I straddled my bike in line on the mound of dirt just behind a boy I guessed to be around 12. Too-big jeans slung low. Stretched out t-shirt. School was out for the summer and the neighborhood pack had converged at the bike park that evening, loitering until their moms called them home for supper. The bigger boys launched off the tops of what seemed to me to be mammoth-sized jumps to the left, the smaller boys rolling the smaller bumps that stretched out before me. A rivulet of sweat ran down my back, and I almost shuddered with the tickle. Or maybe it was nerves. After all, I was neither male nor anywhere near 14 years of age.
I waited until the sneakered boy on the too-big-for-him mountain bike in front of me had finished the course, and took a deep breath.
I had waited for this moment for so long. Maybe my whole life. An hour before, high-heeled and blazered, I had stood at my computer slamming a ProBar while I filed one last court document before barreling out the back door of my office, car preloaded, to meet my friend who promised to take me to the dirt jumps.
I clipped in, one-two-pedaled down the start, and attacked the row of dirt mounds, pumping and pulling with my best effort at rhythm.
Unlike my 30-something male buddy who had graciously let me tag along to the bike park, I didn’t grow up on a BMX bike. I’ve been riding bikes since I could walk, but riding jumps had only been a part of my fantasies. As much as I secretly—almost subconsciously—envied every trick rider and dirt jumper I had ever watched, it hardly occurred to me that I might ever actually get air myself.
But at the Valmont Bike Park, on my beloved full-suspension trail bike, I made what might as well have been the jump to mythical “hyperspace.” As per my friend’s instruction, I rolled the first bump, pumped hard into the second, and boom—flight! Well, at least both wheels were off the ground and back down in time to pump up and over the last, larger jump. It felt like Christmas morning.
I tried to keep my ecstasy under control as I rode through the berm at the end of the line. But as I pedaled back into line behind another pre-adolescent boy, I must have looked like an anime character, fully two-thirds of my face taken up by a giant, toothy grin.
A running-shorts-clad woman about my age stood to the side of the dirt jump line as I rode by, smiling cautious approval to an elementary-school-aged boy happily rolling through the pump track. It took me a moment to realize why she stood out: She was the first woman I had seen for almost the entire hour I had been taking turns at the park.
A confusing eddy of emotions suddenly swirled where, just a moment before, there had only been pure, post-jump bliss. In an instant, I was self-conscious. Felt silly. This woman looked so mature. Lady-like. A sporty young Boulder mother, she wasn’t there to ride; she was there to watch her son ride.
What did I think I was doing? Did I think I was a teenage boy? Did I think I could really ever get big air? I was well aware—and didn’t care at all—that I wasn’t cool. But was I completely ridiculous—or worse, completely delusional?
The rush of insecurities gained momentum as I neared the front of the dirt jump line again.
This time, I went into the run with more control, harnessing my speed. The rhythm came more easily. Got a bit higher, smoothed the landing, shredded the final berm. Pure magic. I pedaled past my maternal counterpart back to the line, the insecurities had vanished. We exchanged quick smiles, and I knew it was OK. I was happy. And I hoped she was happy, too.
In Still Life With Woodpecker, Tom Robbins wrote, “It’s never too late to have a happy childhood.” Thankfully, I had a pretty joyful childhood. But lately, I’ve just realized it’s not quite over yet.