I Still Ride My Bike
My earliest memory of spending time with my father was the Christmas before he passed away. As a child you don't realize this, but we were poor, so I can now appreciate what it took to walk out into the living room and see a bicycle next to the Christmas tree. I remember how excited I was to ride it as I sat on the seat, feet on pedals and my dad holding me up, ready to push. I also remember the instant terror when I realized I was falling after my dad ran with me, let go, and yelled with excitement, "Push the pedals, Pearce!!" I crashed pretty hard. My dad scooped me up and comforted me as we went inside to wash the blood off my legs and hands. I was never going to try that again! At least, that is what I thought. After getting all clean, my dad said, "Okay, Pearce," he is the only person who has ever called me that, "Let's go try it again." I didn't want to. I was in pain still. This time, he said, "I won't let you go until you get it." Getting it felt so good.
Life changed dramatically after my dad passed. On an evening during a big family gathering, I took my new bike out to ride around. I got it as a birthday present in July, but it was often too hot to ride during those summer months in Tucson, AZ. We lived on a few acres of desert, and because of my time spent there, I knew all the ins and outs of the path to avoid the cactus - or so I thought. Summer was coming to an end, which meant it had been some time since I had ridden a bike through the desert. A specific spot where I often passed had become overgrown with jumping cacti. I did everything possible to become a much smaller object when I realized it. I pulled my legs up and in as I tucked my elbows and head. Immediately after passing through, I put on the breaks to assess the situation. "But wait," I thought. "This is a new bike, and I can't touch the ground yet." With no momentum and nowhere to jump off, my bike tipped to the left, and I plunged into a considerable growth of Prickly Pear cactus. I painfully rolled over onto my stomach and pushed myself to my legs. I then screamed at the top of my lungs. My Great-grandmother heard the scream, ran out as I had never seen her move during my short time on this earth, and helped me into the house. I then spent the next several hours surrounded by a dozen women having the time of their life pulling cactus needles out of a nine-year-old boy's body.
The next day I was sore and swollen. I remember standing outside looking at my bike; It was in much better shape than I. I never wanted to get back on that thing as long as I lived. Then, somehow, I heard my dad's voice gently in my head, "Okay, Pearce, let's go try it again." I stood my bike up, jumped on, and headed into the desert.
Three years had passed since the cactus fiasco, and I had spent most mornings riding my bike up to the Saguaro National Monument 8-mile Loop. I was angry most days, and, for reasons I didn't understand at the time, it just helped.
During a cool spell on a brisk afternoon, my family decided to go on a bike ride through the Loop. Since I was the one who went most frequently on that ride, it was time to show off because, you know, I was twelve. I gunned it on the first big hill with all my force, leaving everyone in my dust. This decision would turn out to be a big mistake. At the bottom of that giant hill, it slipped my mind that there was an extremely sharp turn. With the turn approaching rapidly, I knew I could not slow down enough to make it and saw a bunch of cacti in front of me. My brain stepped in and said, "I don't think so. Not again." I laid my bike down and skid across the asphalt, barely slowing down and stopping before the cactus. Relief passed through me. I jumped up immediately, smiling at my family so as to make them think it was nothing. As my older brother approached, his eyes got huge as he gasped with the most commonly used term of endearment, "BROOOOOOOO." He was looking at my leg. With all the adrenaline going through my body, I did not notice any pain until he pointed at my leg. Funny how that works. There were no shorts where my shorts were supposed to be on my right leg. The fabric had been incinerated, along with several layers of my skin. My stepdad immediately turned his bike around, riding as fast as he could back to the van. By the time he returned, the adrenaline had worn off and the pain set in full bore. It was a long ride to the hospital.
Laying in the hospital bed with my mom at my bedside holding my hand and several nurses holding onto my body, the doctor looked right at me and said, "Young man, it is okay if you scream. Now hold on to your mom's hand and squeeze it as tight as you can." With the nurses holding me down and a metal wire brush in hand, the doctor began scrubbing my gnarled leg to remove all the asphalt. And scream I did. To this day, I cannot say I have ever experienced worse pain.
Months passed as my leg healed. I was not allowed to wear anything but a speedo that whole time. For a twelve-year-old, it was torture. In some places on my leg, the injury was the equivalent of third-degree burns. "I'M NEVER RIDING A BIKE AGAIN!" I had that thought many times throughout my recovery. "This time, I am serious."
But wait - "Okay, Pearce, let's go try it again."
Since then, I have ridden thousands of miles on a bike. Around lakes, through canyons, up and down mountains, and even as a commuter for six years. But even more important than that, my father instilled in me the mentality of never giving up no matter how complex or terrible the circumstance. I have fallen short in many aspects of my life, but each time I failed, I stood back up and tried again. It is okay for children not to succeed. Experiencing this sense of failure at a young age, then being shown that moving forward and trying again is possible will instill in them the grit that cannot be taught to them any other way. To fall short and then give up is to fail and to have true sadness. To fall short and then move forward is to succeed and to have true joy.