The very first bike I remember riding on a regular basis was a hand me down two wheeler equipped with a chain that stayed off of it as much as it stayed on it. I think I used that bike more as a two wheel coaster on our driveway and into the neighbors drive. When a gang of neighborhood boys would gather in the Fall, we would pile some leaves up over a ledge that existed at the very bottom of our driveway and then take turns running that chainless bike over the hill and into the pile of leaves. If any bones were broken in the process…well, I don’t remember them.
I moved from that bike to a skateboard – one of the thin variety – that I used to gain as much speed going downhill as possible. With the help of our 8th grade math teacher, an unknowing parent who marked off the distance of our speed course in their car, and several people watching at corners and intersections, we set up our own downhill speed course from the driveway of the Graney’s home on Bluestone Road, around Chestnut Circle (beside the Mt. Hope High School football field) and around to and uphill section of Bluestone that headed towards our house. Three or four of us took turns making the trip and timing one another. We took the times and distance to our teacher and he shook his head and told us that we definitely needed to stop. We were approaching fifty miles an hour on that course with absolutely no safety gear.
Eventually, I saved up enough paper route money and yard cutting money to buy a brand new ten speed bike that I could ride around the streets of Mt. Hope. I can remember the many times that bike took me from my family’s home to the home I had found in the local community theater. I can remember short trips around town for various errands. But most of all, I just remember getting on that bike and riding. I would ride until I forgot that I was the shortest guy in my class. I would ride until I forgot the number of times people called me names. I would just ride.
Eventually, I learned that distance cycling was an Olympic Sport and I began to dream. No. I couldn’t officially train. But I could dream and those dream fueled many a trip in Fayette County.
One day, what I thought would be my ticket to finding some training arrived with a bike race being held in Fayette County. The twenty six miles seemed like nothing to me – I did that amount on a regular basis. So I went to the race, got my number, learned the course, lined up and took off.
I was fine for the first mile or two and then I began counting the number of cyclist I could see in front of me and the number that kept passing me. At one particular hill on the course, I remember getting off my bike and pushing and wondering if I shouldn’t just quit. But I finished the race. No where close to first…but not far from last.
When we loaded the bike up to go home and someone asked how the day was, I simply said, “Okay.” I knew it was the end of a dream but I also knew that at that age, I had plenty more dreams I could reach for. No, I would never be an Olympic cyclist, but I would always be a dreamer.
The streets of Mt. Hope, WV were no match for my bright yellow ten speed. I could circle the town in no time flat, often times passing cards on downhill sections of the main street. (I guess I didn’t realize that I was probably speeding at the time.)