The road to my daughter’s preschool is a long, slow hill – the kind of hill that could be mistaken for flat if you were in the car – with our house and the school about balanced on either side. An uphill-both-ways kind of hill on a bike. Still, at five miles round-trip, it is no great journey – but that’s a plus, as I am no great cyclist. I’m a working mom, with two jobs, a hand-me-down mountain bike, and precious little extra time. Five miles round-trip is within my reach, close enough to become routine. Once or twice a week, I load my toddler into the seat we found for $10 at a garage sale this spring, bungee her lunchbox to the back, and we ride our bike to school instead of driving.
We talk as we ride, and the conversation is always better than those we have in the car. We say hello to the barking dogs and the sheep in their meadow. She asks why the trees make shadows and why the birds sing. With her weight behind me, I downshift again and again going up the hill, and she urges me, “Faster, Mama, faster!” I lean into the long coast down, and she squeals with glee and says it again. “Faster, Mama!”
I want my daughter to grow up believing that her body is good and sound and trustworthy. I want her to believe that her bravery and daring are features of womanhood, not bugs. I want her to believe in the power of her own strength to take her where she wants to go.
When we get to school, my daughter proudly tells her teacher about our trip and the dogs and the sheep and the shadows and the birds. On the way home, I feel the breeze and the sunshine, listen to the quiet and the sound of my own breath. I push hard up the hill, standing on the pedals, working a sweat, and the air is sweet and cool on my skin as I hit the crest and glide down the other side. I want my daughter to know the true topography of her world, the satisfaction of adjusting a squeaky brake, and the joy of inhabiting her body both up the hill and down.
For my whole life, I have ridden this way – on bikes scavenged and repaired, to get somewhere, and to get there myself, with the wind and the world for company. We may not be great cyclists, she and I, but our little journey is a good one, and she asks to ride our bike nearly every time she sees it. Some weeks, we even do the twelve mile round-trip to town.
By Caitlin Gildrien in Leicester,VT
Swift Industries’ Tough & Tender Project is an annual literary project to celebrate women’s experience of the bicycle. These stories were submitted in August of 2013. Cycling is a male dominated activity and industry, and it’s our experience as women and female-bodied individuals that cycling empowers and inspires us in ways which are not portrayed by mainstream bicycle culture. It’s time for something different! Swift Industries and Bicycle Times received over eighty contributions this year. Read on to enjoy some of the stories we received…