When we were kids, my sister and I always spent a week or two in Hohenwald, Tennessee, shuttling between my grandparents' house and my that of my great-aunts. I always loved hanging out at the barn with Granddaddy, and sitting on the porch with Grandma, or hanging out with her sisters Kate and Alida.
The first summer that I had the Spyder bike, I took it to Hohenwald with me. I rode it to town to shop in the Ben Franklin store, and the Rexall Drug. Since I was only seven, I could only ride to town if Joy went with me. Joy was nine. Things were different, then.
And, I spent as lot of time just riding around in circles, because I loved being on the bike. (Sounds a lot like my life, now, come to think of it.)
One of my goals, that summer, was to learn to ride with no hands. Joy could ride all over the place, without touching her bars, and I just couldn't stand to not be able to do something that she found so easy. So, on every ride, I spent a little bit of time trying to let go of the bars, riding along with my hands hovering over the grips. But, I never went far before I grabbed the bars.
In retrospect, I suppose that the 20-inch wheel and the ape-hanger bars were not the best combination for learning this particular skill. To tell you the truth, I'm not real sure that I could get on a bike like that, today, and ride no-hands for very far.
Anyway, I eventually got to the point that I could go a good ways before grabbing the bars. At that point, I started trying to lean back, with my hands on my thighs, like Joy, and just ride along all casual-like. That's when the crashing started.
The first couple of crashes happened at pretty low speeds on paved roads, and I managed to leap clear of the bike without injury. The pavement scared me so, using the kind of logic that only 7-year-olds can really muster, I decided to practice on the gravel road which served as the driveway from the road to the barn. It was slightly downhill, so I wouldn't have to pedal as hard. And, if I fell, I figured that the surface was softer than pavement and would do less damage.
On my first try, I managed to launch myself off the bike, and landed on the crushed flint like a rag doll flung across a room. My right forearm led the way, and lost a lot of skin as I slid down the road.
Crying, and bleeding, I ran to the house. Grandma cleaned me up, and bandaged my arm.
"How did you wreck?" she asked.
I told her the story of how I was trying to get as good as Joy at riding no-handed.
"Well, don't do that, any more," she said. "You'll get hurt, again."
The next day dawned bright and hot, like almost every June day in the South. The bike, the gravel road and the prospect of perfecting my new skill all beckoned. Grandma was busy in the house, buffing the hardwood floors, so I figured that she wouldn't see me practicing my technique.
Again, the first run down the hill produced exactly the same results as it had, the day before. In fact, I think I might have landed in the same pile of flint that had ground my arm to hamburger, 24 hours earlier.
The scrapes and cuts on my arm had scabbed over, since the first wreck, and this crash broke the scabs open. The resultant bleeding was impressive, almost beautiful in an awful sort of way. Of course, I was crying and scared, as always when blood was gushing out of me, and I bee-lined it into the house and the loving arms of my maternal grandmother...who immediately took me outside, cut a switch and chased me in that small circle around which anyone who has ever been switched has also run laps.
Looking back on it, I realize that she was spanking me because I had disobeyed her and tried the no-hands thing, again. At the time though, and for years after, I assumed that she was beating me for bleeding on her clean floors.
After the switching, Grandma bandaged me up, once again, and told me in no uncertain terms what fate would have in store for me if she even saw me riding with one hand on the bars, instead of two.
That was the end of the no-handed riding for the duration of the Hohenwald trip, that year.