Wood River, NE
July 28, 2013
“Do you need a pump?” he asked, as he pulled up beside me in his bright red pick-up.
It was my third flat in less than twenty-four hours. “No,” I responded. “At least this time I have a flat at a station that actually has an air pump. I think I have been riding on this one for a while.” I had blamed a headwind, hills and the solid tubes I had installed just a few miles back, but I had a feeling the flat on my back bike tire may have been the cause of my slow progress the past several miles.
Less than two days ago, I had excitedly posted a picture of my first sunflower, marking that I had at last hit the High Plains I adore. I knew my first glimpse of my beloved mountains would soon (relatively, since I was traveling at a painfully slow pace) follow.
I had forgotten that alongside the sunflowers lurk far more malevolent beasts, what I had always called goathead stickers. I had a quick reminder with two successive flats in a single day on the field side of my girl’s trailer.
The following day, I had replaced another tube, this time on the rear of my bike, as I headed out of Grand Island, NE, only to be greeted by a resounding, jarring “pop” less than two miles out of town. Since I knew it was several weeks past fourth of July, I doubted it was a firecracker that had exploded, especially since the immediate weight increase behind me was almost more effective than if I had slammed on my brakes.
“This is ridiculous,” I muttered to my girl as I led the confused, bewildered and frightened dog out of her trailer. I had already devoted over six hours of pedaling time that day to chasing down extra tubes and pumps, discovering that air at convenience stores was almost as rare as non-super-sized soda cups.
Not wanting to damage my rim, I unloaded the luggage for the umpteenth time that day, making several trips from the site of the mini-explosion to a mobile home trailer park where I used a stop sign as a hitching post, tethering dog and trailer with a U-lock.
A group of curious eyes had watched me from afar, slowly peering out from behind an SUV after their initial scream of fear when they spotted my dog.
“Don’t worry. She is a very friendly girl,” I called out to them, directing my reassuring gaze and smile toward the oldest among them, a leggy, dark-eyed pre-pubescent girl who still held a protective hand on the shoulder of the youngest child.
Hearing the intonations of the children, I asked her in broken Spanish if she spoke English. She nodded. Relieved, I asked if her parents were home. She shook her head no, but ran into the trailer anyway, emerging with a young man in tow.
I hastily described my predicament, explaining that I would have to leave my dog and trailer secured to the post while I pedaled back into town to buy more tubes, attempting all the while to convince him that my dog was quite friendly.
Slowly, the children approached my girl, asking if they could pet her, commenting on her size, the softness of her fur, adding that they had a dog, a Chihuahua, but it was much smaller; the small, delightfully free talk of children once they feel comfortable with a stranger.
I knew she would be in good, attentive hands for the next hour or two.
“You only bought two solid tubes?” my daughter skeptically asked as I juggled the phone in the line at Wal Mart. I laughed, cursing her for cursing me, adding that I knew they would slow me down substantially.
Just before I had taken on the task of yet another tire change that evening, I had called her, jokingly cursing her yet again for cursing me. She laughed, glimpsing at my locational blip on her phone and added incredulously, “You mean you have ridden the past twenty miles without realizing you had a flat?!”
“Hey, at least I got a good workout,” I responded, cutting the conversation short, offering the excuse that the light was waning.
Knowing I wouldn’t make it to my next destination, a campground located several miles away, that evening as he pumped air into my newly installed tube, I asked my rescuing Red Knight if his town had a park where I could camp for the night.
“Yes,” he said, hesitatingly. “We should have alerted the sheriff though,” adding, “He was here just a second ago.” After pausing a moment, he added, “Why don’t you follow me? You can camp in my back yard. It is a bit further off the main road than the park. It will be safer.”
After the retired military jumper/satellite corn farmer had given me a brief tour of his yard and garage, supplying me with grime remover and lubricant for my chain, he explained, “I would stay out and visit a bit longer, but I am the church trustee. I need to get up early and unlock the church doors.”
As I settled into my warm down for the night, enjoying yet another perk of the Plains—the most stunning display of stars I had seen since leaving Colorado over a year ago—I was again thankful I had stumbled upon yet another example of small-town chivalry, if not another angel unawares.
The following morning, as I sat sipping my coffee on the curb with my girl outside of what had turned out to be his mother’s convenience store, I basked in the warm sun, fueled, refreshed and pumped for yet another long day of riding.