December 4, 2021

My long and lovely life on two wheels, and most recently, on three

By John Guy LaPlante

I am now 92 going on 93. So this long story of mine goes way, way back, believe me.

I learned to ride a bike when I was 10. Which means I’ve been pedaling ever since I was in short pants.

My parents were immigrants from Québec, so French-speaking, of course. The trip down by train had taken only 16 hours. They were happy to have arrived in Rhode Island.

But there are so many differences. English! That was the biggest. But also differences in this and that and that. Not easy.

And hoping it would not turn out to be just a wild and sad pipedream.

For my folks it had been a smart move. Life had become much better in the town of Pawtucket.

I was their first-born. I was christened Jean-Guy. When I grew up and went off on my own, I legally changed it to the English equivalent, which is John Guy, as many of you know from past writings of mine.

They didn’t like my doing that, which was understandable. Sometimes now I think that changing my name like that was a blunder on my part.

Anyway, before long I had two sisters and a little brother. They all learned to pedal, too.

Pa had never learned to ride a bike. Neither had Ma. They had never had the opportunity up there. Never gotten to own a bike.

Well, they gave me a two-wheeler. Not one they had bought cheap. You know, second hand. No, no.

A beauty. From a store that sold bikes.

All high quality. Regular size. Balloon tires. Single speed. You braked by back-pedaling.

I was 10 years old in 1939. This Boy’s Bike is from the 1939 Schwinn Catalog.

All bikes were like that back then.

I was the first of us to learn to ride a bike.

But know what? This little kid was scared to get on and try.

Pa and Ma were awfully disappointed in that. They themselves didn’t know how to pedal a bike.

It’s my Auntie Bernadette–my Mom’s younger sister–who taught me how. She was good at making things happen.

She had asked fellow workers at the textile mill where she worked. And they had told her how to go about it.

She explained it all to Pa and Ma. No problem, she assured them. And that’s what she told me. No problem.

“Ten minutes, Jean-Guy, and you’ll be riding your new bicycle. Just10 minutes!”

“No! No! Auntie! I don’t want to!”

She chuckled.

“Get on, Jean-Guy! Just, just get on!”

What to do? Well, I got on.

Then holding me tightly, and running along at my side, and finally deciding we were going fast enough, she let go. And I kept rolling right along. All by myself. No problem.

And instinctively I learned how to slow down and stop and get off without falling.

Whoopee!

So, using me as an example, it became a lot easier for my little sisters and kid brother to learn.

That was many, many, many years ago.

Well, in a few months, I will be 93.

In all these years I have been riding a bike. Have never stopped.

Wherever I’ve lived, in several states, and in fact in a few other countries. Even after I learned how to drive a car. And I’m still pedaling.

But for some 15 years, it has not been on two wheels, but on three. I no longer pedal a bike. I pedal a trike.

There has been a downside to this. I used to be able to put my bike on my car and just take off. Not possible with a trike. Too bulky.

But some months ago I gaveup my auto license. No more driving for me. I felt at my age it was the smart and prudent thing to do.

I gave my car to my grandson Thomas who needed it.

Nice thing about that is not having to look for a parking space the way I used to.

But I’m still pedaling. I certainly don’t need a license to do that!

Over the years I have lived in many states. Especially Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and for some years in Southern California. And close to 10 years now I have been living in Morro Bay on California’s Central Coast. Just a few minutes from my loving daughter Monique and son-in-law David.

Years ago I taught her to ride a bike, also her brothers Arthur and Mark, and before that even their mother Pauline.

And oh, I’m also the one who also taught all of them how to drive.

But now I no longer bike. I know that sounds strange.

Now I trike. Yes, I have a tricycle. Three wheels instead of just two. This is far more stable for an old man.

Most of you haven’t seen me in a long while. You’d be surprised. These days I walk with two canes, one in each hand. Yes, sir.

It’s nothing to be proud of, I assure you.

And in all my waking hours, the truth is I wear a little electronic gadget that dangles on my chest. I pay a monthly fee to use it.

Why? Well, If I happened to fall, it would send a message to a central office that would get me help. I mean 24/7!

Of course, my trike is far more stable than a bike. And certainly far more practical.

By the way I believe mine is the only trike in Morro Bay. That’s one reason I get so many stares as I pedal along.

These days it’s my son-in-law David who takes me shopping for groceries and such.

But I use my trike for smaller purchases, such as from our big Albertsons supermarket nearby.

Recently one of its managers surprised me. Told me it was perfectly okay to pedal my trike up and down all the aisles. No problem. That was very nice of him.

Until then, I used to ride my trike into the store’s lobby, park it there, then get off and push one of its shopping carts up and down the various aisles to pick up the items I needed.

No more. How about that?!

I do get a lot of stares but most people understand.

I said that my trike is far more practical than a bike.

It has a big basket in the back. Can carry smaller purchases from neighborhood shops. Also books from the public library or back to the library.

Of course I use it to go to our nearby bank and post office and senior center, drugstore and other places.

And every afternoon I head to McDonald’s for a cup of coffee.

So on my trike I am a familiar sight to a lot of people. Most don’t know my name or anything about me. They know me just as the “old guy with the trike.”

And oh, my big news. You’ve heard about electric bikes, I’ll bet. Not motorcycles. Electric BIKES!

This is big news. I should have told you earlier. I apologize.

Well, I was able to buy a kit that cleverly converts my pedal trike into an electric trike.

Everyone knows me as the “old guy with the trike.”

And in a few seconds, by the push of a button or two, I can convert it from a power-driven tricycle to a foot-powered trike. Wow!

This is what I do of course at Albertson’s.

There was a time when I moved here that I could pedal my bike down the hills to the “Embarcadero,” which is what our bayfront is called.

But I couldn’t pedal back up. The hills to get home were too steep. I would have been inviting a heart attack.

We have many hills in Morro Bay. No problem.

There is no need to but I’ll bet that my motor-driven trike could get up to the top of just about any one of them.

Well, all this has been about bikes and trikes. If you’ve read this far, you’ll probably be interested in what I’m going to write about now.

It’s about a bicycle thing that I have seen nowhere else. I repeat, nowhere else.

It’s our Morro Bay Bike Park. I don’t know all the little details but it’s something the City is very proud of.

It seems to be a co-op thing between the City and a number of bicycling enthusiasts.

It was built on a hillside of some six to eight acres about a mile or so from where I live.

The Bike Park is an arrangement of dirt ramps and bounds and twists and jumps.
Visit the Morro Bay Bike Park on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MorroBayBikePark/

It’s having been built on a hillside was all-important. You’ll understand in a minute.

The Bike Park is an arrangement of dirt ramps and bounds and twists and jumps.

I understand that it was designed by a professional who has planned a number of such bike parks in communities here and there across the country.

This is the only one I have ever seen. Here’s how it works.

If you are driving with your son or daughter and their bike, which is usually the case, you drive to the top of a small hill. There’s a parking area up there.

No charge to park up there or to use the bike in the park. From there you can look down on the whole park.

You take your son or daughter and their bike to the top of the course. It’s about a hundred feet below where you have parked.

And down they go. Down to every ramp and bound and twist and jump. One after another. It’s amazing how fast, and how exciting it is to get from the top to the bottom.

Most riders want to do it several times. So they have to walk their bike back up to the shop to do it again.

Going downhill from beginning to end gives them the extra momentum, the extra speed to make the ride right down to the bottom so much more exciting.

I’ve found it great fun to watch them.

I’ve seen dads and moms eagerly snapping pictures of their kids as they fly down from one thrill to the other.

Oh, sure, some of the riders are young adults.

But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a dad trying the course by himself. He gives the shove-off and that’s it.

Of course, now and then some ramps and bounds and twists and jumps need some fixing, and it’s the dads and bigger kids who are depended upon to come and do the fixing.

Everyone pitches in.
Visit the Morro Bay Bike Park on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MorroBayBikePark/

On school days very few get to use it. Or when the weather is so-so.

On a nice busy Saturday afternoon, you might see only 20 or 25 people up there.

Now a little P.S. for you

Coping with serious old age is not easy. Take my word for it.

There’s no great trick to doing it.

I think what makes it possible is the ability to cope, adjust, cope, adjust, and to just keep doing that one / two.

I’m trying to do that. And I take pleasure in managing to do it.

Comments

  1. Hi John, I think any 92 year old that can still get around on a trike is doing awesome! And I think it neat that you still go to McDonalds every day for a cup of coffee! You did that way, way back in the days of Auburn! That is where I met you. So nice to be able to keep in touch by reading your blogs!

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