Bike (USA) - - Contents -

When my mom turned 40, I dec­o­rated the house with card­board grave­stones, adult di­a­pers and all the geri­atric ac­cou­ter­ment I could muster. Ap­par­ently, 12-year-old me thought 40 was an­cient. Also, 12-year-old me was a bit of a dick about it.

Now, here I am with kids of my own cel­e­brat­ing sur­viv­ing four decades of mis­ad­ven­tures—and feel­ing any­thing but an­cient. Sure, I take longer to heal these days and get a hang­over just look­ing at cheap swill, but I’ve checked off more bucket-list items and tack­led more fears head on over the past few years than I ever did in my early 20s.

Dur­ing my 39th lap around the sun, I pock­eted away some big rides, en­tered (and lost) my first tri­als com­pe­ti­tion, and en­tered (and won) my first down­hill race. To cel­e­brate my 40th birth­day, I de­cided to check one more item off my list. With 13 tons of dirt sit­ting in my drive­way, I begged friends to help re­build the di­lap­i­dated pumptrack in my back­yard un­der the guise of a rather un­con­ven­tional birth­day party.

Ex­plain­ing this idea to non-riders re­sulted in the same ques­tion: “So, you’re ask­ing peo­ple to come over and do yard work? For your birth­day?” “Pretty much.”

We as­sign birthdays the same empty grandeur that com­pels us to drive in cir­cles wait­ing to pho­to­graph our odome­ter as it clicks over to 100,000 miles (or 80,085 miles as it were). It doesn’t take long to learn that the pass­ing of one day to the next doesn’t re­ally change any­thing, but line all those days up and you get the dash be­tween our birth and death dates.

It’s not un­til we’re con­fronted with a tan­gi­ble ar­ti­fice of time’s pas­sage that we stop to ab­sorb it. For some, it’s the emer­gence of gray hair or flip­ping through pho­tos from when that old hound dog was a ram­bunc­tious pup. For me, it came while look­ing over the in­de­ci­pher­able mounds and berms in my back­yard that once acted as the Pied Piper of good times.

Nearly a decade ago, a friend who made his liv­ing build­ing pumptracks turned a pipe dream into re­al­ity over a week­end. I was preg­nant with my first son as I watched the mini-ex­ca­va­tor tear into my yard. It would be months be­fore I chris­tened the new dirt track with my own tires, and I ques­tioned whether hav­ing a fully built pumptrack and a half-as­sem­bled crib was the right way to pri­or­i­tize—but it seemed right enough.

My new­born son sat cra­dled nearby when I took my first ride. Years later, he’d push dump trucks around the track with his lit­tle brother and sit on the top­tube of my BMX bike as I spun slow laps while he gig­gled. Warm Fri­day nights be­came the uni­ver­sal cue for neigh­bors to pour over the fence.

In those flick­er­ing mo­ments from the past, I can see small bikes scat­tered across the yard on the last day of school and hear my neigh­bor squeal­ing with equal parts fear and ex­cite­ment as her mom in­sisted on giv­ing the “strange lit­tle bike track” a try. Some mem­o­ries are backed by a laugh track of my own cre­ation, while oth­ers are en­sconced in si­lence but for a whirring hub that played its song un­til I’d ex­punged ev­ery­thing from seething anger to rest­less en­ergy from my body.

As life hit rough spots, so did the pumptrack. Wear and wind slowly shrank its once-prom­i­nent fea­tures while grass over­took formerly im­pen­e­tra­ble mounds of clay. For a while it seemed like mov­ing from this lit­tle house was im­mi­nent. To pre­pare my­self, I packed away any re­main­ing as­pi­ra­tion of bring­ing the old track back. After all, what

was the point? That chap­ter was closed.

But life changes quickly, for bet­ter and worse. The fu­ture will al­ways be filled with ques­tion marks, but for now, my grip on the reins is as tight as it’ll ever be. I wanted my pumptrack back, even if it meant anx­iously wait­ing to see if peo­ple re­ally would come over for glo­ri­fied yard work in the name of bring­ing back a piece of my past.

As friends ar­rived with gloves and shov­els in tow, the pile of clay in my drive­way shrank one wheel­bar­row at a time. Blis­ters erupted from hard­worked hands that con­tin­ued to wrap them­selves around wooden han­dles un­til berms and rollers emerged from the ground.

Grasp­ing my old Pu­laski for the first time in years felt like go­ing home. The weight of its axe head dis­ap­peared as it hung in the air dur­ing the fleet­ing mo­ment be­tween be­ing thrust up­ward and com­ing back down with enough mo­men­tum to carve into the hard­ened earth. The rhyth­mic swings of my dirt scythe peeled away strips of rust-col­ored clay from a decade ago, leav­ing be­hind stri­ated rib­bons of clay like a snake shed­ding its skin in prepa­ra­tion for the next chap­ter.

By Satur­day night, the mo­ment of truth had come. After wrestling with berm di­am­e­ters and in­suf­fer­able flat spots that kept want­ing to be flat, we be­gan lay­ing down first tracks to dis­cover what worked—and what didn’t. There in the dark, long shad­ows cast by a flick­er­ing porch light, I could fi­nally breathe. There was plenty of work to do, but I knew for the first time that the track was go­ing to ride bet­ter than ever be­fore.

When I walked out­side early Sun­day morn­ing, a loud voice boomed from the neigh­bor kid whose fin­gers were laced around the fence.

“Can I come work on the pumptrack?” he shouted. Ap­par­ently, he’d been wait­ing since sun­rise.

As we filled the first wheel­bar­row of the day, an­other neigh­bor­hood kid came over to help, joined shortly after by a sis­ter and brother from down the street. My old­est son ran the Sawzall while my youngest shouted, “Where are my hoes?” I chuck­led to my­self, be­cause even at 40, I’m still 12.

In the quiet of morn­ing, my un­der­age work crew earned their turns while adults were still home brew­ing their first cups of cof­fee. I couldn’t ig­nore my aching shoul­ders and stiff back, or the re­al­iza­tion that if there’s a foun­tain of youth, it’s prob­a­bly made of dirt.


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