Training Wheels

Red! Of course red was the color of my tricycle. I think it was a Radio Flyer, but it could have been a Murray. I don’t really remember the brand. I remember it was red with white details. I remember the fun. I remember the breath of independence, strength, freedom. I remember the power of my own little feet and legs pumping away at the pedals which turned into wheel-spinning, forward motion. It had a running board between the two back wheels that you could stand on, or put one foot on and paddle with the other foot to give a friend a ride or an assist. This was my “ride” when we lived on 3rd Street in Port Angeles, Washington.

Photo of Lou Nell Lusk as a little girl in Port Angeles, WA

Lou Nell Lusk. This is likely what I looked like about the time I was removing my training wheels.

When we moved to the 6th Street house I got my first bicycle. It came with training wheels and I bought streamers for the handle bars at Swain’s. I’m not sure about the color. It may have been pink with white detailing. I wasn’t a big fan of the training wheels. I felt they got in the way more than provided anything. They made the bike feel rickety, unbalanced and not safe. So, one cool gray morning, I put on my favorite jacket, got my bike out of the garage and proceeded to pull tools out of my dad’s tool box one or two at a time until I found something that would work, and proceeded to remove the training wheels. I don’t remember how old I was. I was pretty little, but determined. I guess I’d been far too quiet because eventually mom came out to find out what I was doing. Well, the deed was done. Who knows what kind of mom-worry was going through her head, but there was also a look of pride. I think she helped me put the tools away and we put the training wheels somewhere in the garage, never to be seen again.

Mom watched as I took my first “real” bicycle ride down our gravel driveway, down its slope onto the pavement of 6th Street. Oddly I don’t remember that first ride as much as I remember figuring out how to remove the offending training wheels.

One spring I outgrew the little bike and my big sister, Donna, aka “Little Mommy” let me ride her bike when she wasn’t using it. It was a Schwinn, blue and white, with a two-tone seat mirroring the color scheme. It may have been a Fair Lady, Tornado or Traveler. I like to think it was a Traveler but I’m not certain. To me, it had all kinds of things going for it: it was my big sister’s bike, it was huge compared to my little bike, this bike meant business and I loved the blue and white seat. It said “Climb aboard, sit down and pedal! We got places to go, things to see!” Which I did. All over Port Angeles. It was probably a bit big for me and at first I had trouble pedaling up the slope of our gravel driveway to get home but that didn’t matter. I was riding a “big girl” bike and going places. I sometimes wonder if there were times my sister would have preferred to ride it, but she let me take it out instead. Probably.

That Christmas Eve, a white Christmas as they often were, we set out homemade cookies, homemade fudge and a glass of milk on the fireplace hearth for Santa Claus and took our annual Christmas Eve drive all around Port Angeles to view the Christmas lights. Mom or dad always seemed to forget something and had to run back into the house while the other three of us waited in the heated car. Upon our return, mom or dad would go in first to check that “Santa had been there, eaten his treats and gone…” and plug the tree lights back in. Given the “all clear”, we scrambled out of the car and ran into the living room.

Standing next to the tree was a sight that, even thinking about it today, spreads a huge grin across my face. A brand new shiny black with white detail Raleigh 3-speed bicycle. She was sleek, my first bike with gears, lightweight and mine! I particularly loved the two-tone rear fender, black up top, white curving down over the rear tire with the Raleigh emblem. I immediately began putting miles on her. Since it was dark outside and the ground covered in snow, these were indoor miles. Up and down the hallway I don’t know how many times. Grinning from ear to ear, laughing and sometimes choking down tears of utter surprise and joy. I continued to ride this bike inside daily until the snow melted and the streets cleared up. Then there was no stopping me! I rode out to my friend’s house just on the edge of town, I rode to the YMCA, the park, the library, in the spring I rode to tennis lessons. Mostly though, I just rode with no destination or plan. A ride on this bike was the one guarantee to put a smile one my face and bring me joy. She grew with me, moved to Anchorage, Alaska with us and moved back to Washington state with us. I still love this bike although I don’t know where she is now, she is the litmus test for bikes and bike fit even today.

It was a sad day when I had to admit I had outgrown this bike. In fact, I took a hiatus from bicycle riding. Running and motorcycle riding were my new sources of joy. Alas, one day on my way home from work on the motorcycle, I was hit by a car turning left…the classic crash. Lucky for me I had noticed the oncoming car’s front wheels start to turn, straighten, start to turn so I was clued into an indecisive driver who might do anything. This gave me time to re-confirm all possible escape routes (I am a believer in SIPDE: scan, identify, predict, decide and execute). There was still no other traffic. At the last minute the little white Honda Civic did indeed make a mad dash left turn…one of those that I call the “Oh, I COULDA made it” after thoughts that turns into someone executing a maneuver much too late. Anyway, I banged on the left handlebar getting the bike to go left as swiftly as possible–remember no other traffic so this was safe. I managed to only be side-swiped and didn’t go down, but my right leg was slammed between the right rear quarter panel and the kick-starter and engine of my bike. My right fibula and tibia were well and truly broken just above the ankle, however, I was elated that there was no damage to the bike. Well, that is a whole different story. How it relates here is that I spent nine months in a cast.

When I was still a few months out from getting the cast off, I asked my orthopedic surgeon about getting strength back as he warned me about muscle atrophy. Could I start running again? He gave me his classic look: he pulled his glasses down his nose and looked over the top of them directly into my eyes and said “Noooo…the best thing for you to do is ride your bicycle.” Well at this time I had no bicycle so, of course, I went shopping!

Buying a bike when you are wearing a full-length leg cast and using crutches is a bad idea.

Of course I didn’t think so at the time and I bought a slightly used, fully refurbished silver Cadre Allege Peugeot road bike. I loved the looks of this bike. I loved the idea of this bike. Unfortunately when the cast was off, and I started to ride this bike none of the “Raleigh magic” was there. Much as I wanted to, I never loved this bike. It was a wonderful bike, just not the bike for me.

Silver Peugeot Cadre Allege Bicycle

Wonderful but Too Tall Peugeot Cadre Allege

First, it was too big. I will never buy a bike when I cannot actually sit on it and ride it again. I stubbornly kept riding anyway. Second, I don’t know what it was, but I seemed to get a flat just about every time I went out riding. Riding was not the same experience I remembered with my Raleigh. Still I kept at it, at least until I COULD run again and had strength in my leg to ride my motorcycle again.

One day, I must have been remembering my Raleigh and wanted to ride my bicycle, but I just couldn’t get myself out on the Peugeot. So off we went to purchase a new bike.

Sage Green Trek 720

My Trusty Sage Green Trek 720

I found joy again with my sage green Trek Multitrack 720. We began bringing our bikes along on our annual trips to Ashland, Oregon and would ride the Bear Creek Greenway bike and pedestrian trail.

Lou Nell greeting llamas

A standard stop to greet the llamas along the Bear Creek Greenway.

I loved pedaling along next to Bear Creek and looking up at the hills and, after a rather long ride, stopping in at Standing Stone Brewery for a spicy ginger lemonade and pita platter, or, when they were still in business, stopping at Munchie’s for a half a BLTA with salad and a piece of the world’s best ever strawberry rhubarb pie.

A piece of strawberry rhubarb pie

Munchie’s Peerless Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

One year I was struggling with some back trouble and had had some wrist/hand/elbow surgeries and I just couldn’t get comfortable on my sage green Trek anymore. We stopped off at Ashland Cycle Sport on Oak Street. These guys refit the bike, set me up with new grips and seat all at a reasonable price. As soon as they were done we headed for the Bear Creek Greenway and there it was, the old “Raleigh grin”. I’m forever grateful for these folks for giving me my bicycling joy back.

Fast-forward a few more years. On our annual trip to Ashland, we did a great ride on the way down: The Hiawatha rails to trails ride, which I’ll do again and highly recommend by the way, but I was pretty beat up by the end of the ride. I was now dealing with knee trouble and more surgeries on elbow/hand/thumb.

Two bikes at Small Creek Trestle

On the Hiawatha at Trestle No. 216.

Bikes and folks having emerged from 1.66 mile St. Paul Pass or Taft Tunnell.

Through the 1.66 mile tunnel

Klee and Lou Nell in Bike Helmets

Happy Hiawatha Riders

Once in Ashland, we went back to Ashland Cycle Shop and this time I told them my issues, what worked with my Trek and what I felt I needed from it that I wasn’t getting.

They fit me out with a 2017 Trek Neko 2 with shocks, disc brakes, more gears and different gearing. I chose Crystal white. The day it arrived and I went to ride it the 4 miles home (we had by this time moved to Ashland) I instantly got my “Raleigh grin” and bicycling joy back. I love my new bike and when I do get out to ride (we are still unpacking and my knee is flaring up so this is not as often as I’d like) I relax, I laugh, I smile, I breathe.

Lou Nell on new Trek bicycle.

First ride grins, just arrived home after picking up my new Trek.

One day I was feeling pretty “hang-dog”. I was having a battle with the blues. I went out for a ride on my bike. In spite of those blues, my “Raleigh grin” appeared, my shoulders relaxed, I breathed. There is nothing like a bike ride to cure high anxiety and low confidence.

1 Comment

  1. Mary Youngblood

    I love your story. Bicycles, Christmas Eve…..great material!


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