A little girl totters out onto the dirt path speckled with fallen colors from the trees above. She looks out ahead, to where the road stretches out to the rest of the world. A strand of blond hair falls in front of her ocean eyes and she bites her lip as she tucks it back where it belongs. Her father reaches from behind her, and places a shell over her head. It is warm, and as he fastens it under her chin she knows it protects her. But she can no longer feel the free wind dancing over her head. She doesn't look behind her as her father hands her the bar to the thing she must control, move. It hits her leg as she moves it closer, but she doesn't look down. She watches instead the wind gliding in front of her, over the dust and pebble road she must conquer. The pedal hits just above her sock as she tries to get on and she winces, then grabs onto the handlebars again, tightly. Her fingernails dig into her palms, to remind her that she musn't dare be afraid. She slows her breathing to a normal pace, and swings her leg over to the other pedal. She starts to fall to the left and bites her lip hard so she won't cry out. Suddenly her father's warm hands are there, and her bike is upright. The hands don't leave her shoulders. The little girl looks at the line where the dirt road meets the sky, and it is now her destination. She experiments, but her eyes never leave the finish line. She pushes one pedal forward, and her front wheel suddenly swings violently to the right. Her father is there, righting the bike's path. She sighs in frustration, her fingernails press on her palms again.
"Just keep on going. Don't stop pedaling." She hears her father's quiet voice. She waits, eyes ahead, until she can feel her beating heart slow, until her breath comes out calm. And then, very slightly, her toes push forward on the pedal. And then the other foot moves, and the first one again. The handlebars teeter and she waits for her father's hands to come again on her shoulders but they don't. The first small cry for her father escapes her lips, but he isn't there. She doesn't dare look back but her heart quickens as the wheel slides off course and the pedals hit her ankles with a slap. She is nearing the trees, the dark bark and the golden and auburn leaves. Her father's words echo in her head, and resigned to being without help, her feet finally catch the pedals and push hard. The wheel straightens, and she is going. Moving. She hears her father's footsteps behind her, but the wind is picking up, flapping around her, even managing to cool her head. She doesn't stop. Her legs raise and lower and her eyes fix on the finish line. She convinces herself she will get there. With every pedal she reaches closer and closer to where the dark road meets the light sky.