Since August, I've been a member of the Class of 2012 (Can't Outdo the Class of One Two!). However, only since last Monday has this fact honestly started to sink in amidst a flurry of lasts and firsts. ---

The Sloans are a couple with whom family has been friends for many years--Martha Ann is always creative and endearingly Southern; Steven is savvy with business and (I admire his determination) still urges me to go to UPenn at every opportunity. But now that they live in Vero Beach when Santa Fe is shivering under the weight of winter (and, more importantly, now that I’m a so-called responsible teen driver), I am entrusted with the use and care of their pastel yellow convertible Volkswagen bug, perky plastic sunflower and all. Bouncing my lanyard to hear the jingle of the VW key against my flowered Emily nametag (an age-old present from my Nana in Texas), US Fencing membership card and house key delivers a thrill of self-command and purpose. Pulling decisively into the gravel of senior parking, I realize that I decide when I am leaving, where I am headed and how loud I want 98.1 KBAC to blare. To top it off, the number of admirers and smiling passersby and comments that have regaled me since Halloween continue to astound. Like any damaging addiction, helping to gouge out more ozone in our atmosphere has never felt so liberating!

Still riding the wave of independence and possibility imparted to me by the vroom, vroom of my (until July) little yellow bug, I unfalteringly agree to a casual query by Andie—my friend and highly successful junior dog shower, a Eukanuba and Westminster veteran, thank you very much—about a possible mountain bike ride together. But I place more faith than feasible in my current fitness ability, despite having been in the swing of the fencing season for almost three months (not a vigorous cardiovascular exercise, although a definite mind, right arm, and thigh workout, with a bonus of multiple bruises on nearly every body part). I face the Dale Ball trail wrapped in fleece, scarf, synthetic shirt, black leggings, scarf and hat, following Andie across the byway and down narrow gravel and sandy pathways until she shrinks to the size of my finger—she knows the terrain, and I am just along for the excursion.

I refuse to let my chipper willingness fade, but my breath falters and body temperature soars, and more than once, my wheels skid from underneath me, however hard my sore hands cling for dear life over piles of rocks, past piñons threatening to bash my shoulder, along narrow hairpins and over roots wobbling me nearer the sloping edge of the path. I sympathize with the sentiments of those trekkers of years past who decided to establish a rock shrine at the flat pinnacle of the trail, a respite for catching a breath. They had the right idea, sanctifying the mountaintop as an offering for the water bottle gods. Spills, shrieks, sweaty de-layerings, frantic gear shifts and all, coasting down the final hill and pedaling ferociously back up to the pavement brings a pride of accomplishment, accentuated by our pushing each other, huffing together and savoring the speed of the rare, gentle hills alongside one another in a venture that would otherwise have never been checked off alone. Our self-satisfaction and the subtle burning in my thighs afterward dwarf my haphazard struggle.

However grueling the during may be, it’s always worth the ride at the end.