I liked it when I was young. Back then, I thought my parents refusal to buy me things was part of some master plan carefully engineered to teach me responsibility. By refusing to buy me the things that my friends parents’ bought them I figured they were showing me that in order to have nice things I’d need to work for them. I thought it was good, noble parenting. Today, as I think about it, the real reason for that refusal was simple, overwhelming, cheapness. This cheapness is why I was forced to buy my own mountain bike, and what a mountain bike it was.
I was in Junior High, and had been routinely canvassing Fontana Outdoor Sports, looking at the shiny bikes of varying makes and models. After months of deliberation, mixed with denials of funding assistance from those cheap parents, I decided on the Nishiki Manitoba. This wasn’t the Giant, or the Trek, or the Specialized, as some of my friends had, but it was a mountain bike, and it was shiny and new and it had all sorts of beefy bits and those knobby tires. It seemed exotic to me, this combination of a word that might be Japanese, maybe Chinese, at the time it didn’t matter. It was a far away land, some place where they new about mountain bikes, and they knew how to make them appeal to 13 year old Wisconsin kids. Adding the Manitoba as the model was exciting as well, because back then Manitoba was as foreign to me as Zimbabwe is now. Little did I know and less did I care that Manitoba was simply a nearby province full of flatness. I would have also had no way of knowing that my future wife would be from Manitoba, but this purchase likely set that event in motion as well.
The bike was white, with black accents. I would ride it down to Doc’s to buy egg rolls, and one day after leaving Doc’s with an egg roll and a packet full of sweet and sour sauce, I saw Harry Caray leaving Harpoon Willies. I gathered the courage to approach him, and as he stumbled back to his car, with his handlers assisting at each shoulder, I had nothing autograph worthy to offer him except that receipt from that egg roll. CUBS WIN. HOLY COW. HARRY. He wrote over the faint receipt. I kept it for a while, but not for too long because the ink wore thin in the way it does when scratched on a convenience store receipt. The bike was there then, and until I was able to drive a car that bike was everything to me. Where it went I cannot know, but today it’s nowhere to be found.
Some years later after I had met and married that girl from Manitoba, we found ourselves back at Fontana Outdoor Sports, in search of bikes. It seemed the right thing to do at the time, so we deliberated for a short while and left the store that day with two shiny new mountain bikes. Mine was a Raleigh, and hers a Giant. They were very nice bikes. A week later we loaded them into our Jeep and drove to the place in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota where we had met only a few years before, and we rode our new mountain bikes around the dirt and gravel roads. Those bikes were perfect.
Then, a week or two after that, once we had returned to our home at the time, it was apparent that the remodeling project that was underway at said home was going to be too involved, too messy, too dusty, and we needed to leave for a temporary rental. We left, taking our clothes and dog with us, and left the mountain bikes safely stashed in the garage. The roofer whom I had chosen, likely a recent parolee, commented to me one day about how nice those two bikes were. Were they mine? I said they were. Were they new? I said yes. A few days later, my bike was gone. He was, after all, a male, and as such would have no use for a woman sized bike. I drove to his house to inquire as to the whereabouts of my bike, and he knew nothing about it. That day was approximately 12 years ago, and until yesterday that Raleigh was the last bike I had owned.
My newly torn calf muscle doesn’t encourage walking, but I found that pedaling a bicycle on mostly flat terrain didn’t bother that shamed muscle. So I stopped at Wheel and Sprocket and talked to a bearded kid who tried his best to put me into a bike that I had no interest in affording. After some resistance, I agreed to buy a basic Trek bike, something I wouldn’t have done if Mary Burke had won the governorship, but with her safely returned to political exile, I thought it would be nice to buy a Wisconsin bike. I stuffed the bike in the back of my fishing truck and drove home. I pedaled around the driveway, pleased that my calf still wasn’t interfered with, and leaned the bike against the far wall in my garage. I have no roofing projects scheduled, so it should be safe there.
This new biking idea was not born solely out of this leg injury. Instead, I had been thinking about it occasionally when driving past the Kettle Moraine bike trails while en route to and from Rushing Waters Trout Farm. These trails look significant, and they look popular, and on the corner of where the road heads towards the trails there’s a bike shop that looks as though it would be equally at home in Boulder. A year or more ago, my wife went with our children and their friends and they rode the White River Trail, just north of Lake Geneva. The ride was fun, I heard, but the disappointment that ensued once they found out that the small restaurant (Pedal and Cup) at the end of the trail was closed on that day wrecked the journey, at least temporarily. I wasn’t there, because I didn’t have a bike, because the Nishiki was no where to be found and my roofer was riding my Raleigh.