" I was free and riding my bike was setting a pillar of my personal character..."

  • Published
  • By Maj. Bob Atkins
  • 932nd AW
My dad was running behind me repeating, "are you ready, are you sure?" I was so nervous I didn't reply. He repeated again but this time I thought he was whispering, because I could barely hear him. When I quickly looked back he was no longer behind me holding my seat, I was riding on my own. Sheer delight and exhilaration rushed through my body. I was free.

For the next eight years I rode my bike everywhere I went. Unlike the dangers common to today's society, my dad gave me freedom to go anywhere I wanted. My wife often says, "I can't believe your parents let you ride out to here," speaking of the distance from my childhood home in Del City, Okla., to my aunt's country home in Norman.

I've ridden it many times since, but the 25 mile, one-way ride to a 13-year-old was quite the distance. I loved to ride over to my Aunt's house because she had a pond I could jump in and it was a sense of being far away from the city. As JFK famously said, "Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride." It helped me believe I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted. I was free and riding my bike was setting a pillar of my personal character.

As with most 16-year-old kids, the bike gets parked in the garage permanently for my new gas powered freedom. It wasn't until my buddy convinced me that we would do a very short triathlon together, that I stumbled upon and rekindled my love of bicycling.

For the last nine years I've been setting up specific workouts to get stronger, faster, and better at bike handling. I watch my power output, measure my cadence, and control my heart rate all in an attempt to optimize my fitness and progression. I read all the latest training protocols, dissect diets, watch race tactics and basically over complicate a very simple idea.

I've had a lot of success racing my bike, and I currently ride on the U.S. Military Endurance Cycling and Triathlon team. I cannot deny that I get a great fitness benefit from the hours and miles logged, but what I really enjoy about my bike is the freedom.

There is nothing better than exploring a new country road, riding into a new town, or the silence of nature. Seeing the world by bike is the best, as you travel fast enough to cover a lot of ground, but not so fast you miss all there is to offer.

I believe it was Ernest Hemingway that explained it best: "It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle."