It’s been a really long time since I last rode a bicycle – four years to be exact. I haven’t really found much need for pedaling since I received my driver’s license. That feeling of flying as the wind swept through my hair somehow got lost in my amazement of the convenience of my speedy four-runner. I remember the first time I successfully completed a ride around my cul-de-sac without training wheels. It was a beautiful, breezy day at my townhouse in Kapolei, Hawaii. My father stood with his hands above his forehead, shielding his light eyes from the beating island sun. Four-year-old me worked up enough courage, with the help of my sparkly pink knee and elbow pads, to take off and ignore the fear of falling. In that moment, I felt invincible. As the white tires of my pink Huffy bike soared across the black pavement, the corners of my little mouth peeled back into a grin. It was then that I discovered something that would prove to be of great importance to the rest of my childhood.
Now, sixteen years later, I am presented with the amazing opportunity to revisit Kapolei and explore a place I once knew so well with someone I love so dearly: my father. And what better way to do so than to travel by bicycle and retrace the same paths I had barreled through at only four years old? Unfortunately, my pink Huffy bike has retired, so I had to resort to a rental.
My first instinct was to adjust this unfamiliar bicycle by releasing the rusty medal latch beneath the saddle and sliding it up the scratched seat post. I forcefully jerked the piece up and down until I was finally satisfied with its height. The bicycle, as a whole, appeared old and weathered. Its white frame was tarnished with brown scuffs and scores all the way around. Dried dirt was embedded in the treads of the black rubber tires, as if its previous renter had just ridden it up Diamond Head after a storm. My eyes were then drawn to the faded leather seat, which had a chunk removed from the center, exposing its inner yellow foam stuffing. While it didn’t necessarily look very comforting, I was intrigued by the bicycle’s previous life that I knew nothing about. I wanted to give it a new adventure.
I swung my leg over the seat post of the bike and planted myself firmly onto the saddle. All of sudden, everything fell into place. My feet found their position on each pedal beneath me, fitting perfectly among every groove. I placed my hands onto the handlebars and grasped my fingers around the black rubber grip, my magenta nail polish shimmering in the daylight. My dad waved his hand and motioned for us to begin riding, so I pushed off of the cement sidewalk with my left foot and glided forward.
Instantaneously, I felt a sense of freedom overcome me. I used my thigh muscles to rotate the pedals in a constant forward motion, propelling myself onward at an increasingly fast speed. The small rocks crackled as my tires ran over them, and the weeds on the edge of the walkway flattened, surrendering to the weight of my bike. As I overcame each bump and fracture in the uneven concrete, I felt my entire body jolt into the air, only to come crashing back down again. My body never disconnected from the bicycle; I felt as though it was a new part of me.
I was so focused on the ground beneath my bike as well as the back of my dad’s head, that I hardly noticed the neighborhood we were approaching. When I finally looked up and flipped the tangled strands of hair out of my face, my mind was abruptly flooded with memories. I followed my dad to the same cul-de-sac where he had watched me soar on my pink Huffy bike for the first time. This time, though, riding around in this circle felt slightly different. I was definitely more confident than the last time I was here, and I felt more powerful overall. My once shaky balance was now sturdy and strong. I pedaled and pedaled, creating a swooshing trail of wind that followed my bicycle. As I continued to move my legs, each second faster than the last, the ticking of the chain accelerated as well. Tick… tick… tick-tick-tick-tick. This rhythm soon served as the soundtrack to the rest of my ride.
Surrounding me was various shades of gray and brown, far different from where I had just been on the opposite side of Oahu, in Honolulu. Here, on the southeast edge, everything was washed out, since it only receives around 18 inches of rainfall every year. In comparison to Hawaii’s average of 63 inches per year, this town is seriously thirsty. Locals call this the “dry side of the island,” as it is so drastically different from the plentiful, luscious foliage you see in many Hawaiian postcards. As I look around the street, the grass on each lawn seems to be artificial, perfectly manicured to be uniform for every house.
“Do you remember any of this?” my dad asked, as he coasted beside me on his bike. He had gained enough momentum to easily glide without pedaling, and I listened as his spokes buzzed behind the dominant whoosh of the wind. The truth was that everything looked a bit different than the image I had in my head. While I had been truly fascinated to see where I grew up, I still hadn’t found the sentimental feeling I was searching for deep within. I shrugged my shoulders and smiled softly. My dad suddenly began pedaling vigorously, exiting our street and whipping around the corner.
As I tried to keep up with him, I could feel my heart beating out of my chest. I did my best to ignore the furious thumping as it echoed into my ears, and continued pedaling as fast as I could. I was breathing through my mouth at this point, and the sound of my panting was blaring over any sounds in the environment around me. My palms were slipping from the rubber grips and beads of sweat formed above my upper lip. I was exhausted and sticky from the humidity, but the curiosity of our future destination motivated me to keep moving.
After a few minutes, we turned onto a road that was lined with a tall chain-link fence. I couldn’t help but notice how dull and barren the area seemed, like a ghost town or a scene from the Walking Dead (without the zombies, of course). As I glided along the smoothly paved asphalt, I could hear a helicopter chopping the air overhead. When I finally gained the balance to look up, I knew exactly where we were. My father had brought me to the site of his many acts of heroism: The United States Coast Guard Air Station at Barber’s Point.
Straightaway, he pulled out his iPhone and made a call to the commanding officer on base, asking permission to pass through the guarded gates. As soon as my bike tires began grinding through the pale dirt, I found that feeling of nostalgia that I had been counting on all along. Clouds of brown dust emerged from the ground, accumulating in the air of the trails we left behind us.
We pedaled along, passing dozens of tan buildings with minimal windows. I was sweating more than ever with beads trickling down my forehead, but the adolescent look of pure excitement on my dad’s face made it all worth it. His eyebrow lifted and his blue eyes brightened, accompanying the colossal grin plastered on his face.
After another minute of riding, my dad’s tires screeched as he came to a quick halt. I abruptly clenched both of my brake levers and lowered my feet to the ground for stability. In front of us was the open hangar where all three orange Coast Guard helicopters were housed. We hopped off of our bicycles and leaned them against the concrete wall to go explore. As I approached the massive aircraft, I began to recall the many times where I would visit my dad at work and make him take me inside of it. I was just as amazed now with its many buttons and levers as I was at four years old.
“Hey, look! It’s the tickle button,” my dad exclaimed jokingly, pointing to a small red button in front of the pilot’s seat. Memories scrolled through my head, with images of myself as a child pressing the button and waiting to be overwhelmed with laughter. I grew up on this base, inside of this helicopter, on this beautiful island. I grew up waiting for my dad to ride into the driveway on his bicycle after a long day of saving lives. I grew up begging to visit my dad at work whenever my mom and I got the chance, and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.