No one forgets their first bicycle. Mine was a Schwinn coaster, secondhand, painted a distinctive red and yellow by its previous owner. I remember wobbling dangerously - and too fast - down the big hill on Springfield Avenue amid encouraging outriders: friends who had already learned. I knew at once I was being set free, that the world would be mine to explore.
A couple of years later, when I was 11, my grandmother visited from England, bringing me a bicycle. She came by sea and the bicycle came in a crate with her luggage. It was a glossy dark green, with three gears and hand brakes. As the owner of the first English bicycle my peers had ever seen, I was, for a time, almost a celebrity.
Unlike the coaster bike, it was light and responsive - riding it felt like flying. I rode it everywhere, all over the hilly suburb where we lived. I rode past the big stone houses with their huge yards and established trees. I rode down the streets of small, two-family starter houses and past the brick row houses of the people who worked in the big houses. I rode alone and with gangs of friends through the seasons: spicy autumn dusks, lingering spring afternoons, hot summer mornings, even deep into the chill of winter before snow and ice stopped me.
That beloved bike went with me to college, carrying me to the library and to classes, past the big frame houses of Brattle Street and the shabby triple-deckers of North Cambridge, and into trouble with the local police for ignoring one-way street signs. Beyond transport, it was often a prop: Pushing it along as I walked the college paths made me feel less conspicuous, less self-conscious. Somehow, conversation flowed more easily on either side of a bike.
After college, I lived abroad for a time. Returning from London, I discovered to my horror that my parents had sold my bike. They didn't even know who had bought it.
For years after that, I didn't have a bicycle that was specifically mine. Teaching in a New England prep school, I simply rode whatever bikes its graduates had left behind, usually for good reason. I rode around the little town, out to the surrounding fields and woods, on bikes that slipped in and out of gear, with brakes that grabbed or simply failed.
I did not take any of those bikes with me when I moved south to the coastal town where I now live. But after a while I missed riding.
Finally, on a fall day, I bought a bicycle. Called a comfort bike, it has wider tires than my old bike and seven gears. But it is green - a brighter green, but green nonetheless.
Still, I was a bit apprehensive. I was out of the habit and a lot older. I brought the bike home and put on my helmet - I'd never worn a helmet before. Then I got on the bike to ride down to the boardwalk.
After a tentative, slightly wobbly start, I felt exactly as I had that long-ago day on Springfield Avenue: free. Soon I was scudding along, watching the waves break, hearing the gulls cry. The beach roses were still blooming, the monarch butterflies in full jittery flight. It seemed that everyone I passed smiled and waved or called out almost wistfully, "Great day for a bike ride!"
And I knew they all remembered their first bike and how it had set them free. It still can, I wanted to call back to them, it still can.
1. Schwinn: 施文，美国最知名的自行车品牌之一；coaster: 卡斯达，一款山地车的名称，有宽而多齿的轮胎和牢固结实的车架，适于各种路况骑行；distinctive: 独特的，与众不同的。
2. 我记得自己以极快的速度冲下斯普林菲尔德大道的陡坡，摇摇晃晃十分危险，幸而有会骑车的朋友陪伴左右不断给予我鼓励。wobble: 摇晃，下文wobbly指“摇晃的，晃动的”；hill: （路上的）斜坡；outrider: （为车辆开道的）摩托车警卫，此处指为作者护航的骑友们。
3. crate: 板条箱，装货箱。
4. glossy: 有光泽的，光滑的；gear: 排挡，齿轮；hand brake: 手刹。
5. celebrity: 名人。
6. responsive: 反应快的，灵敏的。
7. suburb: 郊区。
8. starter house: 起步房，过渡房（首次购买的小房子或小公寓）；row house: 排屋（一排相连房屋的一幢）。
9. 我有时独自上路，有时和朋友们一路欢歌，穿越四季的流转：清爽的秋日黄昏、漫长的春日午后、炎热的夏日晨光，就连冬日的严寒也阻挡不了我一路前行，直至冰雪降临。a gang of: 一群；spicy: 轻快的；lingering: 拖延的，漫长的。
10. 那辆心爱的自行车随我步入大学校园，载我去过图书馆和教室，途经普雷多街上那些庞然木屋和北剑桥破旧的三层楼房，还曾冲入“险境”——因无视街旁的单行道指示牌而被当地警察拦住过。frame house: 木屋；shabby: 肮脏破旧的；triple-decker: 这里指三层的房屋。
11. prop: 道具；conspicuous: 显眼的，引人注目的；self-conscious: （在他人面前）忸怩的，不自然的。
12. prep school: （私立）预备学校。
13. slip in and out of gear: 自行车齿轮脱落，移位；grab: 抓住，攫取，此处指自行车刹车过紧。
14. apprehensive: 忧虑的，担心的。
15. helmet: 头盔。
16. boardwalk: （用木板铺成或架成的）海滨宽阔人行道。
17. tentative: 实验性的，试探性的。
18. scud: 飘过，掠过；break: （波浪）迸溅，拍岸；gull: 海鸥。
19. monarch butterfly: 黑脉金斑蝶，俗称帝王蝶，栖息在北美一带；jittery: 焦虑的，紧张不安的。
20. wistfully: 渴望地，惆怅地。