My daughter left her job of 10 years as Director of Extended Studies at West Texas A&M University to pursue her PhD in Interdisciplinary Engineering at Texas A&M University (TAMU).
Sometimes I wonder why I went from commuting in my beautiful, air-conditioned sedan and a parking spot next to my office door to riding a bike in heat, rain, and wind through mobs of other students. It’s been at least 30 years since I regularly rode a bike, and I never planned to ride one again, but the cost of a hunting license for a parking spot and the College Station traffic gave me a whole new outlook on commuting. They say the ability to ride a bike never goes away, but with my first year at TAMU, I beg to differ.
I began riding in the fall heat. The drops of sweat from my forehead weren’t only due to the temperature but also the anxiety that my next conversation would probably start with, “I’m very sorry!” Again. There are so many things to hit on a bike! Thankfully college students are quick on their feet, and I have been my bike’s only real victim. To be sure, my husband called our insurance agent to increase our liability insurance, just in case.
I credit one crash for the decision on my dissertation topic. The sidewalk from the Post Office past Hullabaloo Hall is quite thin and on the edge of the University’s main drag. I was simply trying to steer my way down the sidewalk in the pouring rain when suddenly out of the blue, my bike fell over with me on it, and my ear landed on the curb. My eyes and unprotected head stared at the oncoming traffic at tire level. At that point, I decided on my dissertation topic – body armor for women.
Drenched, muddy, and newly wise to the importance of a helmet no matter how uncool it looked, I took off to the Trek bike store to find a good bicycle. An hour later, I rode out of the store $1,100 poorer with my red hair flailing in the wind. I was sold on the new silver bike when I saw it sat in an upright, cruising posture and had a basket on the back for my backpack. Yep, I rode into the Trek store a wet and muddy college student and came out a grandma.
They didn’t have the right color helmet. I mean if you’re going to be uncool, you might as well wear a flattering color.
Still, the new bike left me unprotected on all those pesky rainy days, a big adjustment in itself after coming from the dry Panhandle Plains. I tried wearing a poncho, but found it only saved me from grass and mud when I hit the ground after getting it caught in the bike. My Dad, the man with an REI store in his garage and closet, came to the rescue and sent me his extra waterproof pants, helmet cover, backpack cover and gloves. Those improvements upgraded my look to a lost Oregonian grandma, but finally I could arrive at the classroom clean and dry.
At the end of the spring semester, as I rode my not-so-stylish silver bike wearing a blue bike helmet that matched my eyes, backpack stowed in the basket behind me, holding a Starbucks in one hand and steering around students with my other hand, I realized just how much I’d learned in my first year as a PhD student. I learned to ride a bike!