Frank churned up Potrero, the monstrous climb that began just a few miles from the fondo’s start. Less than a mile into the 4-mile ascent people were already in difficulty, and what started as a smattering of slow wobblers turned into giant clumps of broken, exhausted, panting, and finally walking riders, defeated by the length and pitch of the grade.
Frank churned, not fast, he was a Sugar Cookie 50-miler, but not especially slow, his speed appearing to be faster and faster as those he passed went slower and slower. He had trained for the fondo for six months, which was exactly one month less than his entire riding career.
He had gotten tired of the gut and lethargy that followed him everywhere he went, and inspired by the blabbermouth at work who prattled incessantly about cycling, Frank had bought a bike, shorts, helmet, gloves, shoes, and signed up for the fondo whose flyers were sitting next to the cash register.
Frank had zero riding friends and loved the group feeling at the start. He also loved the feeling that other people were on the road besides him. It seemed like most of the riders were there by themselves, and even the ones who started together quickly split up on the climb. Riding was an alone sport, he thought, but not necessarily a lonely one.
As he zipped up the climb he saw several people with flats. Frank was afraid of getting a flat himself, but didn’t know the protocol. Should he stop to help? No one else was stopping. The riders weren’t asking anyone to stop or begging for help. He figured that it was a survival of the fittest deal, but it felt wrong, seeing someone in trouble and not stopping.
Frank churned on.
Over the climb and onto the rolling roads he was feeling great and began passing people like crazy. He blew by the aid station; he had trained for the ride and knew he could knock out the whole fifty miles without stopping. Moreover, he didn’t want to stop. He was racing, he was on a mission, he was on the gas.
Stranger in need
Ahead Frank saw the signs indicating a hard right, so he slowed. There was a bit of gravel in the turn, so he slowed some more, almost to a stop. Just past the apex was a rider bent over his bike. Frank was going to pass him so slowly and so closely that everything inside rebelled against ignoring the other rider.
“You okay?” Frank asked.
The rider looked up, panic-stricken. “No,” he said. “Can you help me?”
“Sure,” Frank said, and the moment he got off his bike he saw the problem. The guy had no idea how to change a flat; couldn’t even get his rear wheel out of the dropout.
The guy was so happy that Frank stopped, and for the briefest of seconds Frank thought the guy was going to cry. “What’s wrong?” Frank asked.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” the rider confessed. And what he didn’t say, but what was painfully obvious, was this: “And I’m too embarrassed to ask for help.”
Frank understood because he was that way, too. Whether lost behind the wheel of his car, lost behind the wheel of his marriage, or lost behind the wheel of life, there was nothing harder for some people than to ask for help, and they were usually the people most ready to lend a hand.
Blind leading the blind
Problem was, Frank had no idea how to change a flat, either. The rider had set the bike down in the dirt, waiting expectantly for Frank to pick it up and do a tire change.
“Hey, man,” Frank said, “I’m really sorry but I’m no better than you. I got nothin’.” The rider’s face fell. “But you know what I am good at?”
“What?” the rider asked.
“Yelling!” Frank walked to the edge and yelled at the next group of cyclists. “Hey! Can you help us change a flat? WE ARE CLUELESS!”
An old guy on an old bike with an old jersey and an old beard laughed and pulled over. He had a seat bag so big it looked like it could provision a rider to cross the Sahara. Old guy had the wheel off, tire changed and aired in less than five minutes. “Have a good ride,” Old Man said, and pedaled off.
Frank hopped on his bike, too. The other rider waved. “Thanks for stopping!” he said.
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