In Which Ella Rides Her Bike

I must admit that I was scared this morning when I wheeled my bike out of the garage. I don’t like biking in the rain. But I’ve been told that horses can sense your fear, and the bike did seem somewhat like a sleek thoroughbred with its trim silver body and twenty-four gears, so I swung my leg over the seat, thinking about FDR and the Kentucky Derby, and set out.

Three years ago, the fire hydrant on our street broke and water rushed out for days, much to the delight of the children and the annoyance of the municipality and adults, and when the water finally dried, the newly paved street was left with bumps in it, the only hint that the forest green hydrant had once misbehaved. So I rode, jostled a little by each tiny mountain, to the corner.

The avenue was oddly empty. And while I knew that there were no cars in sight, I couldn’t help but wait there for a few moments with the toes of my sneakers balanced on the asphalt because the quiet was haunting, almost as if there were a thousand whizzing invisible passing cars I just couldn’t quite see. But the shadows I saw were just fog being blown by the wind, so I put my right foot on the petal and pushed off.

Riding down the avenue is scary. Here I am, a small girl balanced on some very thin metal beams and two wheels, and there they are encased in a big behemoth of metal with the best safety systems available, and if they so much as tap my rear tire, I will fall. My elbow might break, shattering into a million pieces like a glass does when it crashes onto the kitchen floor. And a day later, one of the shards of bone that they missed while cleaning me up will be stepped on by a barefoot woman in a bathrobe as she fetches the morning paper, and she will have to go to the hospital, too. So I just trust that the big black SUVs and silver Priuses will avoid me as I petal. It isn’t always easy.

Soon enough, it was my turn. I held out my left arm, the way my great uncle taught me to, and felt the handlebars wiggle a little as I tried to turn one-handed. And then I was zooming down the hill, cutting through the air like a pair of freshly sharpened scissors or my mother’s Japanese sushi knife, the one I’m always afraid I’ll cut myself with.

The next corner came quickly, and I leaned into the turn, coasting. Sometimes, when I have gravity making the wheels spin on their own, I pretend I’m in that animated Japanese film I saw when I was eight, Kiki’s Delivery Service is what I think it was called, with the girl that rode on a the back of a boy’s bike through winding roads on the edge of a cliff. But in this fantasy I’m not on a cliff because cliffs are s-c-a-r-y scary. Instead, I’m on a nice flat surface near the ocean, and I’m the one doing the riding and not hanging on for dear life. Because safety is good. I like keeping my body in one piece. It functions best that way.

I became so absorbed in my thoughts of the salt spray and the call of gulls that I made the next few turns on auto-pilot. Check for cars, obey traffic laws, keep pedaling. My thighs began to burn as the lactic acid built up in the muscles, and all I could do was visualize those diagrams of cellular respiration from AP Bio–the ones he wrote on the board in different colored chalk that I copied into my notes, using a million different colors of highlighters so that the page turned into a rainbow of lines and labels. And then suddenly, I’m pedaling back down the driveway, squeezing passed the parked cars, and I’ve arrived.

And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at, if you’re into that kind of thing.