Rural Living

Bicycling Memories; Rural-Road Realities

by Margo Oxendine, Contributing Writer


 Margo Oxendine

Rural roads are not the ideal place for a leisurely bicycle ride!

It’s almost spring, and for many, that means bringing the bicycles out of the storage shed, polishing them up, filling the tires, and hopping aboard for a pleasant cruise!

Oh, how I wish.

I spent a good portion of my early adult years on a bicycle. It was, for 19 years, my only means of conveyance, other than a taxi.

It started in Key West, a 2-by-4-mile island, flat and lovely. All one needed was a bicycle, unless a trip to Miami was necessary. And really: Is a trip to Miami ever necessary?

I became quite the expert bicyclist.

I could ride hands-free. I could coast with one leg slung across the back. With careful balance, my once tiny self could ride in someone else’s basket, if the need arose.

Key West being what it is, I had countless bicycles. They kept getting stolen, you see. One thing the brochures don’t tell you is, thieves are thick in Key West. They’re mostly targeting tourists who are blissed out by the tropical surroundings, rather than paying attention to their cameras, wallets and other belongings.

But there was an underbelly of lowlifes, pirates who specialized in stealing bicycles from locals. While you were working, or swimming, or sleeping in your own bed — whoosh — your bike would disappear.

It didn’t matter if it was an old clunker (I had several of those), or a brand new shiny bike your father bought on a trip down (had two of those, too). Heaven knows what they did with those bikes, especially the clunkers.

I can’t count the days I kept my eyes peeled for my old, distinctive clunkers after they’d been snatched. Really now, these were not the types of bikes one might easily re-sell in, of course, Miami, after hauling the plunder 157 miles up the Keys.

Every now and then, one of us would take a nasty spill off our bike. Spots of sand, or fresh gravel, were the culprits.

I remember the day I took a terrific spill. I was wearing white shorts, white clogs and a red halter top. I was, I must say, quite the fetching looker in those days. A policeman saw me skid across the road — a real skin-scraper of a mishap.

“Are you hurt, Miss?” he inquired with concern.

“Aargh,” I groaned, “I think I tore my breast.”

He jumped back and threw his hands in the air. Nope. He didn’t want a thing to do with that type of injury. Thankfully, all my body parts were intact.

When I moved to San Francisco, the first thing I did was buy a snazzy three-speed Schwinn at a giant flea market. By then, I’d forgotten how to drive a car, and didn’t have one anyway. I biked everywhere. I’d pump eight miles to work and then back home again. I’d balance my grocery sacks off each handlebar.

On Sunday mornings, I’d churn through Golden Gate Park to Wholly Bagel on Haight Street, buy hot fresh bagels, and then head back home to enjoy them while reading the Chronicle.

Seven years later, I moved back to Virginia and had to learn to drive again.

Bath County’s rural roads, I quickly discovered, are a dangerous place to ride a bike. Drivers here are simply not attuned to bicyclists, and give them no respect whatsoever. Some do bike, sure, but certainly not I.

I miss it. I’d love to have a one-speed pale-pink Schwinn with a basket. But where would I ride it?

I started thinking about bicycles when a friend, Donna-Jo from the Pamunkey Library near Richmond, wrote about how much fun she had “ice biking.” What, pray tell, is ice biking? She replied, “Take a fat-tire bike, replace the front wheel with a skate blade, and set the whole contraption on sled runners. Add your favorite ice rink (preferably outdoors) and voila!”

Voila indeed. I simply can’t imagine. First, setting up the Rube Goldberg oddity requires mechanical skills I do not possess. And tools. And a skate blade. And sled runners. All of which I’d have to buy.

I can only envision that one must lean way over the handlebars, close to the ice, to ride the thing. In my case, certainly an accident waiting to happen. You go, Donna-Jo, and have your fun. I think I’ll head to the beach and rent a pale-pink Schwinn. One speed, please.

Enjoy a book of Margo’s columns, A Party of One, by ordering at 540-468-2146, Mon-Thurs, 9-5, or email:  



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