If I had brought my own bike, I might still be a god-fearing church-goer. Backing up: When I was about ten years old, a group of kids from our neighborhood spent a couple hours one afternoon constructing wooden boats from scrap lumber in my friend's garage. Most of the activity on our street involved gangs of kids moving in lightly organized throngs looking for something to wile away the hours before the invention of video games.
It was decided that we would should pair up and ride doubles up to the irrigation ditch to launch our crafts. That way, the kid on the back could hold a couple boats while the kid up front concentrated on pedaling and steering. Six of us rode up to the bridge that spanned the muddy water. Six of us dropped our vessels into the water and watched them go. Then we did the next most obvious thing: we jumped back on the bikes, riding down the dirt path that ran alongside the ditch, chasing our boats as they bobbed along with the steady current. I held on tightly as we sped along until we reached the end of the path. That's where the ditch went into an underground culvert.
I was riding with my best friend, Ryan, who was the nominal leader of our gang. I was friends with him primarily because he demanded it. When he said "jump" I asked how high on the way up. When he yelled to us all that we were crossing over to the street to find the spot where the water came rushing back out to see if we could catch our boats coming out on the other side, no one said a word. We rode on. Furiously.
As we made our way back onto the suburban sidewalks and streets, I found myself leaning forward, eyes closed and still holding on tight. When we came to a stop, Ryan looked back at me and asked, "What are you doing?"
I opened my eyes and realized that I had been mumbling something. Something like a prayer. "Praying," I answered before I had a chance to construct a better answer.
"Praying? For what?" By now, the other four kids had stopped their bikes and were staring at Ryan and me.
I fumbled for my rationale and came up with the truth: "I was praying that we would be able to catch up to our boats."
It was a perfect storm of pre-adolescent laughter. There I stood, a mile away from home with a choice. Should I ride back behind Ryan, or walk off in the direction of home, alone? When the derision subsided, and the boats forgotten, we all got back in our tandem groups and rode home. I remained silent. And full of doubt.