Rekindling a flame in downtown Elkin

By Stephen Harris - For The Tribune

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown

I turned mobile when Santa brought me a tricycle, which looked just like the one I had seen a few weeks earlier on display in the old Sears catalog store next to the old Reeves Theater in downtown Elkin.

I staked out a little figure 8 track in the house that ran into the kitchen, circled in front of the kitchen table, and then I sped into the living room and circled the coffee table.

When the weather turned warm my trike and I were banished to the outdoors. Riding in grass in the yard proved miserable, but I turned mobile again when I discovered the bare tire tracks in the driveway. So up and down the driveway I sped.

When they built a new section of Highway 21 in State Road they cut off and closed the dirt road behind the house. So with the traffic gone I proved even more mobile and rode out into the old road. The Christmas arrival of my first bicycle not long afterward turned the old roadbed into a drag strip for my bike and me.

It took intense lobbying and a number of years, but I finally got the green light to range even farther, out onto the highway. I rode up and down the ridge, keeping my promise to keep an eye out for approaching cars.

My bike began looking old and worn as the time approached for acquiring my driver’s license. However, first I took one final, long-range bicycle ride of five miles to Benham to see a buddy.

Climbing hills with only one gear, as was the norm for those old bikes, nearly did me in. The big hill up from Big Elkin Creek was too much. I had to walk it up that one.

So it felt a bit odd decades later, after driving only during the interim, to be presented with a new bicycle on a birthday. The bike had 20 gears and cables and a seat that was next to nothing, a modern contrivance.

This time the bike was intended to slow me down, to make me a little less mobile. The bike was intended for getting me out with nature. For slow rides on cool, quiet trails. For exploring greenway paths that are popping up all over. To ride around the neighborhood, to get a little exercise that is easy on aging knees. To patrol the ridge.

A bike rack on the back of the car is a wonderful thing. You’re not limited to biking only to nearby locations, to only as far as weary legs can take you.

Thus the new bike has allowed me to coast down the Virginia Creeper trail from Whitetop Mountain and to ride along the New River also in Virginia. You can’t drive a car in those places.

I have cruised the shoreline of Lake Champlain in Vermont by bike and circumnavigated Mackinac Island near the confluence of lakes Huron and Michigan. No cars allowed there, either.

But one experience I lacked. I was biking the nature trail up from Elkin Park. After a couple of passes I decided to check out the Overmountain path next to Galloway Church. Then I continued on the path down to the Yadkin River. Then on the way back I stopped at the West Main bridge at the library.

As a kid I dreamed of riding my bike from home out in the country all the way to downtown Elkin and cruising Main.

So now I stood at the west end of the bridge and hesitated. The humid heat of summer beat down hard on a Sunday afternoon. Silence hovered over Main Street. Not a mouse stirred. The only signs of potential life were the cars parked near the air-conditioned bar near the east end of the main drag.

Oh, there’s no purpose in it now, I thought. It would be silly. A grown man nearing retirement and playing a kid’s game by riding a bicycle through a nearly deserted downtown.

So I took off. In the Prism store window I could almost see a little boy on a red-and-white Western Flyer bike with streamers trailing the rubber grips and riding like there’s no tomorrow.

I had the town to myself. I saw no one and no one saw me. It was just as well.

No one needed to see an old man checking one off his bucket list and fondly trying to rekindle a flame from long ago.

Stephen Harris returned home to live in State Road.

Stephen Harris Back In The Hometown Harris Back In The Hometown

By Stephen Harris

For The Tribune

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