I am 5 years old, and I'm sitting on the bare living room floor of my apartment in Arlington. All of our things have mysteriously disappeared, and even though this makes Ma very nervous, my baby sister is more concerned with trying to shove Cheerios up her nose.

It's 1979, and two years ago my father drove here from Arizona and landed a job as a junior translator with the government. He also found a cheap apartment within walking distance of his job, and so he moved his growing family to Northern Virginia. Now that the economic depression of the '70s seems nearly behind us, we're going to grab a little of the American Dream.

All that I understand is that I'm leaving a dark apartment, and going somewhere that has a yard and flowers and squirrels. I also understand, from all the talk going on over my head, that my father will not be able to walk to work anymore.

This is a cause of some concern to the big people, because apparently the suburbs are so enormous that my mother will need the car just to buy milk and more cereal. This seems important to me, because at the rate my sister is rendering the current box inedible, we will definitely need more soon.

"Just take the car to work, John. I'll figure something out," my mother says in a frustrated tone. At the moment, she is more concerned with packing the last of the dishes and distracting my sister from further nasal explorations.

My father rolls his eyes. "Trish, that's ridiculous. Fairfax County is a little different from Arlington. And I don't want to think about the depreciation on the car if I drive it every day."

She sighs the mom sigh, and mutters about her three children. I look around, but there's only me and my sister. "Then take the bus, for crying out loud. Can you put the Big Wheel in the truck?"

I follow my father, and watch anxiously as he fastens my toy next to a dusty bicycle he hasn't ridden since he was married. "We're too broke for me to ride the bus," he grumbles.

He stands there for a minute, spinning the front wheel of the bike, and then marches back inside. "Trish," he announces grandly, "I have decided that I shall ride my bike."

"Snort," comes the voice from the kitchen.

Twenty years later, the suburban house is next to a Metro station, and the baby with Cheerios in her nose has finished college. The family has three cars, if you count the heap I bought for $100. Money for the bus is not a problem anymore. All that hasn't changed, in fact, is my father's love affair with his bicycle.

The flimsy city bike was traded in for a monster with big, thick tires, the ball cap was traded in for a helmet after a small accident, and he carries a tool kit in the backpack with his office clothes. The office moved to Reston at one point, but my father just found a new trail and kept riding, even though the commute had grown to a 30-mile round trip.

Heat and cold don't seem to affect him, and rain won't keep him from leaving our house at 5:30 in the morning to ride in every day. He even rides well into winter, over the protests of my mother. In the very worst weather, he takes public transportation, but as soon as the ice melts from the trail he's back on it.

There are certain people he sees every day, other bike lovers who won't give up their fresh air or their sunrises for a commute in a metal box, and it was one of them who came to his rescue one autumn day.

My father has had his share of accidents, but the only real danger he ever encountered came from another human. Someone threw a branch across the trail. And when he capsized, that same person hit him in the head, stunned my indefatigable father, and took his wallet. The helmet saved him from a skull fracture, and another cyclist took him home. My father was back on the trail two weeks later.

Now he has accepted an overseas assignment, and the bike is probably going into storage. Although he's leaving the trail, another family member is taking his place. I just moved back to the area, and my best friend and I like to get out on weekends to ride as far as the trail can take us. I enjoy the pastime, and besides, I'm too broke to ride the bus.