I cringed when I saw the bicycles. They looked harmless, stacked like dominoes against the wooden fence. But dominoes were designed to fall, and so, in my experience, were bicycles.
Much to my dismay, bicycles were the only efficient way to navigate the small South Carolina island I was visiting. I turned to face my traveling companions and, more than a little embarrassed, confessed, "I don't know how to ride a bike."
My friends let out a collective sigh as if to say, "You must be joking."
Only my friend Sunny saw my furrowed brow. She tapped my elbow, and whispered, "Let's go outside."
Cicadas hummed in the distance as we made our way toward the row of bikes. "Go ahead and give it a try," she urged.
"It's been a quarter of a century since I tried to ride a bike," I protested in my most dramatic fashion.
She laughed. "You never forget how to ride a bike."
It was an adage I'd heard before. Sure, you may never forget once you learn, but what if you had never gotten the hang of it in the first place? It's not that my parents hadn't tried, but when the training wheels had come off my bike, so had I.
I didn't imagine it was going to be any different today. To any passersby, the scene that followed would have looked like any learning-to-ride-a-bike lesson. But rather than a parent steadying a child while shouting encouragement, a photograph of the moment would have depicted two grown women, one of whom was in desperate need of a set of training wheels.
"Do you think they rent adult tricycles on this island?" I asked Sunny. She laughed. I was serious.
I immediately discovered that flip-flops were the wrong choice of footwear for learning to ride a bicycle. I scraped my toes on the asphalt bike path, barely escaped a bush, and abandoned the bike to avoid a tree.
But by the end of the afternoon, I knew how to ride a bike - well, sort of.
When we finally set out together, my friends, who had finally realized the seriousness of my confession, circled me as though they were gulls protecting a wounded member of the flock.
In time, after they were sure I wasn't going to flail off the bike path and into the woods, they moved ahead.
Staying on course, I rode over beds of pine needles, through warm rain puddles, and under canopies of Spanish moss. Soon, I was able to lessen my concentration on balancing the bike to enjoy the natural beauty that was slowly sliding by.
It was relaxing - until I came to a cluster of cyclists who had stopped for a break.
My friends smoothly maneuvered through the crowd, but I began to wobble as I slowed down. After noticing my hesitation, one woman in the stalled group yelled, "Pass us."
"I don't know if I can," I shouted back.
At that, she smiled and admitted, "I didn't really learn how to ride a bike until I was in my 30s." Then, showing she really understood my plight, she shouted to the crowd, "New rider coming through!" The sea of cyclists parted to let me pass.
"Good luck," she shouted after me as I moved through at my highest speed of the day, which wasn't actually all that speedy, of course.
Watching the bikers in my wake, it felt as though the world were opening up to my new and improved bike-riding self. I let my mind wander.
I imagined myself riding through Paris carrying long baguettes in my bicycle basket. I saw myself pedaling along the whitewashed houses on the hillsides of Greece. I came to the conclusion that daydreaming is like riding a bike. Once you learn to roll with it, you never really forget how.