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With help from a bike, college experience comes full circle

By Greta Hallberg, Columnist

When I finally finished the four years of hell known as high school, my parents got me the best graduation present: a brand new bicycle. I fell in love. It was sleek black with white tires. It had a metal basket in front, perfect for hauling my backpack around campus. The brown leather seat matched the wide set handlebars. It was the kind of bike you would take to the farmer's market in Paris and pedal home past the Eiffel Tower with a baguette and a wheel of brie in the basket.

You can imagine my surprise when, early into my freshman year, I was teased for my bike. Nothing mean or malicious, but my "friends" would roll their eyes or giggle when I rode around campus.

Slowly, I entered the world of everybody else, making the horrible walk from Western Campus to my classes, to restaurants Uptown, to King Library.

By my sophomore year, I moved into sorority quad and hardly used it at all. I usually had classes with friends, so I would walk with them, and my bike became a little bit less necessary. But then again, so did everything else I loved. I swapped my penny loafers for sky-high heels, late night ice cream for late night shots, reading for fun for partying but dreading it.

I came into school as a bright-eyed freshman, ready for a change, eager to learn and make new friends. Slowly, the toxic culture of binge drinking and Greek life consumed my life. I traded the world of my innocence and my bicycle for a world where a pair of letters define you, a world of random make-outs on the Brick Street dance floor and fake IDs.

These things weren't really of interest to me, but I bought into it anyway. I cared what other people thought of me. I let my bike sit idly in the rack outside of Hamilton Hall while consuming myself with the thoughts of the people who were "cool."

It's not a time in my life I am proud of. While I was "fitting in" with the rest of the clique, it didn't feel genuine. I was impressionable, desperate to connect with this campus and the people on it. Not to the "Public Ivy" side of Miami, but to the side the university isn't proud of -- our ranking as a top party school.

Junior year was busy -- so many things got lost in the shuffle, including my beloved bicycle. I was a TA and taking too many credit hours. I dated a guy who turned out to be a real asshole, leaving my personal life in relative shambles. I started taking on leadership positions in my sorority and with Up magazine. College began to feel like a constant to-do list that I couldn't keep up with. My grades started slipping -- or slipping for my standard -- to more B's than A's. I stopped writing for fun.

One day, I came home drained from exams, and I forgot to lock my bike to my front porch. I went out that night, and when I got home, my bike had been stolen. I had let go of myself and that thing that I loved so much -- not on purpose, but through a series of mistakes and chronic overcommitments.

When I moved back in senior year, my dad and I went to BikeWise to check out their used bikes. I was secretly hoping my adorable, fashion-blogger-esque bicycle would magically appear. It didn't, but I dropped a paycheck on a new bike nonetheless.

It was sturdy and practical, if not as cute, but it could get from point A to point B. Now, hardly a day goes by that I don't ride my bicycle to class.

I take it to Kroger or Walmart when I just have a few things to pick up, enough that I can carry in a backpack. I take it to the post office when I send packages to my family for birthdays or boxes of my stuff home over breaks. I take it to see my friends on the other side of high street, or to meetings in the evenings. Most days, it's the way I get around.

I still get teased by my friends sometimes, but I like to think it's because they'd rather be rolling to class in style than making the trek from our house to FSB. The comments, instead of hurting or embarrassing me, garner an eye roll.

While I'm not perfect at not caring what anybody else thinks, I'm getting a lot better at wearing my mom jeans, rocking the Tevas instead of wedges to the bar and, yes, proudly riding my bike.