Writing about my friend Kathleen last week made me think of another time when I was over at her house, when the slugs and the police were far away, and she suggested that we ride bikes.
She said she could ride her brother’s, and I could ride hers. That sounded fine to me, though I was still a little new at this bike-riding thing, but I figured, a bike is a bike, right? We hopped on, started down the gravel road, and suddenly I realized that the street she lived on had far more of a hill than I’d ever realized before. But I wasn’t worried. I knew how to handle hills; just reach for the handy dandy handlebar breaks.
But where the handy dandy handlebar breaks were supposed to be, I found nothing but handy dandy handlebar.
“Where are your brakes?” I screamed, whizzing past Kathleen, who looked slightly worried as she observed by behavior.
“The pedals!” she shouted.
I figured I must have heard her wrong.
“The pedals!” she shouted again, her voice now a distant cry in the background. “Just pedal backwards!”
I had no idea what she was talking about. Pedals are for going forward. Period.
Kathleen rode as quickly as she could up behind me, shouting out as many different versions of “Just back peddle” as she could think of, but by then I was careening down her hill, heading straight for the heavily trafficked road at the end of her lane, squeezing in vain at her handlebars.
I had a moment right then. A life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment. And then I sailed across North Beach Road — mercifully free of cars — and I knew that my ride was about to come to an abrupt end as a ditch and a barbed-wire fence rose up to meet me.
Crang. Down into the ditch I went, arms akimbo, legs somewhere but I wasn’t quite sure where, the bike partially enmeshed in the barbed wire, one wheel spinning slowly to a stop.
Kathleen wildly crossed the road, threw down her bike, and jumped into the ditch to my side. “Are you dead?”
I grunted though my tears, acknowledging that I was, at least, alive.
I cautiously moved my arms and legs. Somehow, I wasn’t even close to dead.
Which was good.
“Why didn’t you use the brakes?” Kathleen asked incredulously as she helped extricate me from the mess I’d made.
I said something along the lines of, “Your dumb bike doesn’t have any brakes.”
“It does!” she protested. “They’re on the pedals. I tried to tell you …”
But I had never even heard of pedal brakes. My little banana-seated girl’s bike had handlebar brakes and both my sisters’ bikes had handlebar brakes and my neighbor’s bike had handlebar brakes and I’d never even imagined that there could be any other form of brake.
A few cars passed slowly by, drivers craning their necks to see what had happened. Someone even stopped to ask if we were OK.
I struggled up out of the ditch, leaning heavily on Kathleen. She extricated my bike from the barbed wire and pushed it up to the road.
We walked the bikes back. Well, she walked and I limped, dripping a trail of blood onto the dusty road like some kind of twisted Hansel and Gretel trail of breadcrumbs.
By the time we reached Kathleen’s house, I was smiling through my tears. She cheered me up. Never laughed at me. Never shook her head in disbelief. At least not that I saw.
Kathleen’s mother patched me up temporarily and then my mom showed up and took me to the clinic where they gave me a tetanus shot, because better safe than sorry, and then I went happily off to singing group rehearsal where I related my story with relish, and proudly showed off my injuries.
Apparently I’ve always enjoyed telling stories about myself.
There is a moral to this story, and it’s simple: never ride a bike without knowing where the brakes are.
“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity.” Proverbs 17:17 NIV
Gretchen O’Donnell is a freelance writer who lives in Worthington with her husband and three children. She has a master’s degree from Bethel Seminary and enjoys writing about the things she sees and applying theological truths to everyday situations. Her column, The Disheveled Theologian, is published weekly. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.