You don’t have to be a cyclist to “get” what freedom feels like. Often it is described (we have described it this way, too!) as the wind-in-your-hair, smiles on faces, pony-tails flying, our hearts pumping, legs rhythmically pedaling, adventure, escape, rolling on two wheels over hills and through small towns…
Surely we create the feeling of freedom anytime we do what we love, any time we create those moments in our lives where nothing else really matters but what we are doing this moment. And I suppose that is what the Original Dude Girls were doing when they decided to ride their horses over the Rockies on their way to Southern California.
My grandmother was one of those people who was very clear about what was meaningful in her life, what was worth doing, what didn’t matter. She didn’t talk a lot about it. It was all in her actions. She never beat her chest but she was fiercely independent. In college she hitch-hiked from Madison, Wisconsin to Laramie, WY each summer until her senior year when her P.E. teacher loaned her a car for the journey. Her girlfriends piled in and they were off! When my grandfather came into the picture, Grammy decided to ride and drive her horses to her new home in Southern California. Four cowgirls traveling on their own and on horseback wasn’t typical in those days, but my grandmother saw no reason why they shouldn’t. They were warned of the danger they might meet, but were undeterred.
When the city she moved to with my grandfather became too stifling, she purchased land and moved herself to the country where she could raise and tend to her horses. Grandad would commute on weekends to the ranch. She founded and operated a summer ranch camp for girls until she died. She wanted other girls to know they could do it too. They could do it on their own. They were just as capable as any man. Grammy could fix fence, break colts, drive a tractor, plant the fields, haul hay — every activity was an fun adventure with her. Even when we were very little, she would give us adult tasks. Her confidence in us meant that we could do it. If we stumbled, she would laugh and tell us to get up and try again. If we succeeded, she was proud.
Grammy didn’t make much money, but she lived a rich life that was truly her own. It was free. She rose early. She cared for her animals, family, campers and 4-H kids. She napped daily. She always seemed content. At night we played cards by firelight. Gin Rummy. And she didn’t let us win just because we were little. And the thing that is most remarkable to me now, whenever I think of her, is how comfortable she was in her own skin. She was truly her own woman and felt no need to apologize for it. It is the thing that I admire most in others — being comfortable in one’s own skin. This is freedom.