Sewanee bikers pedal through the valley. Photo courtesy of the Sewanee Outing Program via sewanee.edu.
By Luke Gair
When I was around 11 years old, my father gifted me with a slick, scarlet-colored mountain bike for Christmas. For months, and even years admittedly, my legs weren’t quite long enough to reach the ground. Nonetheless, my father whisked my older brother and I off to the rolling hills of the South Carolina and Georgia wilderness to spend weekends huddled around campfires, sipping warm Gatorade, and of course, pedaling through miles of red clay biking trails.
Uninclined toward the outdoors and considerably out of shape for an early tween, I would heave and complain silently as I finished a tricky incline or made a notably difficult descent down thin trails laden with gnarled tree roots. My dad always showed an excited glint in his eye when we stuffed the car with camping supplies or snapped on our helmets before beginning a ride.
Almost a decade after my father gifted me with my first bike, he helped me save up for a new one that would last me beyond my four years on the Domain and through adulthood. When I was growing up, my dad always rode the same one with a hazy blue and green paint job. He always reminded me that he bought it in college, and it had lasted him ever since.
Obsessed with and admirable of such a feat, I decided I was going to do the same thing when I finally put together my own bike. Upon arriving on campus, I was incessantly careful with locking and unlocking my bike; I was neurotic about avoiding paint chips, keeping it sheltered from the rain, and oiling the chain when needed. On occasion, my dad would sometimes ask about it when I called home. Always, I could proudly say that yes, it was dry. Yes, I had it locked. Yes, I ride it every day.
Throughout my three years in Sewanee, I have clocked miles on that thing. Or at least I used to. When the winter weather began to make itself known in the bitter evening air, I returned home from a quick jaunt. I cruised to the porch of Elliott and delicately rested my bike against the brick wall. Unknowingly, I didn’t think to lock it to anything. Rather, I snaked the rubber-coated cable through the back and front wheels, and that’s it. Dizzied by my numb fingers and shivering hands, I did what I thought was fine and headed in for the night.
When I stepped onto the porch the next morning and peered through the windows, I immediately noticed it wasn’t there. I quickly tore onto the porch, glanced around and then quickly ran to the bike shed out back. Again, no luck.
While it seems dramatic, I’ve lost sleep over my missing bike. Nothing can replace evenings where I’d pedal out to Morgan’s Steep after a bad day, or ride it home from the library under a rosy morning sky.
I wish I could say that I’m the only one who has been inconvenienced by such theft, but after countless conversations, this is apparently the status quo. Some even laugh when saying “yeah, that happened to me last year.”
I’ve heard stories about those who drunkenly find an unlocked bike and totter home to Quintard on it. I’ve seen owners luckier than I reunite with their bikes after it has spent a few weeks in the depths of Lake Trez. Someone in my history class even mentioned a time where his bike went missing, and months later, he found it locked by someone else and resting at a residence hall across campus.
When I posted on Facebook that my ride had been lifted, a sympathetic parent noted that when the same thing happened to her son, it reappeared a few days later at McClurg. While so many of Sewanee’s informal and unwritten traditions are incredibly valuable, I’m going to suggest that the inclination to steal bikes is not endearing.
Riding my bike wasn’t about the competition, or the sport of it. Let’s be honest, I’m trying to make sure that I pass racquetball; athletics are absolutely not my strong suit. It was about the consistency and method of pedaling and shifting gears. There is nothing like biking through farmland, or zipping down University Avenue when the streets are humming with silence. For me, biking is about having the enlivened gleam that I saw in my dad’s eyes.
While it’s certainly inconvenient to walk everywhere, especially when I have to get across campus in a time crunch, it’s terrible knowing that someone else knows exactly where it is. They probably aren’t treating it as well as I did. Regardless of whether I get a new one or not, my heart now always beats a little faster when I see a bike that looks like my own.
Pictured: The author’s missing bike. If found, please email email@example.com.