Excerpts From "Angel on my Handlebars"

By  Patricia Starr


What was I doing out there alone?  I had a dream to pedal 3,622 miles across America. An innocent postcard had flipped out of my registration packet for the Solvang Half Century Ride.

Free catalogue of bicycle tours—why not—into the mailbox it went.

A week later, the catalogue caught my eye in the stack of mail. It was a magnet. I couldn’t put it down. There it was: a tour to pedal all the way across America that stayed in AAA motels every night. That was it!  I never wanted to sleep in a tent on the church parking lot.

Wait, how could I even dream of something so outlandish. I wasn’t a bicyclist; I only rode a few charity rides a year. My longest ride was 62 miles, and I had never ridden back-to-back days.

I was a concert pianist who also sang and played the trombone.  I had spent my entire career teaching, directing and performing.

Yet, the intrigue of bicycling America didn’t stop. I fantasized about the wind blowing on my face and inhaling the smells as I floated down the highways. Maybe I wanted to run away from an extremely busy career. I loved my life but always seemed to be over programmed. The freedom of hopping on a bicycle every day for seven weeks was tantalizing.

But, how could I tell my husband? He would really think I was nuts. He knew my bicycle spent most of its life gathering dust in the storage room.

I never did stop and think about how difficult a ride across America would be.

When my husband and daughter came home at dinnertime, they found me at the dining table working on ledger books and paying bills. My husband said, “Close your eyes, Baby, we have a surprise for you.”

I obeyed, assuming they had brought something ready to eat for dinner.

“Open your eyes” they chorused.

I obliged and my eyes riveted on a new red bicycle sitting in the middle of the living room. From the black tires with the decorative red band to the black wrap handlebars, the bike was a “look alike” to my red convertible, a Classic 68 Firebird with a black ragtop.

What was happening?  They couldn’t possibly have been reading my mind as the day unfolded into my dream.

Gabriel, said, “I wanted you to have a new bicycle to ride the Solvang century tomorrow. Your 25-year-old Peugeot is heavy and you haven’t been training for the ride. This bike has twenty-four gears and it will be easier for you to climb the hills.”

“Stunned” didn’t begin to describe my feelings. I mumbled many “thank yous” and hugged Gabriel and daughter Desiree.

“It’s so beautiful! I can’t believe you came home with a new bicycle like bringing home a box of Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

My mind was whirling. I tried not to tell them what had transpired during the day, but the mixed-up words tumbled out anyway. “I love the bike. I’m riding across America next summer. It will be perfect. I love red. We’re sleeping in AAA motels.”

Gabriel retorted, “What in the hell are you mumbling about? All I understood was AAA motels. The ride tomorrow starts in Solvang, 30 miles from here. Why would you be staying in a motel?”

I scurried into the kitchen to find the brochure, grabbed it and held it up for Gabriel to see. “I really want to do this. I think I can. I know I can. I wanted to ride across the country in 1976 when America was celebrating its 200th anniversary, but it was impossible as I was working full time. I want to do it now. We don’t have our automotive business anymore and can get someone to chase toilets and collect rent on our properties.”

Gabriel started quizzing me, “What makes you think you can do something like that?  I never see you out on your bike. Have you really gone crazy?  What’s for dinner? We’re hungry.”

I should have known it wasn’t the right time to bring it up, but he had just rolled in a new red bicycle!

Family and friends echoed Gabriel’s dismissal. “Do you know how dangerous it is? What makes you think you can even make one day. You’re out of your mind. Have you forgotten how old you are?”

I didn’t want to hear their comments. I wanted someone to be excited for me.

Nobody was.

The dream continued.  I looked at the brochure hundreds of times. Breakfasts and dinners were included—good. But what about a roommate, my husband was the only roommate I wanted. He’s twenty years younger than I and the ultimate “Latin lover.”  We’ve never been apart more than a few days in our entire marriage.

Time was running out to reserve a spot on the 2004 calendar. Gabriel didn’t even want to discuss it.

I tried. “Please talk to me. I want you to go with me.  I don’t want us to be apart for seven weeks.”

“It’s a crazy idea. What do you expect me to do? I certainly don’t want to spend my summer with a bicycle seat stuck up my ass. What am I going to do every day in the van for seven weeks while you’re out following some wild dream?”

I couldn’t get the dream out of my mind.  The new red bicycle never did go into the storage room. I started making challenges for myself a few times a week to get the feel of the new bike and get comfortable with all those gears. The registration deadline was creeping up.  I didn’t want to miss my chance.

Pieces of the puzzle started falling in place before I even knew what was happening.

Could my angel already have been at work?