“Bye, dear. Have a good day.” Emily heard her mother’s voice as her stepfather closed the front door. Her mother walked into the kitchen as Emily came downstairs. The smile turned to shock.
“What happened to you?”
Emily put her hand to her left cheek. “Oh, that. I skidded on some leaves on my ride yesterday. It’s nothing.”
“Are you sure?” Her mother came over, looking anxiously at Emily’s face. However, closer inspection revealed no more than a bruise around the scab. “I worry about your riding all over, and now you’re hurt.”
“Mom! It’s nothing. Really. Falling off a bike is no big deal. I know how to fall so nothing serious happens. Jo—” She bit her tongue to keep from saying more. The last thing she needed was for her mother to realize that she had been riding alone. “We’ve been over this. It’ll heal, and I’ll be fine.”
Her mother’s face relaxed a little, but Emily could see the alarm in her eyes. It had only been four years since her father had died – an event that had transformed her mother from a daredevil, extreme athlete into an over-protective “helicopter mom”. She missed her Dad, too, but she also wanted her own space. Thank goodness, Mark had come along. He seemed to be a tower of wisdom, and a rock to her mother. He brought balance into their lives. Her mother seemed to sense Emily’s thoughts.
“Well, let’s have some breakfast so you can get to school.”
They served up the rest of the bacon and scrambled eggs on the stove, and sat down across from each other in the dining area of the kitchen.
“You have anything after school today?”
“Not really, but when I get back, I want to take the bike to K-Bikes for a checkup.” She had two bikes, but the Colnago was the bike now.
“Mark and I have separate meetings in Wichita this afternoon. Could you heat up the casserole in the refrigerator about six? We should both be back by seven.”
“Sure. I can handle that. Dinner at seven. Would you prefer red or white with that?” Her mother looked up sharply. Emily grinned. Her mother’s shoulders relaxed.
“Stay out of the wine cabinet, wise guy.” Her mother smiled. “After the party last night, neither of us will want anything but water, I think.”
Emily got up and cleared the table. Her mother loaded the dishwasher and set it to run. They met again in the garage. Emily wheeled her trusty Bianchi Volpe out, and slipped her combination pannier-bookbag onto the rear rack. Her mother backed out the Mercedes C-230 Kompressor. They waved and headed off to work and school.
That afternoon, Emily changed into jeans, put on her cleated bike shoes, and rode downtown to K-Bikes on her Colnago. Jake Smith, the team mechanic, was manning the counter. Bicyclists call their mechanics “wrenches”; Jake looked the part. Skinny, strong, and reeking of bicycle grease, he sported brown spiky hair that came off the top of his head in two peaks, like the grips of an open-end wrench. Because he often stroked the spikes absentmindedly, he looked as if his body had just been used to remove a particularly dirty giant part. Except for his spikes, hands and apron, he was in fact very clean.
“What happened to you?”
“I got that a lot today, Jake. I crashed on some wet leaves yesterday. The part that shows is not what hurts.”
“You OK to ride?”
“I’m sure Matt can get you a new jersey. You want to buy shorts today?”
“Not today. What I need is a new front wheel. Here.” She rolled the bike behind the counter. “It looked like a pretzel, so I know it needs to be replaced.”
Jake picked up the bike and spun the front wheel.
“You three fixed this?” he asked.
“Well, no. I was alone. Joanna and Mary backed out at the last minute.”
Jake whistled. “Where did you learn to true a pretzeled wheel?”
“Cool. This is a really good job.”
“She said that I should get a new wheel before going out again.”
“She’s right, but you could tool around town forever with this. You just would not want to race it.”
“Can you get me a new wheel?”
“Of course, Em. We have spare wheels for all our racing bikes. That’s was a team sponsor does, you know.”
“Oh, great,” Emily sighed with relief. “Can I put it on now? Then I won’t have to walk home.”
“Sure. Just wait.” Jake went into the back room and came out with a new wheel. He picked up a new tire and an inner tube and walked to his bench.
“Could you show me how to put the tire on? I learned how to put the wheel on last night.”
“Oh.” Jake looked around the empty store. “OK. Business is slow.” He had her take the inner tube out of the box, and showed her how to put one bead of the tire on the rim. He had her inflate the tube slightly, and push it into the tire around the wheel. Then Emily put the other bead on, and checked to be sure that the inner tube was not pinched anywhere.
“Sometimes you need tire irons to get the tire on; sometimes not,” said Jake.
“Just never use a screwdriver, right?”
“Whoever she was taught you well.” Jake brought over a floor pump while Emily mounted the wheel. He showed her the two types of valves that the pump would handle, then let her pump up the tire.
“Is that it?”
“Well, I guess you can call the ride home your road test. Bring it back it there’s a problem. This weekend I’ll show you how to check the tension. Think you will have ridden 50 miles by then? ”
“Of course.” Emily spun around, looking at the shelves in the shop. “I also want one of those small tool kits for under the saddle, with tire irons, patch kit, and a spoke wrench.”
“OK, over here on the wall. You will probably want a lightweight multi-tool, too, for loose nuts, or getting parts off.” He picked out the items, and added a small compressed air cylinder. “And you should probably carry this on training rides, if you are thinking of fixing flats. You need to pump it up when you’re done.”
“Thanks.” Emily put the tools into the bag and strapped it under the saddle.
“That’s a sight, a Colnago with a tool kit.”
“Some of the guys always carry a tool kit on training rides. I may not be lucky enough to have a tourist come by next time.”
“Was that you that signed up for the maintenance class next Thursday?”
“Probably. It was the first thing I did when I got home last night.”
“Great. I’m teaching it.”
“How much do I owe you for all this?”
“Thirty dollars for the tools and the tool bag. Nothing for the wheel.”
“Nothing? That’s a completely new wheel set!”
“Nothing. I’ll tell Matt that you were on a team training ride, and we’ll cover the new wheel. We’ll probably build a new wheel on your hub if it’s sound. In fact, I may give you that hub for the wheel-building part of the maintenance course.”
“Thanks, Jake.” Emily pulled her wallet out of her jeans and paid cash for the tools.
She had just turned onto the bike lane on Kansas Avenue when she heard a familiar voice come up behind her.
“Em, what’s with the jeans?” Joanna pulled up alongside her. Her skin glowed from her workout. She was wearing her team kit. There was no traffic on the street, though that would change soon.
“Not training, Jo. I’m just running an errand.”
“On your road bike?”
“I took it to K-bikes for some work and stuff.”
“Like the little bag under the seat? Looks like Randy’s seat now.” Joanna winked. Emily blushed and gritted her teeth.
“I guess you like Randy’s seat well enough. As a matter of fact, I got this for me. Thanks to you and Mary, I was all alone when I crashed yesterday.”
“Well, excuuuuse me. Like you’ve never had to change your plans.”
“I found out that you set up that date with Steve a week ago. You could have told me sooner than just as we were supposed to roll.”
Joanna stood on her pedals and sped ahead, her long blond ponytail flowing behind her helmet in the wind. Emily wondered sometimes how her best friends could be such jerks. She did not feel like giving chase, though she could easily catch Joanna, even riding in jeans. Instead, she rode to Sand Creek and took the bike lanes on both banks, just to see how it felt to push herself. Her left hip ached a little, but she felt good. She also calmed down. She turned east back toward Kansas Avenue, passing a pair of bicycle tourists following US 50 through town. At the McDonald’s near 12th Street, she saw a half-dozen heavily laden touring bicycles leaning together on the wall. She stopped by the tables, where the riders were gathered with orange juices and quarter-pounders, poring over a map of the area. Three men and three women. None seemed over twenty-five. Unlike the other tourists that she had noticed, these were wearing regular bicycle kits and their stuff was all out of sight in their panniers, like Hilda’s last night. The bicycles were sturdy models, like Hilda’s also, but brands that Emily had never seen: Koga, Gazelle, Batavus.
“Can I help you guys?”
“Oh, thanks.” One of the men had a clipped accent. He was blond, sunburned, and very tall. “We are trying to find the campgrounds at Beecham College.”
“I don’t know about that,” Emily said. “May I see your map?” She looked over the AAA map they were consulting. Two of them had Google maps up on their phones.
“See? There is a campground indicated on the phone here, but we are not sure.”
Emily pointed from one of the phones to the map. “I see. That’s the Community Gardens. I think it’s run by the college, but it’s actually for gardening.” She considered their eager stares. “You know, growing vegetables and such.”
“Oh, yes. Like an allotment. We have those at home, too. But the camping?”
“I think that they will let you camp on plots that are not being worked. It’s a fairly large area, and the growing season is basically over. Try the phone number there on Google.”
A short phone call established that the group could camp, which caused no small relief among them. While the tall one made the arrangements, the others introduced themselves. They were Dutch university students from Arnhem, taking a semester off to cross the United States. They all spoke excellent English.
“Do you have trouble finding places to camp?” Emily asked.
“Not usually. Everyone has been very generous, and the way you let bikers camp in the parks is fantastic.” This from one of the women, Elise. “We just got very behind today. We normally decide where to stop by two pm, but we were so close to your town, that we went for it, as you say. We’ve ridden 95 km today. I don’t know the miles.”
“Almost sixty,” said Emily. “I understand metric. Our coach makes us keep our training logs in kilometers, so the whole team set their bike computers to metric.”
The tall student, Lucas, ended the call. “It’s arranged, but we have to stop by the gatehouse before they close at four.”
“It’s three and a half miles from here,” Emily said, “about five kilometers.”
“That will take us under a half-hour,” said Elise. “What if we get lost?”
“I can show you how to get there quickly. It’s not on the AAA map, but there is a bike lane along Sand Creek almost all the way. Come on.”
The group gathered themselves quickly and soon were speeding up Sand Creek toward the college. Emily paced them, but not so fast as to make them string out. She was surprised at their ability to maintain 20-22 km/hr with the loads they were pushing. They arrived with 15 minutes to spare. A Mennonite woman at the gatehouse was waiting with a big smile. She gave them a map showing them where to pitch their tents, and told them where to find water, food and the toilets.
Emily watched the scene with growing pleasure. After the gatekeeper wished them all a safe journey and walked away, the Dutch students came over to Emily. They each wrote their names, addresses, and emails on a sheet of notebook paper.
“Emily, you will always be welcome in Arnhem, so let’s stay in touch. Is there anything we can do for you?”
“I’m fine. I’m sure you will find some way to pay it forward. And maybe I’ll be racing there some day.”
“We certainly hope so. Or just come for a visit. You have six homes now.” Elise gave her a hug, and the seven of them mounted their steeds to ride off.
Emily was home by five. Plenty of time to finish her homework and still have dinner on the table when her parents came home.
Smooth roads and tailwinds,