I straddle my mountain bike, christened “The Goose,” atop a hill on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, (the W&OD). This portion of the hill intersects with Buckthorn Lane and Hunter Mill Road, near Vienna, Virginia. The trail propels cyclists down a steep pavement, aligned with trees and bushes, with the sides sweeping toward a private garden, a batter’s cage, and ditches. Crickets and toads sit as spectators to my action.
I imagine myself as Dave Bowman, the American astronaut exposed to the wonder of the Alien Monolith, during 2001: A Space Odyssey. However instead of stars, the wind, an occasional bumblebee, butterfly, or grasshopper pelt my body and face.
It’s not a struggle to keep the bike steady at this speed. More an obligation of subtle vigilance; small mistakes lead to catastrophic results.
The sound of a cherry pit being spat out catches my attention, then the sharp hissing of my front wheel. I decide to slow my bike into the gravel to prevent a crash. Upon my stop, the inner tube starves for air. Emaciated rubber dies against the spokes.
Did I pass over a stone or nail?
Did the tire, filled at a gas station earlier, hold too much pressure?
I don’t know. The answer won’t inflate my tire, so I walk. A local shop, Bikes@Vienna, is several miles away by foot. I anticipate more than an hour of walking.
The sun is strong. Indian Summer reminds the region of its presence, at least for a few more days in late October.
A fuzzy caterpillar strolls near my feet; next: a plump, bare, gray one. Their respective promenades quite urgent. Winter is less than two months away. Cocoons to assemble, timeshare branches to purchase on formidable trees. Munching that last bit of foliage before the frost. These little things distract the tediousness of my march on the trail toward town.
“Ya need any help?” an older cyclist asks me. He slows his rate of speed.
“Oh, I’m fine. Thanks. I just got a flat.”
The kind man continues his ride. I don’t want to impose. Riding his bike, instead of a pickup truck, I imagine there’s little help he can actually offer.
Four ladies ride past me. They stop several meters ahead; one of them had dropped something. I walk around them and smile briefly. Less than a minute later, they continue down the road. One complains about her seat lacking the comfort of a beach bike seat.
I sympathize. “Beach bike seat,” I chuckle. I actually wish I had one as well, sometimes. Once again, I’m alone on the trail.
Another cyclist peddles up the road. His arms are relaxed, not even touching his handlebars. He’s almost reclining in his seat, which is remarkable because his bike doesn’t appear in any danger of tipping over. He reminds me of the Laughing Buddha; except he has caramel-toned skin, he wears a tank top, shorts, sunglasses, mustache, and a soul patch. I think he’s Latino.
“You alright?” He slows his bike, which requires him to actually touch his handlebars.
“Yeah, I just got a flat tire. I’m taking it to the bike shop.”
“You need help fixing it?”
“Naw, I’m good. I just gotta walk it into town.”
“I’ll fix it for ya, homie. I got some patches.”
“I don’t wanna take up your time.”
“I got no where to be until work, tonight.”
Since he seems accommodating, I steer the bike across the road toward him.
The Laughing Buddha removes a supply pack from the back of his bike and asks me to hold up my frame. He unlatches the front wheel and uses a slender tool to pry the tire and inner tube from the frame. He sits on the road, legs crossed, and begins to pump air into the inner tube.
“Squeeze the tube so we can hear the leak,” he says.
We both squeeze. I hear a seeping of air from a small tear in the rubber.
“Found it! Right there.”
“Cool.” He rubs the surface of the hole with a small abrasive material, and then he applies a patch about the size of a dime over it.
“You guys need any help?” Another cyclist slows down. This one sounds French.
“Um, nope; we’re good,” I say. “Just fixing a flat. Thank you, though.”
“Alright, take care.” And the French dude rides away. Interestingly enough, I’m touched by how considerate the other riders are. As if there’s a code of the bicycle: to help those bound by the wheels. Probably not, but it’s still a fun thought.
The Laughing Buddha asks me to hold the wheel as he pries the inner tube and tire back on the wheel.
“This should hold until you get to the bicycle shop.”
“Thanks! It’s kind of you to do this. I gotta ask if I can pay you in any way.”
“Just pay it forward, homie.”
“What’s your name?”
“Thank you, Sam,” I say. “I’m Corey.”
“Alright, take care, homie.”
And he literally got back on his bike and peddled away without the use of his handlebars.
I receive a “deus ex machina” event about once every few years. And I must say, this is probably the coolest version I’ve had in a while.
Less than thirty minutes later, I arrive at Bikes@Vienna, off Church Street. Tim and Daniel, the mechanics, offer quick and courteous service. My tire and inner tube are replaced, the rate’s reasonable, and I thank them both for their assistance.
I already have lunch at home, but to celebrate the repairs, I decide to step into a curious little shop called The Pure Pasty Co. I’m sensing an English theme (and who doesn’t like English themes), so I enter.
“What’s a ‘paste-ee’?” I ask.
“It’s like an English savory pie,” the lady behind the counter says, “Oh, and it’s pronounced ‘pah-stee’.”
This delicacy specifically comes from Cornwall, so I guess it’s a Cornish pasty. I purchase the Aussie: a pie of grass-fed ground beef, herbs, and chuck steak, with a tomato and bacon-based gravy. Just four calories! (I’m kidding).
Anyway, once I arrive home I grab an iced peach tea and devour the Cornish pasty. It’s amazing. Despite the accident, today was a great day. I’ll return to The Pure Pasty Co. And I’ll take to heart the advice of Sam, the Laughing Buddha willing to help homies in distress.