The Things She Carried—and How
Bike Racks were like boyfriends. Good ones made my life better, but bad ones got me into trouble. I didn’t care a bit about having one for the beginning of my life, but one day it was all I could think of.
I was twenty-one and living in Ashland, Oregon. I’d finished college the May before, taken several meandering weeks to drive cross-country in my Toyota 2WD long-bed, then worked that summer as a nanny. After that gig was up, I wasn’t ready to head back east so got a job doing layout for the Medford Tribune. When I wasn’t working, I was hiking, canoeing, and mountain biking with new friends. Using some of my small earnings, I bought a Specialized Hardrock so I could go on the bike rides. It was the first bike ever to be only mine. My Freedom Machine. Growing up, I’d been passed down my brothers’ bikes, and then shared my mother’s.
After three months, I heard of a job opening back in North Carolina. Now that I was satisfied I could “make it” where no one knew me, it seemed more important to be where I had a network of people I knew well and cared about. I got a job, quit a job, and started packing. But I didn’t have room inside the truck for the bike, not if I was going to sleep there.
This was 1990, and I got a cheap one made for sedans or compacts that you latched the rubber-encased claws over the lip of the back window and stretched the nylon straps in some precise Jacob’s ladder string game I could never get right. I don’t remember where I got it, but the salesperson helped me make sure the straps would stretch over the long hood of my pick-up. Since I got in and out of the back of the truck cap many times a day (and night), I couldn’t mount it there.
With the handlebars on the passenger side and seat dropped down, the bike in no way impeded my vision. It was maybe my second night on the road, somewhere on I-80, my headlights shining through the spokes across long empty vistas, that I got pulled over.
The old grizzled cop seemed a bit surprised, and then even more offended, that the driver of the bestickered gypsy mobile was a single female. Apparently my IADOREGON and HUG A MOOSE FOR JESUS stickers didn’t outweigh my anti-nuke and VOTE AGAINST HELMS. He pulled me over for not signaling when I got back in the right lane after passing a vehicle. I wasn’t speeding and was several tractor-trailer lengths ahead before I returned to the right lane. He spent a lot of time walking around the truck with his flashlight, peering into the back windows.
“I’m gonna let you slide on not signaling, but you can’t drive with your bike on the front like that.”
“ ‘s against the law.”
“The man I bought it from said it was fine.”
“Not in this state.” He’d already seen my OR license and plates.
What could I do? I promised I’d change it after I found a place to stop for the night, knowing I wouldn’t.
“You don’t sleep by the side of the road, do ya?” He’d leaned in to look me in the eye, struggling between suspicious and protective.
“No Sir,” I answered 98% honestly.
And that was that. He followed me for a while until I took an exit with campgrounds. Back in NC, I sold the rack cheap and put my bike inside the truck when I went riding. I knew I’d need a better system next time I traveled and camped cross-country. And I knew that would be sooner, not later.
In the meantime, I bought a whitewater kayak.
Don’t miss the next installment, when Oregon and bike rack #2 converge to this hero’s dismay. Add your email to subscribe.
I write, read, recreate, and raise kids in rural Pennsylvania. I teach part-time in Outdoor Recreation Leadership, Creative Writing, and Women's Studies at Mansfield University.