My Dad & biking make life feel safer

man-on-racing-bikeMy father, Sanford Cleveland Kahrmann,  taught me how to ride a bicycle. To this day, when I’m on my bike, he is present. And for me, when my father is present, all the world feels safer. Anything with his presence helped heal the wounds of the day. Today, Saturday May 2, will be first time on the bike this year.

My father died at unexpectedly when he was 55 from peritonitis. I was 15. While we never got to be adult father and son, adult friends, we were friends. I absolutely reject the notion that parents and their children can’t be friends. Rubbish. If you become friends with a family member, the friendship is all the more sacred, and stronger.

I learned how to ride a bike on Buchanan Street in Pearl River, New York. My first two-wheeler was a Huffy. Now, I don’t know this for a fact, but I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the name was picked because of the bike’s weight, again, just a guess, but I’d say my bike weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 200-zillion pounds. At least I thought so. After all, the name Huffy made perfect sense. If you had to pick up the bike and carry it for any reason, you’d be huffin’ and puffin’ in no time.

Nevertheless, it was my first two-wheeler. I was proud of it. A grown-up bike.

My Dad put training wheels on in the beginning. I didn’t know kid in the neighborhood who didn’t feel the painful stain of  stigma (usually self-inflicted) of having training wheels. Not just because you wanted to ride a bike like the older kids, but their name. Training wheels! No self-respecting kid in the neighborhood was comfortable being seen with training wheels.

All the kids in my neighborhood, boys and girls, were self-respecting. We wanted our training wheels taken off our bikes, as soon as possible.

Finally, the big day came. My training wheels were coming off! Holy crap! I sensed I might be experiencing a wee taste of what it was like to become a man.

The moment was as ceremonial as it gets. I got on the bike – Wait!

A sidebar, if you please. I had short legs.  may be worth noting that inch-thick blocks of wood were clamped to each side of the pedal by a generous wrapping of duct tape, all so my feet could reach the pedals.

Back to the story.

The ceremony was underway. I am balancing on both wheels supported by my father who is on my left and holding onto the back of the bike seat. I start to pedal, and we get underway. My Dad jogs alongside, holding onto the back of the bike seat.

My confidence grows. I am pedaling!

Now I am becoming a man!

Now I look to my left; my father isn’t there anymore.

Now I am careening onto the Costello’s front lawn!

Now I am toppling over!

Now, of course, I am trying again.

It took about two more tries to get it right, but soon I was riding my bike. Picking up speed. You discover one of the reasons people talk about the wind in your face.

There was a freedom to be had when I’m on my bike. Still is. Our movement is our own, and, for me, there’s the gift of knowing my father is part of my every stride.

Breaking Hills Redux

Back in 2003 I began training for my first lengthy bicycle ride, a 175-mile trek from where I was shot in Brooklyn to Albany. I live in a very hilly area so I began thinking of a motivational term I could link to the challenge of reaching the top of a steep and, at times, lengthy climbs.  Finally I decided on breaking hills. Breaking the hill meant defeating the climb, taking the challenge and pushing through it no matter how grueling.

For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, I am back on the bike breaking hills and loving every minute of it. Perhaps a recent reduction in coffee intake,  which brought about a nice drop in anxiety levels, helped me rediscover the joy of getting back on a bike and going for it. Then too, there has always been something about taking on a physical challenge, getting back in touch with my body, that I’ve found emotionally and spiritually healing.

Many years ago, around 1986 I’d guess, after nearly a year in seclusion, I began  going to the 23rd Street YMCA actually named the McBurney YMCA with my friend Dane.  The nine-story McBurney YMCA was built in 1869. When Dane and I went I’d play racquet ball, diving all over the court with a somewhat manic little boy joy. I was genuinely saddened when I learned the YMCA closed its doors there and reopened on 14th Street. I find it hard to believe that the Michael Bloomberg era of money first tradition last had nothing to do with creating the atmosphere that led to the building conversion to a bunch of condominiums in 2004. 

Later, in 1991 I ran my first marathon and from 1991 to 1995 tacked on five more.

At any rate, the spiritual glory of breaking hills is on me again. Recently a man in Long Island asked me if I was planning to do any more lengthy bike rides. I did the 175 mile ride  in 2003 and a 1,000 mile ride in 2004. I surprised myself when, without pausing, I said, “Yeah, why not?”

And I meant it.