at mile four. There he came to a stop by lurching toward me with arms outstretched in a maneuver reminiscent of a gymnastics competition involving the uneven parallel bars. He landed, prone, in the gravel, and it was elegant.

And so our “Mr. Danny Lou Retton” hopped back on to lead the way home.

I cringed as Dan approached a bridge onto which rolled a family of what appeared to be five parents, nine dogs and 12 children, the youngest of whom was weaving into Dan’s path. Dan hemmed and hawed through the gauntlet has he wiggled his handlebars like a water witch with a divining rod. Safely past the clump, he finally collapsed onto the bridge railing, narrowly averting a fall into the creek below.

“I’m OK,” he said, untangling himself from the bike.

Two more miles passed easily. But our tumble bug would have one last event. I asked him to stop so I could snap a photo, and we found a pretty spot next to some wildflowers. Dan stopped himself with a swan dive into a split rail fence. When he was safely upright, I snapped a photo, so he can remember.

In all, he’d pedaled eight miles with one unplanned dismount every two miles. He had cuts on his shin and forearm to show for his effort. And as he finally pulled up to the car, I reminded him to squeeze the right brake first. He did.

And he stuck the landing.

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