A Journey of Hiking, Bicycling and Hitchhiking
Spring is when the magic of a new year explodes with a kaleidoscope of color on a canvas unmatched by any artisan. The dreaded dandelion pops up out of nowhere with splashes of yellow covering lawns long dormant in the winter’s cold. Trees unabashedly show their new buds of life, as the crocus, daffodils, tulips and hyacinths mysteriously reveal themselves where the day before there was nothing. It is indeed a miraculous time of year for all to inhale and hold onto for as long as possible. For me, I also try to keep a firm grasp on my long ago childhood.
It was 1887 when the historic Raleigh Cycle Company was formed. Owning a Raleigh bicycle was almost a badge of honor because of the high quality and durability of the bike. These cycles weren’t toys; rather they were a means of transportation. The Raleigh my parents purchased for me as a preteen was like riding the Mercedes-Benz of bicycles. It was a three (3) speed, with shiny chrome fenders, jet black saddle bag, and had notched tires for a headlight that was illuminated by peddle power. I was certainly fortunate to own such a fine piece of craftsmanship and it was used constantly. My friend Paul and I rode our bikes everywhere. I had an air pump attached to the frame of my bike and a tire repair kit in the saddle bag, always prepared in case there was a flat tire. Rarely did our parents give us rides in the car. We were adventurous…always exploring new areas and never thinking anything was too far to travel to. It was the springtime of youthful bliss and innocence, as we learned, grew and matured with each new journey.
The reception was horrible on transistor radios, but, hey, that is all we had back in the day and you work with what you’ve got. Diligently, like army ants we would work together to fix our radios to the handlebars of our bicycles so we could statically play songs titled “Surfin USA,” “Sugar Shack,” “Wipe Out,” “Wild Weekend,” “Surf City,” “Up on the Roof,” and “Another Saturday Night.” You see, we were cool man, with Dippity Doo in our hair and pegged black pants and wrap around sunglasses. Yup, we were “nerds” before the term was coined…but back then we weren’t nerds…we were cool.
It was an anomaly to have both parents’ work back in the 1950s and 1960s, but mine did. My mother would frantically seek out ways to fill my time during the summer break. Mom the over achiever…and I mean that in the most loving of ways…sent me to summer school, even though I never failed a grade. If I had a “B” then I could raise it to an “A” and if it was a “C” I could bring the mark up to a “B.” Being a kid with a lot of energy never made me stop and think how hard it was to keep me busy during July and August, but alas, I guess it was a challenge. So off to summer school, I would go on my Raleigh bike. The school only lasted a couple of hours and then my friend Paul would show up on his bike balancing fishing poles and a bucket. My canteen was filled with grape Kool-Aid and my brown bag carried a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich. We peddled our bikes for the 12-mile ride to the Brewerton Bridge that we fished off of on Oneida Lake. Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer had arrived for an afternoon of sunshine, casting lines, telling each other stories and never catching the “big one.” I have no idea why we brought a pail because we couldn’t have transported fish in water on a bicycle for 12 more miles back home. Our other favorite destination was to Green Lakes State Park for a day of swimming. That was also a journey of approximately 25 miles round trip. Anyway, I still smile thinking of those warm, lazy days of summer sitting on the rocky shoreline, dining on a PBJ and washing it down with grape Kool-Aid. It’s amazing we survived without wearing helmets or knee pads or having a cell phone. We knew the rules and what time to be home. Even more important was the fact our parents knew exactly where we were and heaven help us if they had to come looking for us. Oh, life was good.
As peach fuzz started to grow on my face, so did the amount of dust on my seldom used Raleigh. It was no longer hip to be seen riding a bike. Nope, Paul and I now hitchhiked to places we wanted to go. Hitching a ride with a stranger was fairly common and you didn’t hear too many stories about assaults or crimes on the passengers. Naturally, we were cautious. If a car was a junk heap and the driver looked seedy we would then run like hell, laughing all the time we were running our guts out. For some unknown reason, perceived danger makes teenagers giddy.
Although I owned a rifle and purchased my hunting permit, I never liked hunting. My preferred method of shooting animals is with a camera and not a gun. However, my friend and I did share a love of hiking, camping and exploring unknown forest areas. We would gather up our canvas tent and supplies for a couple of wilderness adventure packed days and off to the woods we would go. Finding a clearing made for a good camp base, and then we would dig a hole for our latrine and another hole for the campfire. Our one modern convenience would again be the transistor radio. Imaginations ran wild when walking along a pine-needled forest floor, with the aromas of nature’s essence surrounding our senses. We searched for arrowheads and other artifacts as we journeyed on, notching trees with a hatchet, marking our trails and relying on a compass for direction. The canopy of the woods provided shelter during torrential rains and it amazed both of us how it seemed as though not one droplet made it to the ground. Our eyes treated us to shades of green from the moss and oranges and reds from fallen leaves.The aromas of life that Mother Nature provides is like no other. As we expanded the ground covered in our explorations, we were also growing in many other ways and we quickly began to mature into young men.
If we are lucky enough to live long lives, then we are also fortunate enough to reflect back on the days of our youth. In my case, those days of yore were decades ago, but the memories are as vivid as yesterday. Hikes, bikes and hitchhikes were my building blocks and they are in the vault of my mind with all of my other treasured memories.
LOUIS PRIMA CROONS US WITH "THE HAPPY WANDERER" WITH ACCOMPANYING PHOTOS OF A TIME LONG PAST