North Dakota Living

No Rest for the Wicked

It is officially the last weekend of summer vacation and as usual, summer has flown by in a wink. In my family, however, summer break is technically over at the end of July, because every August means only one thing: Harvest. This is a crazy time for farm families. Crops are ripe and need to get safely into those bins or off to those elevators; all eyes are on the weather every day; and don’t even think about taking a day or even a night off to relax… unless, of course, it rains. But a hard rain can mean disaster if the crops are overripe, so you can’t even be too gleeful about that day off. I learned at an early age to be happy about rain when my dad was happy about rain, and in turn unhappy about it when he was, too.

My dad taught me to drive a combine when I was 12, which means I’ve been doing it  now for 18 years — by far my longest-running job. Now that I’m a teacher, I go through a rather difficult transition every August from throwing on torn work clothes and work boots every morning, whipping my hair into a ponytail, making a lunch, and operating a combine in solitude for 12 hours a day… to trying to look presentable, copying worksheets, confiscating cell phones, and filling the days with lessons and activities in an attempt to correct the wayward grammatical ways of today’s youth.

Believe me, trying to look presentable is not easy for me. Neither is teaching rules of grammar to 125 kids who really don’t want to be there.

Anywho, back to farming. The kids in my family have followed a typical pattern as we’ve grown up:

First and foremost was practice farming with practice machinery. How else would you learn to drive in straight rows?

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Also at this age, it was good to hang out with Dad and Grandpa to learn the ropes of farming.

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Then, around 8 or 10 years old, it was time to get out there and work. Our first “real” harvest job was moving trucks. We were responsible for moving the trucks closer to the edge of the field as the combines cut the field smaller and smaller. The purpose of this was to 1) make the trucks more accessible to the combine operators and 2) prevent laziness in me and my brothers, who, if my dad didn’t make up jobs for us to do all day, might (gasp!) want to stay home and watch TV!

“No rest for the wicked,” as my Grandpa Tim used to say.

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On the positive side, because we learned to drive stick shift trucks at an early age in the safety of a wheat field, shifting and downshifting and braking and turning became second nature by the time we were legally allowed to drive.

At this age, we could also take breaks from moving trucks to do fun but very unsafe things such as playing in the backs of grain trucks while they were unloading.

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Kids, do not try this at home! Times have changed and I’m pretty sure this would now warrant a call from social services.

Next, as little siblings moved up to take our places moving grain trucks, we were upgraded to combine operators. For many, many years we owned two old Case International 1480 combines, known simply as #1 and #2. The nicer of the two was #2, and that’s the one I drove all the time after I learned to combine. (Being the only girl pays off sometimes.) The 1480s rattled faithfully through dozens of harvests, playing crackling AM radio stations and patiently rolling through the fields as we little guys learned to farm.

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Of course, what’s the use of operating a combine all day if you don’t have a little mishap now and then? Nothing builds character quite like digging around to unplug a combine, straw by straw.

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Eventually, we upgraded those two little Case 1480s for a 1680, then a 2188 and 2388 and finally 2588s. Today, we have three pretty nice combines, complete with FM radios, air seats, passenger seats, air conditioning that actually works, and all sorts of other frivolities.

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We stay pretty busy during harvest in our combines and trucks. This is important work, but my mom’s job might be the most important of all: Dinner wagon! During harvest, she goes all out on dinners for those hungry workers, AND she brings them straight to the field. I look forward to these meals all year! We’re talking roast beef, baked chicken, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, glazed carrots, freshly baked bread, brownies and peach cobbler… You name it, my mom can make it. And something about working in a field all day makes those dinners so much more amazing. That, and seeing my mom’s smiling face and sharing a laugh or two about the day’s events.

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As we’ve grown up, we’ve separated into our distinct roles during harvest. My two older brothers have families and full-time jobs and don’t make it back much anymore. I have summers off as a teacher, so I still operate combine until school starts and sometimes fill in as the dinner wagon. (Being the dinner wagon is not a simple task, by the way. Read about my experience here.) Two of my younger brothers are taking over the farm and have gradually taken on more and more responsibility each year. The last brother is in college and drives grain cart until he leaves, and only has a little mishap every now and then. Here he is with just an eensie little crack in the windshield:

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My Grandpa Wayne is in semi-retirement, although I bet he’ll still be up here now and then. My dad, as my brothers learn to take charge, spends less and less time doing the grunt work of harvest, and more and more time in his combine. He’d like to combine until he’s at least in his late 80s, he says. And my mom, bless her heart, still makes us those fabulous dinners.

The newest member of the crew is my husband, who, just like the rest of us, started with trucks and graduated to combine. He pretty much fills in wherever he is needed.

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Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve been lucky enough to grow up like this. We were fortunate enough to learn how to work hard and help each other, that nothing beats a hot meal together in the field or a cold shower after hours of shoveling barley, and that harvest has the power to bring an already close family even closer. I have a feeling that in a few years we will all be sending our kids to help Uncle Dan and Uncle Tom on the farm, so that they can learn a thing or two themselves about a hard day’s work. And they’ll complain, and we’ll just smile and say, “No rest for the wicked!”

Everyone can use a little character building, after all.

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Here is a little treat of a video for you:

North Dakota Living

Boots in the Country

In 2005, a bitty little kitty came home to my mom and dad’s house. We had always had house cats when I was growing up, which were almost always free kittens from someone’s farm. The previous cat Jed had recently passed away, so when my cousins had another litter for giveaway at their house in the country, my parents picked one up to bring home.

She was a little tortoiseshell-colored spitfire. We named her “Boots,” but usually she was simply called “The Cat.” She was a strange one from the get-go. She was fascinated with running water, unlike most cats, and would splash in the faucet whenever we were brushing our teeth. She was a lurker. It seemed every time we walked into a room, she was already there — lurking, looking at us from behind a stack of books, or from behind the bed, or from the top of a shelf. Sometimes, she would lie docilely next to us on the couch, purring and kneading us with her paws, and then suddenly out of the blue, she would shoot up into the air and take off with a screech in a flash of black and orange fur.

She was born to tease. She loved trying to climb onto the counter right in front of us, knowing she wasn’t supposed to; she loved strutting by the dogs with her tail flicking, knowing they weren’t allowed to harm her; she constantly pestered my mom by carrying clean socks from the laundry room all over the house. She had a knack for finding the cleanest clothes in any room and sleeping on them. Every time someone opened the front door, she would bolt outside. I think she just wanted us to chase her. She always escaped to the rock garden, stopped, and let us catch her to bring her back in.

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Crazy Boots got herself into trouble once or twice. There was the infamous laundry incident, for starters. Remember I told you Boots was fascinated with running water? She often tried to jump into the washing machine. My mom was doing laundry late one night and had already pulled Boots out of the washing machine once. While she was switching a new load of laundry, Boots jumped back into washing machine undetected by my mom, who closed the lid, pushed start, and walked away. A few minutes later, she came back upstairs and heard a funny sound from the washing machine. She realized with a sick feeling that she hadn’t seen Boots since she closed the washing machine door.

She raced over to the laundry machine to push stop, but when she saw the soggy state Boots was in, she couldn’t bring herself to deal with the situation. She shook my dad awake. “Mike, I think I killed the cat!”

My dad roused himself from bed to gently lift Boots out of the washing machine while my poor mother fretted in the background. To their surprise, Boots was stunned, but breathing! Luckily, it was a high efficiency washing machine and therefore didn’t use much water. Also luckily, it hadn’t yet started the spin cycle. [There are so many jokes a person could insert here.] Boots was extra crazy after that…

But her fur was also extra soft and fluffy for a long while.

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She and my mom had a funny relationship. Boots knew my mom was the most likely one to feed her and would follow her all over the house. She sat patiently outside my mom’s bedroom door for hours at night, waiting for her chance to bolt inside. She was naughty and exasperating, but I think my mom was secretly pretty attached to her. So when she got the news last year that Boots, at 9 years old, had developed an untreatable medical condition that would not allow her to control her bladder anymore, she had a difficult choice to make. Boots couldn’t remain a house cat; but she was still relatively young and healthy and no one wanted to put her down. Mom decided ultimately to send her to the farm for a new life, but it wasn’t without some concern. Boots had never lived in the country before. Would she survive? Would she make it through the winter? Would she get along with the other farm cats? It seemed better than the alternative, though, so early last fall she was transported up to the farm to begin her second life.

It turns out, all those fears were completely unfounded. Boots has absolutely flourished. Not only did she survive the winter, she did so with style. She is as fit and in shape as ever. Her fur is still soft and fluffy. And she’s still up to all her old tricks:

She lurks- EVERYWHERE. All over the farm yard. It’s pretty creepy, actually.

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She still teases the dogs.

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Who retaliate from time to time. Don’t worry, she isn’t getting hurt. I think she likes it, actually, because shortly after this picture was taken she walked by Scout again, flicking her tail and taunting her:

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Boots also has no fear whatsoever of horses, though she had never seen a horse before in her life. She prowls through their pasture and rubs up on their legs, which they tolerate patiently. She’s probably trying to figure out how to tease them:

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And now, rather than bolting out of the house to the rock garden like she did in her city life, instead she tries to bolt into the farmhouse anytime someone opens the front door. Once she makes it successfully inside, she usually chooses a place to lurk until someone spots her and kicks her back out.

Yes, Boots was made for the country. I like seeing the familiar flash of black and orange fur all over the farmyard. I like the way she is bursting with personality and makes no apologies. She’s always loved action, and the farm is full of it.

Her second life here seems to be right where she belongs.

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Musings, North Dakota Living

7 Months, 3 Houses

Hubby and I moved last weekend to our third house since our wedding seven months ago. We are back on the farm, in boomtown, in oil country, in western North Dakota, starting our new jobs and a new adventure together. I will miss some things about living in the capital city, but then again, when I lived in the capital city, I missed it here, too. I read a quote once that said, “You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.” It’s true; no matter where I am, I miss someones and somethings somewhere else. But that’s ok — at least I have all those someones and somethings to love!

I digress. Here is the story of the move:

Upon starting summer vacation in early June, I assume I have lots of time to move before school starts up again this fall, so rather than packing up my house, I pack a suitcase and go on vacation to Ireland and Scotland with two girlfriends and without a care. While on vacation, I get an email from my father, who is helping us to get rid of our house in the capital city. The email informs me that I must be out of my house by the following Saturday. Upon doing some calculation, I realize that gives me three days to move out once I return from Europe.

I also realize at this point that I haven’t packed one thing besides my suitcase. I haven’t even collected one cardboard box. Uh oh.

So, late on the Wednesday night before the move, I return home to a happy reunion with my hubby after being away for two weeks, followed by a lot of frantic wrapping, sorting, packing, boxing, carrying, and loading into two trailers. We should be good at this by now – not only is this our third house together, but I have moved nine times in the past six years, and in the past nine years, my hubby has moved a whopping 18 TIMES!

And every move is just as terrible as the one before.

Luckily, we have the help of my parents, grandparents, and one brother. After three long days, we load the last box, take out the last bag of garbage, wipe down the last shelf in the refrigerator, and decide that it was probably good we didn’t have much warning — kind of like ripping off a bandaid.

And just like that, here we are, enjoying the long western North Dakota evenings and unpacking at a much slower pace than that of packing. Our new home, a little modular on the family farm, is shaping up nicely after a few days of TLC. Never mind that the spare bedroom looks like this right now:

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(I know. Don’t judge.)

The more important thing is that right outside the window it looks like this:

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The view outside is a bit better than the view inside, don’t you think?

I think those boxes in the spare bedroom can wait a little longer….

Musings, North Dakota Living

That Person

Yesterday, in my Timehop app (which shows pictures and status updates from today’s date in past years), I was shown one particular memory which stood out to me. It was a picture of my cousin Beky and I on a Caribbean cruise four years ago. It wasn’t the picture that got my attention, but the fact that it was only four years ago that surprised me. Four years is a decent amount of time, but so much has changed since then – for both me and Beky – that it seems like it must have been at least a decade ago.

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This was in our dating days, the days that I would never again wish to repeat, although I learned a lot of valuable lessons during that time. Lessons like: Never move to the same place the guy lives with any type of expectations, unless you’re married. If it’s not right, END IT IMMEDIATELY rather than letting it drag out forever; it’s not good for either of you. During those lonely times, you are more likely to date people you wouldn’t normally date, but if your dad “forbids” you to date a guy, try to swallow your pride and do what’s best for you rather than trying to prove your dad wrong. Finally, and most importantly, if the guy is a jerk to you, enlist your Grandma’s support! Those kinds of lessons.

Now, thankfully, those dating days are behind both me and Beky. I was married last fall, and Beky will be married at the end of this summer. The dating world really is a brutal one, and for those of you lucky enough to find the right one early on, I give you kudos. Some of us, however, have to search a little harder before we find THAT person. And you know what? I think sifting through all the dirt of the dating world makes me appreciate my person even more.

I didn’t even know it was possible to be so lucky.

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For me, it wasn’t love at first sight when I met him at my cousin’s house. But as the Andy Griggs song goes, “The moment I looked twice” a couple weeks later, I was hooked, and I haven’t looked back since. His eyes, his deep voice, his intelligence, his life experiences, his easy way of carrying on a conversation, and his interest in everyone and everything around him were just some of the things that hooked me. We were joined at the hip from our first date and were engaged pretty quickly after about 6 months of dating.

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I’m not so idealistic to proclaim that he is the “perfect” guy, but let’s be honest, I’m much less perfect. Sometimes I can’t believe he has the patience to deal with me on a daily basis. Furthermore, I am so proud of him I could burst. He devoted his early years to learning music in the fields of percussion and audio engineering. He went to Berklee College of Music in Boston, one of the most prestigious music schools in the nation. He worked as a live audio engineer in Nashville and met countless talented musicians (including one of my favorites, Dierks Bentley!). Then, he decided to make a life change and move back home to North Dakota, after which I was lucky enough to snag him. He went back to school for carpentry, was brave enough to work for my dad on the farm last summer (truly, that was brave), and then got the job he wanted working in a custom cabinet shop.

Now, he’s found an opportunity to move both of us back to the place I love the most: my family’s farm in western North Dakota.

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His willingness to be a part of my family, work with my dad and brothers, and embrace the life I’ve always loved is one of my very favorite things about him.

He’s just great.

Did I mention he’s even letting me go off to Ireland and Scotland with two of my girlfriends (yes, one of them is Beky!) for two weeks starting tomorrow? What a guy!

Life has changed a lot for me since that Caribbean cruise four years ago. And although I am not sure where we will end up in another four years, one thing I can say for sure is this: Life is so much better with that person.

Musings, North Dakota Living

To Be Little

A farm is a great place to be little. Horses, dogs, kittens, barns, wagons, four-wheelers, lawn mowers, grandpas and grandmas, and perfect places for forts — need I elaborate?

I should know. I was lucky enough to have two sets of grandparents with farms. My Irish Grandpa Tim lived on a farm in northwestern North Dakota his entire life, and he farmed until 2005, the year he died, at 87 years old. My Norwegian grandparents, Wayne and Marilyn, farmed in northeastern North Dakota until they retired in 1996 and moved to be closer to us grandchildren. I spent countless days at both farms in the summer. My brothers and I chased kitties, fed horses, explored barns, rode in anything from tractors and grain trucks to wagons and golf carts, and sat in the laps of my grandma and grandpas.

It was heaven for six kids who loved kitties, horses, barns, tractors, grain trucks, wagons, and golf carts. And especially their grandma and grandpas.

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Now we are watching the next generation of the family begin to enjoy these same things. My niece and nephews are visiting this week and making their own memories. I love exploring the farm with them, seeing everything through their little eyes and helping them to learn to love the farm, too. Here’s a little sampling of what we’ve been busy doing:

We’re finding lots of ways to get around…

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Feeding the horses…

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Making forts under the grain bins…

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Having a pretty darn good time…

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And hanging out with Grandpa Mike.

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Come to think of it, all those things are still fun, even though I’m not so little anymore. The problem when we get older is we don’t take the time to actually do them. But wouldn’t life be a little better for all of us if we took a little ride outside on whatever transportation is available, gave a hug or a pat to one of our pets, or built a fort somewhere? If we took time just to be “little” again?

If you’re looking for me this summer, I just might be trying to convince my husband to pull me around in the wagon…. 😉

Musings, North Dakota Living

Where I’ve Been

I don’t always do well with change. For the past 16 months, I’ve gone through so many changes, I couldn’t keep up. I stressed out, lost sleep, moved twice (going on three times), took on two new jobs (going on three), found a husband, and adopted a dog. And although they’ve been mostly good changes, they came just a little too fast for me. During those 16 months, I also hit a serious writer’s block. I broke out of the block just once last spring to write about my new bike. Then I slipped back into life-change-overload.

I’m not naive enough to assume that every reader is dying to know every detail of my life, but I also feel a need to explain why this blog has sat empty for so long, collecting cyber dust. I just couldn’t let it go, though. Every October, I renew my blog subscription. When it came up last fall, I renewed it again even as I asked myself, “Will I ever write again?”

I knew I would, though.

Here is a brief summary of where I’ve been for 16 months:

December 2013: Returned from Asia. Started dating a great guy. Felt generally overwhelmed by reverse culture shock and living back at home for the first time in years. [See an explanation here.]

January 2014: Picked up a job teaching middle school English in my hometown.

March 2014: Turned 29.

June 2014: Became engaged to the great guy after only 6 months of dating. (But so what? He’s great!)

July 2014: Hired at a new job in my hometown. Took a trip to Boston. Started wedding planning.

August 2014: Started the new job, still teaching middle school English.

October 2014: Moved into a new house. Stressed out majorly over the state of my wedding dress, which DIDN’T FIT AT ALL and which the bridal shop told me was GOOD ENOUGH. I drove to the shop in Fargo numerous times on the weekends. Finally, I took it to a seamstress friend in Watford City, and she fixed it for me. She’s an angel.

November 2014: Got married. The day was freezing, but the dress fit, and the groom was the best part of all.

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And, the new husband moved into the new house. Major learning curve began — living with a husband! I’m afraid I’m probably as challenging to learn to live with as he is. (Or more. I admit it. I’m getting persnickety in my old age.)

January 2015: Moved again, to another house. (It’s a long story).

March 2015: Turned 30. We adopted a puppy from the local shelter and named her Scout. Boy, is she cute.

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April 2015: Decided to move back to the oil field! (Yes, it’s true!) My husband is going to work up there. So, I accepted a high school teaching job and resigned from my current job.

May 2015: Currently, here I am, struggling along, trying to pack up and clean up my house and find a place to live and make it to summer vacation and pack for a trip to Europe and restart my blog and brace myself again for the oil field! If I ever needed writing as therapy, it’s now.

What a crazy life.

I just can’t seem to help myself…

Musings, North Dakota Living

On Bicycles

“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.”
– Christopher Morley

“Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.” 
-H.G. Wells

A few days ago, I bought a bicycle. It’s a beauty, an Electra Verse 21D in sky blue and canary. The second I spotted it as I walked between the two aisles of shiny hybrid bicycles in the REI store in the twin cities, I knew I was in love. I didn’t want to make any rash decisions for my first bike purchase in 17 years, though, so I tried not to yearn, and instead asked the friendly REI associate some practical and pointed questions about the style of bike I should buy. The more I explained my biking style and habits, the more he continued to gesture toward that exact blue-and-yellow piece of eye candy that I was indeed yearning for. My hopes went up. My heart rate quickened. I blurted out, “I’ll take it!” It had taken me approximately 5 minutes to pick out the bicycle of my dreams, another 15 minutes for the guys to install a kickstand and water bottle cage, 2 minutes to pay — and I was out in the parking lot, riding in circles.

Who cares about a little rain?

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This got me thinking about the power of the bicycle. Susan B. Anthony said once, “Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.” (You can read an interesting article on the concept here.)

I, for one, am inclined to agree with her. Although I’m fortunate enough to grow up in a time when women can study and vote, I did find it pretty liberating riding around in the rain in the parking lot after the frozen shackles of a long, cold winter. That counts, right? And how many summer days growing up did my brothers and I spend riding our bikes to the local swimming pool, the baseball diamond, and the Mini Mart? How many times did my bike get me faithfully to class on time? How often have I cruised down a paved road in the badlands, thinking there can’t be a better way to enjoy the view? Liberating, indeed.

The bicycle is a wonderful piece of equipment, and it deserves some props, which is why I have decided to wake up from my no-blogging and no-traveling trance, and write this, my first blog post in months. I feel about as rusty as, well, an old bicycle. (Sorry.) I can’t think of a more deserving topic, however. In fact, the excitement of my purchase at REI got me thinking about the last time I experienced this kind of thrill, riding around in circles just for the heck of it, not caring a hoot about the dollars I just spent…

In the summer of 1997, I was 12 years old and had approximately 300 dollars in my little checking account. This money came from working on my Grandpa Tim’s farm in the summers — for every day we worked, we earned the dollar amount of our age. So the summer before, every time I spent a day out picking rock or hoeing trees or chasing cows, I made 11 dollars that day. (This was a sweet deal, because we were guaranteed a dollar raise once a year!) At the end of every summer, my dad deposited our earnings into our little checking accounts. Under his guidance, we doled out portions to savings and charity, and the rest was ours.

On this particularly beautiful evening in 1997, my dad drove me down to Dakota Cyclery on Main Street in Bismarck. I was bouncing with anticipation and clutching my navy blue plastic checkbook, with its barely-used blue-patterned checks. In the shop with my dad, I looked at bike after bike, trying out gears, admiring colors, and marveling over the fact that each one had handle brakes rather than pedal brakes — I had never owned a bike with handle brakes! Finally, I chose the one: A Specialized Hard Rock in forest green, with 21 speeds and a water-bottle cage. The green paint had tiny sparkles in it, and I was smitten. I proudly wrote out the check for $250 in my 7th-grade cursive, tearing it carefully on the perforated line and handing it over to the salesman. My first big purchase with my own money (Random tidbit: The second big purchase with my own money was a 12-gauge shotgun) — and what a purchase it was!

Even better, after a few test circles in the parking lot — sound familiar? — my dad let me ride it home from the bicycle shop. With the seat as low as it could go, I could just barely stretch my feet enough to pedal it. That first ride on my first grown-up bike, with the wind blowing back my hair as I cruised home, was a crowning moment in my adolescent life, and when I think of happiness and liberation, I think that moment sums it up pretty well.

Here’s the bike back in its glory days. I’m not sure I would go as far as to call those my glory days…

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Don’t get me wrong: I’m not giving up that forest green Hard Rock just because I have a new bike love in my life. After helping to transport me through the rocky adolescent years, the Hard Rock came with me to college in 2003, where it took me to English class, Burger Time, and once, through the Taco Bell drive-thru at 2 a.m. My cross country teammates often borrowed it when they were too injured to run. In 2007, I took it to a bike repair shop in Fargo for its 10th birthday and bought it a tune-up, new brakes, and new tires. It was my transportation on one first date, one long healing post-breakup ride, and one particularly infamous trip to Dairy Queen which resulted in my brother Danny breaking his wrist. On several occasions, we have gone down to the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park to admire those badlands together. Nope, that bike’s not going anywhere. We’ve been through a lot.

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But, there’s no reason you can’t have a little bit of new with a little bit of old, so that’s how I found myself in REI looking at new bicycles for the first time in 17 years. I’m thinking I’m going to make a lot of new memories with this new bike, too. I may not be making any more 2 a.m. Taco Bell trips, but I hate to rule anything out…

So if you’re looking for me this summer, I’ll more than likely be on one of my two bicycles somewhere, enjoying my little bit of liberation.

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