My son pumped his legs against the hard plastic pedals, willing away the late afternoon heat, as he aimed his bike towards the puddle in front of him. He rocked back and forth as the pedals turned, thinking only about how fast he could go. And then, his wheels cut into the water with a hiss that seemed to split the puddle in half, like Moses with training wheels. He laughed as he looked back at the wet tire tracks drawing out behind him.
They used to say I should wear a life jacket when I went mountain biking. Every Sunday I would head out to the National Forest near my house with my dad and a group of his friends. We’d get up early and check over our bikes with the precision of airline pilots, knowing full well that we’d have to do it all again when the ride was over. The rides were tough on our bikes and our bodies.
The trails we road were a mix of old logging roads and reclaimed farmland. They were full of dips and holes deep enough to lose a bike in, and in the spring especially, they turned into riverbeds as the melting snow overflowed the tiny streams nearby. Most of the cyclists avoided those water hazards, walking their bikes through the streams or pedaling around the puddles. But not me.
There was something about the mud and water that looked like a challenge to me. I’d stop a few yards back, assess the accent, chart my path and cock my pedals. Then with all that force I could muster, I’d steer that bike through every enormous mud pit and streambed, sometimes sinking up to my thighs in brown churning water.
I usually made it. But on a few occasions the bike came to a halt, the laws of physics winning out over the pure reckless energy of a teenager with something to prove. And I would teeter there, in the middle the Northeast equivalent of quicksand, perched on my seat as the bike tilted slowly sideways. Forward momentum turned into downward momentum.
Later on in life, I would think back on that feeling and realize that it was a lot like falling in love. When you are stopped in your tracks and have no choice but to fall in. I thought of all of this again as I watched my son hurtle himself through the sidewalk puddle. The stripe of rainwater painted down his spine and the sound of his laugh all reminded me of falling.