“So are you here to write about it or are you here just for fun?”
I’m paraphrasing, but that sentiment came from Kara Norman, executive director of the Downtown Frederick Partnership. She asked me the question as we were riding bikes down South Court Street on Sunday while participating in the history ride that marked the end of the weekend’s Tour de Frederick festivities.
She was there because Tour de Frederick founder Neil Sandler called upon her to talk about Baker Park as part of the ride, which featured a handful of stops aimed at educating us laypeople about the history of Frederick. I was there because ... well, Neil asked me if I’d be interested after I interviewed him last week and he offered me the use of his bike for the trip.
To be fair, I showed up because I like Neil. I hadn’t met him until last week, when one of the first things he said to me was something along the lines of “you’re that guy who needs to stop taking life so seriously.” And if you meet me for the first time, and you already have such a ruthlessly correct observation about me — after I’ve heard all the whispers of so many people who have so many incorrect presumptions about who I am — you pretty much have me hooked for life.
Throw in a surprise Kara Norman appearance, and I was more than happy to participate in the ride. The problem? My sense of balance was not.
After Kara asked me the aforementioned question, I struggled to come up with a witticism that proclaimed my reassertion of the phrase “It’s like riding a bike.” If we are to believe that riding a bike is synonymous with easily relearning something we haven’t done in a long time, then that belief, as I proved Sunday, is categorically wrong.
I mean, just think about the gears. When Neil presented me with my form of transportation for the morning, I took it for a quick spin to get re-acclimated with the machine. Not only was staying upright a struggle, but the mere notion of clicking something on the handlebars felt utterly impossible. When I finally took my life into my own hands and reached for one of the click-y things, I had no idea what I was doing.
Did the “6” mean pedaling should be easier? And what was this other thing on the left side? Why did that list go up only to “3”? Also, why were the brakes squeaking? Did that mean we were going to be flying down Market Street and I was going to be launched headfirst into that tree outside of Hootch & Banter? I knew they’d want revenge for that outdoor cafe column.
Even better was the issue of safety. Outside of a kid that appeared to be so young, he’s probably never heard of something called a “landline” or “2003,” I was the only person not wearing a helmet. Yes, I know. Egregious. Either Neil was hoping that whole Hootch & Banter thing would play out or I am a wildly irresponsible human being. Smart money lies on both.
Either way, the ride itself was equally petrifying and informative. Beginning at the visitors center, the group traveled to the Maryland School for the Deaf, Mount Olivet Cemetery, City Hall, the Barbara Fritchie house, Hood College, Schifferstadt, Baker Park, and then back to the visitors center. Some guest speakers rode with us while others met us at various spots.
Among the things I learned? People think City Hall is haunted, giving a whole new meaning to the acronym “APFO,” and Francis Scott Key liked to be called “Frank,” which seems weirdly inappropriate. “Can you throw me another Bud Light Lime, Frank? I’m trying to figure out what to do with this whole Fort McHenry thing.”
The most lasting takeaway for me, however, was my inability to feel comfortable on the bike. You see, I’ve been strongly weighing somehow purchasing a bike (budget: $25 and three Mallo Cups) because I live downtown and it sure would be nice to not drive anywhere at all anymore. And back in the days when I was 50 pounds lighter, I used to ride a bike a lot. Thus, a bike seemed like a natural solution.
Now, I’m not so sure. It would take relearning the intricacies of a bike, practicing them in a place where no one could see me and then praying to the gods that I both don’t fall into the creek and, as Kara’s husband, Tom, astutely pointed out when he saved my life by yelling that I was about to accidentally bike down a set of stairs, also know where I’m going.
So, what do you think? Bike or no bike? Helmet or no helmet? Francis or Frank? So many questions, so little answers. Why does life have to be so hard … and so