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Giggling wildly or showing the world who's boss - it's just like riding a bike

January 07, 2013

Anyone searching for a life lesson today could do worse that this one: Bicycles and road salt don’t mix.

Some caveats: If you are 12 years of age, this lesson is not terribly applicable. When you are 12, excessive road salt and a 45-degree curve at a bottom of a hill are way cool. It is cool if you make the curve by locking your rear wheel and going with the slide. But it is even more cool if you wipe out altogether and have a good story and some road burn to share with your friends.

As a matter of fact, we lived for bike wrecks. It wasn’t really a good day unless at some point during the ride your handlebars hadn’t been bent around to point at your right pedal.

And, of course, after spinning out, a 12-year-old will pop right up, brush the gravel out of the wound, giggle wildly and then make an attempt to do it all over again.

It’s odd how your mind works, and as my bicycle was going out from under me on a back country road Sunday, all of the above crossed my mind.

Here’s the actual thought process:

“Hmm. That’s a lot more gravel on the curve than I remember from before. Probably ought to slow down,  although it’s stupid to slow down because there’s an immediate uphill after the curve and I don’t want to lose momentum, so I really need to man up and … (at this point the wheels lose purchase) … Oh, there go the wheels. Well, I’ve done this a million times, so it’s not a big deal … (sound of head hitting pavement) … There goes the old coconut. Well, that didn’t hurt as much as I would have thought …”

This is one of the main differences between 12 and 52. You have time to think it but you don’t have time to do it, because at this age, your reflexes now roughly approximate an earthworm suspended in molasses.

Since the temperature was below freezing, I had incorrectly calculated that a stocking cap would afford more relative safety than a helmet. This shows why our laws are all screwed up. We make helmets mandatory for kids younger than 16 when we ought to be making them mandatory for men older than 50.

So they ask you questions like “Who is the president?” and you almost blurt out “George Bush” before you collect yourself and answer that it’s that health care guy. Or “what day is it?” Like I had any idea before I hit my head.

And men come in two styles: Those who are extreme hypochondriacs and those who would not let on anything was amiss if his right left leg were missing. Being in the latter group, my only defense is that we somehow think acknowledging injury is a sign of weakness.

Especially to strangers. I don’t know why that is, but when two people stopped to see if I needed help, my first reaction — even though I was totally knocked for a loop and my right side had already begun to swell up to manatee proportions — was to grab my water bottle and pretend that I had just stopped on a curve in the middle of nowhere to sit alongside the road and enjoy a cold beverage.

Then I did what any other hard-headed American male would have done: I fixed the bicycle’s drivetrain, noticed but ignored a shredded tire tread and got back on and rode for another 10 miles. A couple of hours later, sitting in the emergency room — Beth, as wives have a habit of doing — asked the awkward but pertinent question: “Why did you do that?”

Women won’t understand this, but guys will: I had to show the universe who’s boss.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 6997, or via email at timr@herald-mail.com.

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