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The Hill of No Return

Jessica Papenfuss

Looking back, it was a stupid idea to think I could go down that hill. I remember that instance as clear as if it were today. The adrenaline was overbearing as I came rushing down the hill at full speed, or so I thought. In that one moment, I was as free as a bird, until my bike started shaking and befriended the ground.

When I was five years old, all I wanted for my birthday was a bike. I wanted the bike so badly that I told my parents every day how desperately I wanted it. Sadly, the bike would lose a little element of cool: it needed to have training wheels because I was yet to learn how to ride. My dad promised me that if I got a bike, we would ride all summer until I was pro at riding. He said I would be fast, and that if I practiced, I could beat all the boys if I raced them. He told me that it wouldn’t be a girl bike, but it also wouldn’t be any ol’ boy bike either. I wasn’t quite sure what was left, but all I knew was that it couldn’t be girly pink. Yes, no pink for me. I was a true tomboy, and a good one at that. The boys in my neighborhood would always tease me because I would play with them and not the girls. They would always ask, “Don’t you have any girls to play with?”

On my sixth birthday, I got my bike. It wasn’t really defined a girly bike; nonetheless, it wasn’t a boy bike either. It had white tires with purple lining, sparkly rainbow streamers that glittered in the sun, and it was purple, not pink! Pink wasn’t even a true color to the eyes of my six-year-old self. However, as my eyes looked to the ground, I saw the training wheels, my arch nemesis.

I practiced riding my bike a lot, until one day, one of my friends, obviously a boy, told me, “You still have training wheels on? Aren’t training wheels for babies?” He mentioned that to be a real skilled bike rider, you needed to ride down the “Hill of No Return.” The hill was a few minutes away from my house, and it was now evident that I was going to ride down this hill in the very near future.

I went home humiliated and crying, which only made me more determined to get my bike into motion. All I had to do was learn how to ride a bike without training wheels. Should be easy enough, right? Everyone needs to know how to ride a bike, especially if they don’t want to be seen as a baby anymore.

All summer, I practiced and practiced with my dad until the sun went down. We worked and worked on it, and looking back, I was a very slow learner. Every summer, we would go to Montana, and I was definitely not going to take a vacation from my bike this year. My bike was my pet, and I had to have it with me in order to survive the day, or in this case the long trip. Montana shouldn’t be named “Big Sky Country,” but “The Home of Dirt Roads and Gravel.” Needless to say, I had a lot of bumpy rides, and, oh boy, was I pro at falling. Yet, giving up was not in my vocabulary as I crashed into bushes, drove into canals, scraped my legs and arms on prickly weeds, and got a little better each passing day. I hoped some of this knowledge would come in handy in Utah as I learned how to ride with rocks in the road, stay clear from barbed wire fences, and avoid active canals with fast-moving water.

When I finally got home after a week of determined bicycle riding, my dad still worked with me. After everything I learned, it was really nice to come back to the paved streets and sidewalks. You don’t realize how much you love suburbs until there isn’t a paved road in sight for miles. Since I was now a “Professional Montana Training Wheel Driver,” my dad decided it was finally time to take off the baby wheels. As I rode without the training wheels, I discovered balance wasn’t my problem anymore, and the boys were in store for some new competition. This determination gave me the drive to show them that I was no longer a baby. I still wasn’t officially a professional bike rider because I still had problems. The only obstacle in my way was using my brake, and my shoes were running out of sole each passing day. Sadly, mediocre hills were my weakness as I continued to struggle stopping. I got plenty of scabs that summer, all leading to my major bike accident.

I decided that it was now or never to show these boys that I could finally ride, although the brake part would have to wait. The neighbor boys met me at the “Hill of No Return” after school. Smack talk was going around, and I was tense to start down the hill. The best part about hills is that there are two choices. One, you either have to slow down with your brake, or two, find something soft you’d be willing to crash into.

A little too over-confident, I started pedaling. The crisp night air was powerful as it blew back my long blonde hair as I raced downward. The speed of acceleration was overwhelming as the bike continued on. Nothing mattered as my mind raced for how I was going to stop. How did my dad explain it? I had almost reached the bottom when I reached the point of severe nervousness, and my bike started to shake under me. Or was that just my body in terror? My muscles went tight, as I knew the unavoidable would happen in mere seconds. In one sudden motion, gravity kicked in, my bike dropped, and I flew from the bike and belly-flopped on the sidewalk.

There was a lot of blood. My blood stained that sidewalk for months until finally it disappeared. I was an attractive sight going to school with scabs and bruises covering my face. Many of the boys in my kindergarten asked, “What happened?” or “Were you in a fight?” They didn’t think I was a baby or really a girl anymore, but I’m guessing that’s just because of the way my faced looked. I didn’t try to be Number One again. I knew that if I tried to beat the boys again, it would just hurt, and I’d come to school again terribly embarrassed. How many girls come to school with black eyes and bruises all over their face? Not many. But I didn’t give up—I have many pictures to prove it.