Category Archives: Biking

Touchy, touchy, touchy

A funny but not ha-ha funny thing happened to me today on the bike trail. I took a ride of about 20 miles, starting on North St, and moving south to the end of the Razorback Greenway, then back north. I must’ve gone just 2-3 miles when the trail came to an abrupt, if temporary, end. Suddenly the asphalt gave out and a patch of white rock began, on the road where workmen had excavated the asphalt and a few feet on either side. A sign proclaimed, “Trail Ends.” As I put on my brakes and came to a halt, I saw a young woman jogger stopping ahead of me. “End of trail!” I called out, as much to myself as to anyone.

She turned to look at me — a slim young woman, 20 or so, I’d suppose — and said, “I can read. You don’t have to read it to me!”

“Whoa!” I countered. “Aren’t we touchy?”

She turned toward me a couple of steps and spat out, “I know your kind!”

“What kind is that?” I inquired.

But she wouldn’t say. Just continued to sputter venom. So I muttered, half under my breath, “Idiot!” — and sped away.

sex offender
Jesus, is this what I looked like to the girl?

I was hoping that was the last of her, but though I went to the end of the trail, and detoured also 2-3 miles out of the way, I came upon her again, going north, just as I hit North St. I’d just gone by a young jogger, but didn’t think this was the crazy lady. But it was! She ran by me, wearing white jogging pants and a chartreuse top, as I waited at the light to get across the street, and then, when she was 30 feet down the street from me she turned to me and hissed, “Sex offender!”

So that’s the kind I was! A sex offender in her mind!

“Fuck you!” I returned, and went on my way.

The virtue of surprise

Walking or biking, at leisure, through areas you think are familiar may yield surprises. Any day you go out, in fact, and come back, traversing familiar areas, may heave up discoveries that you and most of your friends and neighbors have never suspected.
So, the other day, I walked from the Nissan dealership on College Avenue, where I’d brought my car, to the gym at Washington Regional Medical Center. There’s no direct way, straight as the crow flies, so I skittered through back lots along the commercial strip and came to the back side of Fiesta Square.

I was astonished, first of all, at how huge the parking lot was: it can hold hundreds and hundreds of cars. The front lot is  never full and rarely crowded, as you may know, at this mall that was a premier spot in the early ’70s, when it was built, but has long since been superseded by larger, more glamorous developments.

The only vehicles parked in this huge L-shaped lot belonged, I suspect, to employees at the stores, especially those stores near where the two legs of the L join and where a passageway allows access to a few stores and joins the two lots. I peered as I walked the back lot for egress through or around the dog-eared fence at the back of the lot, behind which a dozen or so of private homes sat. On the right side of the fence, as I walked west, was a ravine too dense and brambly to penetrate, especially in the shorts and tee-shirt I was wearing. Who owned this land, if anyone? I wondered. How had it been excluded from development? Would it ever be developed? (Fayetteville, back in the day, must’ve had much more informal development policies than it does today, with the city council and a planning commission presiding over every option that comes up before it.)

As i walked, then, south, along the fence, I noted two or three gates into yards. Of course, I was wary of trespassing but curious too, and I tried these gates, tentatively, pushing in, but the gates did not yield easily. Besides, as I pushed, I raised a hullabaloo from dogs in nearby yards, a racket of primitive menace that produced in me only the determination not to enter any yards and an imprecation or two I hurled at the mutts.

As I walked by the backs of the stores, there was a more than pungent smell from one Dumpster, presided over by a lordly crow on the rooftop, which cawed and claimed the garbage as its own. Whew! What rot! I hurried by and had to go all the way south to Appleby Drive, at the southern end of the shopping center, before I could turn west again toward the gym.

secret-places
A glimpse of the rural and industrial area south and west of the development where I live in Fayetteville, Ark.

As for biking, I took my Trek out the other day along the back roads south of our development of Stonebridge Meadows. I did a leisurely 15 miles, about all I had time for, and climbed up Dead Horse Mountain Rd and then twisted south and east a bit. At the end of this road I came to S Black Oak Rd, which I took east, towards the industrial park, sluicing along and ducking into byways and dead-end streets. I found a couple of things I hadn’t know to be looking for: 1) an old crumbling concrete reservoir built in 1889, a decaying sign said, for Fayetteville’s water supply, and 2) a cemetery.

The reservoir was on the West Fork of the White River, which cuts long the edge of our development and then skirts through farmland south and west. I found the reservoir just by cutting down a stub street, one block long, spying an old stone house and outbuilding, in good condition, and then the peeling painted sign with the history of the project. A couple in their early 30s were fishing at the reservoir and their little daughter clambering among the rocks. This was one of those rocky riparian flows, or floes, you sometimes see in an area of limestone topography (or karst) like Northwest Arkansas. Shelves of limestone stretched away from the river banks, an area that would be underwater during springtime rush and flooding.

The cemetery was along Pump Station Road, or one of the nearby country roads. I didn’t stop and check it out but was amazed, even in flying by, to spy this extra evidence of earlier settlement. Ah, yes, the dead were tucked away so safely and squarely. Who would disturb them, or remember them, now? Well, I would like to return, some day soon, not to haunt them but sit down and visit a spell, talk nonsense with them, perhaps take a few photos.

All of these secret places, some maybe sacred, are susceptible of being visited, meditated, recorded. So remote, and yet so close, they can be remembered if we simply slow down and drop in.

 

Long-distance biking blues

Dog hit by bike
Tour de France rider hits dog.

Oh Lawd don’t flat my tire,
Oh Lawd don’t run down my dawg.
I’m on the trail just forgetting about
Living so low off the hawg.

Did another 60-mile bike ride yesterday with my friend Andrea’s Meetup group, starting at the Fossil Cove brewery in Fayetteville and taking the Razorback Greenway to the Bentonville square and back.

The ride was not without unexpected excitement — and the usual bucketful of aches.

By the time we rolled back to the brewery, some five hours after starting, we were complaining about aching backs, spasming calves, and saddle-anesthetized tender parts. The usual complaints, in other words, that could be soothed by beer.

But on the way up to Bentonville, two events occurred that we hadn’t anticipated and came rather to regret:

  1. One of the riders, on his first ride with us, on a brand new bike, hit a dog.
  2. Another of the riders (me) ran over a   branch, in a big dip in the trail in Bentonville and got a flat tire.

Rider no. 1 — Bob — felt bad about banging into the dog. But it really wasn’t his fault, so much as the dog’s and its owner’s. The dog was on the wrong side of the trail — our side — and unrestrained by a leash. This was a winding segment of the trail, and Bob saw the knot in front of him too late — the dog owner on the left side, the dog and a girl jogger on the right. He tried braking at the last moment but hit the dog square on, and the beast yelped of course and ran away, first into the weeds and then down the trail in the direction he and his master were going originally. The man then ran after the dog.

I can’t imagine the hound is not hurt — suffering from deep bruises or contusion, or a broken bone or two. C’est la vie, apparently. I can’t imagine, either, that the owner will not restrain his dog if he takes him out on the trail again.

Rider no. 2 — me — should have slowed down up the road, in Bentonville, as the trail wound and dipped near a little park. I found myself sailing fast down a curve, with a deep dip, and there I ran over a branch and soon felt an odd drag. I stopped and looked at my front tire, and didn’t see anything amiss. But then, a few yards further down the trail, I stopped again and saw that my rear tire was flat.

I pulled off the trail, onto a sidewalk, and turned the bike over to examine the damage. No sooner had I got out my tools and spare tire than a couple of friendly bikers, heading south toward Fayetteville, stopped and came to my aid.

Gilbert, a black guy maybe 40 or 45, sturdily built, provided example and directions. I’ve changed tires before, but not for a while … and not perhaps at all on the back wheel. This repair is more complicated than on the front wheel, of course, as you have to mess with the chain and derailleur to take off the wheel.

Soon Gilbert, with his white buddy standing by and offering encouragement and advice, was giving step-by-step instructions and implementations:

  1. He released the lever on the back wheel, which was tightened so hard that I couldn’t get it off by hand, and took off the wheel.
  2. Deflated the rear tire and gently slid the tire off the rim on one side only and pulled the tube out, leaving the tire in place on one side.
  3. Put two puffs of air, two puffs only, into the new spare tube and inserted it gently on the rim.
  4. Showed me how to use my little pump with “two-hand power,” holding the wheel and valve in one hand and pumping air with the other.
  5. Illustrated and had me repeat the maneuvers necessary to re-insert the wheel on the bike.

I was touched by Gilbert’s help. He and his buddy didn’t have to stop. But they were good Samaritans and expert teachers too. And made it clear to me, by their word and example, that I might study how my bike works before I head off blithely on the trail.

The Zen of bicycle maintenance, yes? You who take out your bike, and maybe take out a dog or woodchuck or, gods forfend, a skunk, should know something about how to take care of the bike … and yourself.

And perhaps some day, not too far down the line, take care of another biker who needs your help and will pass on the lessons to other unschooled bikers too.

As a black man, too, Gilbert was offering help to someone he might not have been inclined to help. What was his experience with whites? Generally good and friendly? But certainly he has seen racism in his day. If there aren’t too many black folks cycling on the trail, that may be a reflection of economic circumstances as well as recreational preference. Bikes can cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. It’s cheaper to walk, or find a hoop and bring your basketball. (Gilbert, I surmise, is a professional with a good job.)

Most of the minorities we see on the trail are Hispanic, and they are generally walking. If you yell “On the left!” when about to pass, another biker claims, they move to the left. But if you yell “A la izquierda!,” I say, they’ll understand the Spanish warning and keep to the right. Strange but true.

Oh Lawd, whatever the case, don’t send me too many hurt dogs, don’t give me too many flats. And let us all be thankful for aid that arrives, whatever the motive, whoever the man, and render the same unto others some day.

P.S. Gilbert chided me for turning the bike over, onto handlebars and seat, suggesting I would scratch the finish this way. (I don’t think this is true, as the bike rests on bars and seat, not tubing.) He said, “You wouldn’t turn your wife upside down, would you, and treat her that way?” I allowed as to how it depended on what I wanted from her … but Gilbert didn’t respond to this joke. He was in the heuristic mode, not jocular.