Ride on

The first taste of freedom comes with the ability to ride a bike. As a child, you can suddenly control your own speed and destination. If you are lucky, you can ride beyond the distance of your parents’ immediate reach — maybe around the block or over a path.

In middle school, a bicycle becomes a gateway to the promised land of unsupervised exploration. Of my three children, my son was the one to embrace this. Quin and his buddies, Sully and Steven, would ride the flow trails at Pisgah and stop at Rite Aid on the way home. Here, they would use their communal store card to get discounts on sugary drinks and bags of candy. After guzzling down their 99-cent Arizonas, they would squirrel away the candy in a central location. The boys knew all the kid essentials — like the obscure paths through town and where the cheapest vending machines were. Summer vacation was the stuff of childhood dreams — all sugar and diminished oversight.

Middle school is also where an ironic freedom is embraced — the freedom to dress exactly like your peers. For my generation, nowhere were these stakes higher than in the Sears or K-mart dressing room, right before summer vacation. By the glow of the sickly-green flickering light, with stomachs sucked in (making breathing impossible), the fashion show of bathing suit selection would begin.

This ritual was much simpler then. There was no shopping with your friends, no Snapchat conversations seeking peer approval, and no backup plan for ordering online. The only guidance for coolness was the photos in Seventeen magazine.

Of course, what the models wore would never pass muster with the maternal inspector posted outside the dressing room door. Arguments would ensue, driven by the knowledge that everyone else would be wearing itsy-bitsy bikinis, whereas I would look like a Pilgrim. Despite herculean teenage efforts, the bathing suit hunt was inevitably disappointing. Ultimately, I settled for what my mother would wisely let me wear instead of what I desired. The only solace came when everyone else was wearing a variation of my modest suit.

As adults, bathing suits are still disappointing. The struggle now is between the body we used to have and the current model. Likewise, the goal has transformed from exposing as much skin as possible to camouflaging an ample bodily landscape.

By the same token, cycling is still popular in our adult world but its freedom is more of an escape than a destination. It is a break from the responsibilities of adulthood. Maybe that’s why the Blue Buns Wheel-A-Palooza seemed so appealing. A bike ride is always a pleasure, but a bike ride in winter while wearing a bathing suit feels like rebellion.

Shortly after the advertisements for this Winter Carnival goofiness appeared, I reached out to my cycling group. We’re a mellow non-competitive bunch, prone more to talking and laughing than to raising our heart rates. This event seemed like a perfect fit.

Surprisingly, my invitation was about as warmly received as ice cream in a blizzard.

“Did you read this?” one asked.

“Bathing suits?” another pointed out.

“Yeah, but over clothes,” I protested.

“I don’t think so,” was the overall response. Apparently, I had underestimated the residual teenage bathing suit trauma.

Finally, Christine Adams relented. I am not sure whether it was to appease her inner middle schooler or her carnival-loving husband Milt. But she was in, and I had company for the ride.

As I dressed for the event I had an epiphany. Bathing suits in winter are the way to go. No one who is bundled up is svelte, but fleece tights kind of work like Spanx. And all those layers hide cellulite and varicose veins. No need to preen in front of a mirror — on some level all the participants would be ridiculous.

And sure enough, we were. There were sharks, Roman warriors and tutu-clad lifeguards. There were layered bathing beauties and those who bared more than was prudent. At first, I thought the amount of skin showing was inversely related to the age of the rider. That theory was blown out of the water as the start time neared and as coats were shed, bare chests and bikinis on hardy souls from all generations. It wasn’t bitter cold, but how could they do it? With her sparkle-adorned headband, lavender wig and matching two-piece, Aggie Pelletieri confided the secret — strategically placed hand warmers.

As for the event itself, while there may have been other chilly body parts, I didn’t witness any blue buns. Some bike and costume issues slowed me down, but I left the Wheel-A-Palooza embracing the greatest middle age freedom of all — the ability to be completely foolish without caring who’s watching.


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