Dewin’ it with Harry
An Abridged History of Cycling in Bakersfield
What follows is a condensed overview of cycling in Bakersfield, California with a history of my own romance with recreational cycling interspersed therein. It is by no means meant to be an exhaustive record of the bicycle’s use as a mode of transport or as a discipline of athletics, both of which surely have their own fascinating origins; rather, this is a bare-bones summary of cycling for enjoyment, a modest account of mankind’s two-wheeled diversion, a succinct recounting of our fine city’s relationship with recreation, and a memoir of a love that has surely shaped my life since I first set foot to pedal and ass to saddle.
This story begins where, or rather when, most great stories naturally do: at the dawn of existence. Prior to the beginning of time, nothing at all occurred. Then, everything instantly materialized.
It is presently unknown to the most learned scholars of our time why this in particular happened, but this odd occurrence has been the basis for innumerable theological models, the slightest differences of which have constituted the casus belli for groups of our own kind to commit unspeakable acts of cruelty against other groups of our own kind. But that is for a later chapter...
Presently, the singularity erupted violently, exposing the volume within itself to ever-increasing temperature and pressure in those first few moments. And so, the void, which by now was not a void at all but something wholly unfamiliar, was set aflame with booming, chaotic formation, and instantaneously where not even a single particle nor sub-particle, not a mere wave of energy nor excitation of the quantum field had existed for any amount of time at all, the entire universe now simply existed.
In those most distant instants, the universe boomed with creation. The foundry of formations had been ignited, and the singularity expanded into eternity, setting everything within it ablaze. Quarks born of the vacuum precipitated electrons and protons and neutrons which precipitated atoms which eventually precipitated everything else. Whole galaxies were created simply to be devoured. Entire solar systems were forged, consumed by the inferno, then refined anew in the blazing furnaces of their previous forms, the universe itself callous to the casual cycle of birth and death and rebirth. This cycle went on, more or less undisturbed, for eons and eons, then eons more, and yet more eons, and still more, and more and more and more and more... Until, that is, it didn’t and the universe found itself constituted relatively the same as we find it today.
There, among the Virgo supercluster, spinning in the Orion arm of the Milky Way, streaking through space sailed our own planet and her eight (formerly nine) intrepid sisters, around a rather innocuous and unremarkable star. Earth circles the sun in the so-called Goldilocks Zone wherein our proximity to our star allows liquid water to exist, neither boiled away nor interminably frozen. It was somewhere in the depths of those early oceans that life happened to occur.
Whether a product of divinity, pure accident of chance, or careful seeding by ultra-intelligent extraterrestrial lifeforms remains an utter mystery to this very day. These early organisms were single-celled and feasted upon the hot, mineral-rich discharge of hydrothermal vents in the hadal depths of the ocean. They evolved into higher lifeforms that lived closer to surface and ate sunlight itself. Those lifeforms then evolved into multi-cellular organisms that ate each other, the most robust of which evolved into dinosaurs that also ate each other. Those dinosaurs then evolved into petroleum, deep beneath the earth's surface, which mankind now mines with brutish, barbarian thirst...
Then, it was the dawn the age of man. Between four- and six-million years ago, the first hominids appeared, our distant cousins who first bravely alight from the safety and abundance of the trees to the dusty, dangerous, and daunting mystery of the open savannah. Early man, the upright primate, those first bipedal great apes who traded brawn for brain. Early man sought a variety of tools in his quest to conquer nature. Stone implements of war and agriculture allowed mankind to settle every corner of this planet, but one invention of this era of early humanity reigns chief among them all: the wheel. The invention of the wheel irrevocably changed mankind, allowing humans to move quickly about their respective environments. This was a revolutionary time. One particular early man in this time interests me. The one who dared dream of something revolutionary indeed. The one who dreamed of climbing grueling slopes only to speed down the other side, the frigid wind in his hair and bugs in his teeth. The one who sat in the mossy shade of a tree, scrying the future in the flittering and fluttering of the leaves overhead, listening to the lilting of the little, lapping whitecaps which broke upon the nearby riverbank. They dreamed a distant dream, but a dream that would eventually come to fruition nonetheless. They mused in that ancient moment that two wheels were better than one.
My own odyssey on two wheels began in the year nineteen-hundred and ninety-nine. Prior to that year, my only experiences on or around bicycles was either in the bike trailer our mother would cart my brother and myself around the neighborhood in or on the bizarre toddler-sized seat mounted to the seat-post of my mother’s bike, the kind I recollect on now with fever-dream intensity, the very kind I must assumed are outlawed in this day and age as they seem indefensibly hazardous in hindsight. A jaunt around the block in the former was exhilarating, refreshing even; in the latter, utterly terrifying. Like many wee little children learning to ride a bike, I was confined to a ride equipped with training wheels. Just as a ship is safe in harbor, so is a bike with training wheels; but a ship is not made to sit indefinitely at the dock the same way a bike is not meant to have four wheels. True freedom came that fateful morning those learning apparatuses were removed and I was pushed off into the street to pedal on my own.
I fell, of course, and endured many cuts, bumps, scrapes, and bruises before I became barely able to ride a bicycle at all. In fact, I still do. Just last week, I was waved down by my father and his colleague walking opposite of me on the bike path and in the confusion of whether they were two old men accosting me for some perceived sleight on my part or my concern that I dropped my keys and they were directing me to pick them up, I ended up completely bailing and eating shit. I turned to quickly, got caught in some soft dirt on the shoulder of the bike path, and ended
up sideways in a bush. It was embarrassing, to be sure, but not by any means a new experience for me. But I digress...
I remember with such clarity that first moment when my father (or was it my mother?) let go of me as I go sailing down the street, pedaling like hell, petrified of the possibility of taking yet another spill. The cool morning wind hit my face, dried the spit around the corners of my mouth, and out of instinct I braced for impact. But I opened my eyes and I was not plunging toward the asphalt. No, I was speeding down the street, as free and natural as a bird cruising up and away on a thermal. I was overcome with wonder in that moment, and looked back to whichever parent it was back there, smiling as I did so. And then I ate shit. Although I had wiped out, I had ridden my bike for a considerable distance before doing so.
Like that very spark that lit the universe, like man first discovering the wheel, this was a momentous occasion. That feeling is not unfamiliar to so many others who look back fondly on their first time riding a bike, that feeling of momentum and discovery, speed and danger and wonder. That was a moment that would lead me down a path marked by unrestrained joy and the pursuit of fun, and eventually lots of beer. Like the very forces that govern the interactions of those first few particles, those building blocks of the universe, I too was guided by forces dark, degenerate, and strange. In the years since I have accepted the notion that playing in the dirt or flying across the asphalt are not boyish diversions I will soon overcome. I look forward to any excuse to get out there and chase the stoke, even if I eat shit.