Maybe I was safer stealing my neighbor’s tiny bicycle at four years old and pedaling for the city with all my might, than I was riding my own tricycle within my own yard. After all, hundreds of children disappear from their own driveways each year. Safety in numbers, you see. Nobody kidnaps a four-year-old child while he is pedaling on main street, at least not that I have ever heard.
One day I kissed my mom goodbye, descended the tall porch steps carefully, one foot after the other. I stared at the old faithful, a tricycle with white frame and red on top near the handlebars. I always had a vivid imagination, unfortunately, too many times, I acted on thoughts others abandoned. And I abandoned that old faithful trike and headed to the duplex up the road, determined to escape.
The kids in the duplex were in school. They had taught me to ride that little red bike the day before, and I had not forgotten. It was like…heaven, rolling on two wheels onto the gray open road. I snuck through the neighbor’s lawns, sought out the shady spot near the garage. The tiny red bike looked like my dad’s 500 BSA Goldstar propped up at the wall. The shade of a huge sprouting maple tree covered me in the act of my sin. I savored the moment, swelling with pride. The better of two worlds had somehow at that moment come together—I could ride a bike, and now I had a bike—this was going to be a blast.
I lifted my short leg over the shiny crimson bar and sat in the leather seat. I gripped the plastic handlebars and pushed my way out into a three-way intersection, coasted before firing up the engine so as not to awaken anyone. My feet had more freedom pedaling than they had ever had doing anything else. The asphalt streamed under me like a gray whale swimming just below its young. The clouds could breathe beneath the sun; the fields could laugh as the winds blew across them in satisfying waves.
‘Umph!” The bike jerked almost to a stop. Gravel scrunched the solid rubber front wheel, huge smooth stones blocking its way.
I come from a family of bikers, so I was in no way out of my element, though I detested the slow progress I was making. I lifted the handlebars and pedaled through the gravel like a bug in quicksand, barely made it to the thin gravel of the main road.
Ah, the satisfying purr of log trucks sweeping the corner of a main road. Weyerhaeuser’s smoke stacks spired like candy canes and leaked their smoke over huge piles of sawdust. Stacks of green fir logs enclosed the perimeter of the mill in an oval shape that went around for miles, sprinklers keeping them wet and then spilling into the trench, moat that circled with the logs.
A millpond, what a sight. The dry dust I left behind me wafted toward the long rows of silent trucks that filled the sand and Gravel Company’s parking lot, like the yellow Tonka trucks I had so many times loaded Lincoln logs onto. Some were packed with logs, some empty with giant empty ribs stretching at the sun. I dug deep into the pit of my youthful strength, giving pedals an extra push, as if that huge grunt came from me held a velocity would launch me into an earth orbit.
My Aunt Darlene’s newly remodeled ranch house was last barrier between me and freedom. The curved road, scattered with trucks and cars, looked like the curvature of the earth to my adolescence: once I got around that log laden corner I’d enter a new world where I could do as I pleased, no rules, no time limits, just me, a stolen red bike, and the open road. As a rallying cry, I heard my toddler cousins Dan and Christy, cheering me on at the top of their lungs. “Donny! Donny!” And why wouldn’t they? I had escaped the restraints of my youth. Life held no limits for me; I lived and did as I pleased.
I, on my stolen bike, was a tiny speck charging past rolling fields. I entered the main road to loop around the curvature of the Weyerhaeuser plant. My aunt Darlene emerged into the drive of her house, swinging out the door of her Plymouth. The engine of the Plymouth roared.
I pedaled faster, knowing if I reached that one spot quickly coming into view, that last horizon, I could never be detained. That curve was the key, for it hid all else of humankind and nature in its huge vastness, unlike the tiny already discovered territory I had just escaped.
When Aunt Darlene dropped my red bike into her trunk, it could have ended my dreams. Still, running on a four-stroke engine and two wheels, I remember the dream, and what it felt like to be free on the open roads of Oregon.