I used to ride down the hill of the highest point in the city. I started from the bottom of the hill in downtown Portland, OR. Crossing over the freeway on a bridge, I came from 13th and headed through a winding road with a 15% gradiant or more for a quarter mile. I made this game out of it.

        The game was that I couldn’t touch my feet to the ground. Not for a stop sign. Not because of balance. Definitely not to rest. I went up this hill, and there was no mercy for miles. I just went up an up like a very gruesome section of Tour de France. I learned to do something to make it less damnable.

       I would pedal slower, lean one way or another when my muscles were burning. When I got halfway, I was above Marquam hill, above OHSU hospital. It was quite nice. All the houses are for the wealthy… and really anyone “climbing” through on bike was expected as a bit of a psychonaut athelete type. I might see an older woman, say with a straw hat, flowery blouse and shears, gardening and she’d smile and and I’d smile and sort of salute.

        Just on up the way, a man might be leaving his five story house (no, more like 3, but it looks that way), and I’d get a glimpse into his garage as he gets in his Mercedes Benz. Kayak oars. The garage door comes down as he backs down his very steep driveway. Very steep. I laugh out loud a little. Its becoming painless. Endorphins.

       I see the base of the radiotower of Council Crest. Its all butter from here. At the top its like a graveyard lawn without graves. To the East, Mt. Hood. I catch my breath. I start to clench my hands. Now its about to get crazy. I test my front brake. More importantly I check my back brake. What I’m about to do is much more dangerous than a luge run. Much more dangerous than a ski jump.

        I have two wheels. I check them. To see if they are locked on. Air pressure in each tire. Check. Now I have gone down the way I came before. It is fine. I can out-manuever and pass any car. But no- its a waste. Not for the pain I’ve paid. I’m going to take the winding road down from the base of Council Crest and there are no stop signs until just about the Raleigh Hills Fred Meyer store. So at a steep gradient, its all mine. I let cars pass and I time them. I time them because I don’t want to slow down.

      Its funny, but I don’t remember this until now. I remember letting myself coast down into the forest with a car behind me on purpose. I want someone to witness this act of graceful insanity. Behind me going 30 MPH, they are 100 ft. away. I am in a middle gear at 15 MPH. Hahah! Then kicking it into high gear I peddle, then as hard as I can.

         I’m going 40 MPH in a 30. The leaves are like emeralds and the road is curved & banked. I have to slow down in order to make the turn. I lean back and its all just terribly stressful. It was brilliant fun to go 4 miles in just a few minutes. Years later I think, “Yes, I wore a helmet,” but there are so many better ways to feel alive without risking my life. My mind and reflexes were excellent. My bike was in check.

       Now that I am older, I have another challenge. I am much more in tune with what can happen when something goes wrong. I shudder to think about that crazy hill because now I know I really do have like 12 pints of blood, cervical vertebrae to snap… I could go on, but its gross anatomy and tradgic thought from there.

      My new challenge is to think of safety and assurances as a middle-aged person. I don’t remember ever learning those things when I was young… but there is that feeling of being a dominator of your activities when you are athletic. Life is no less dangerous now really, but it is more mental. I am a really good driver, for example. But at any given moment in the city, road conditions might change. I might have an 18 year old on an 18-speed racing bike pass me. I’d say a prayer for that so-and-so. Someone probably did the same for me.

    It comes to my mind, this saying:
“Everything is beautiful in its time.” Its hard to understand myself as making wise decisions then as well as now. I don’t regret any of the cruising down Barbur blvd. I remember when I was twenty, I drew a picture of myself at forty! That’s NEXT year. The picture was of a weary but smiling guy with a little bit goofy teeth and a beard and skinny.

I wanted to respect my future self half my life ago. I remember that picture. I actually am bulkier and tougher than that. I thought I’d be “just a nice guy”. Hmm. I’m grumpy, things hurt but life is more managable. I like who I was.

I think who I was would have liked me. I just wanted to be like the people I looked up to. One thing I never thought much of was that when I got older that it would feel like there are fewer people on the Earth I know as I get older. I know I thought about dying when I was young and a daredevil. I believed things would always be okay. I now have a new sense that changes often of assurance of safety and adventure and fear. I guess the only way to take away the pains of missing my aunts and uncles, my grandparents and my dad… is to aspire to hold the office they held. And to pass the torch of hope to the next generation. We are finding who we are. Better than we’d ever be!

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