The bike trek was going well. I was actually making progress across Texas and had rediscovered trees on my way into Jacksboro. Here’s the one-line journal entry for my day of bicycling from Throckmorton to Jacksboro:
“TREES, real TREES!”
Fort Richardson, a Texas State Park just outside of Jacksboro, was so pleasant that I declared a layover day. I’d gone for walks, read a book of poetry (Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island), and biked into town for a steak dinner. April 26th had dawned clear and slightly cool, which made it a perfect day for cycling. I was feeling so good I sang “Oh what a beautiful morning” to a cottontail that had come nibbling its way into my camp. The rabbit had looked up, startled, and scampered off into the mesquite, hippity-hop. Apparently it had no appreciation for music. Certainly it couldn’t have been my singing.
“It’s going to be a great day!” I yelled after my furry friend. I shouldn’t have done that. It jinxed the week; I am pretty sure. Maybe if I had only quietly said, “It should be a good day…”
I was about five miles outside of Decatur when I heard “Ping!” Unlike the sound of one hand clapping, which is underwhelming, the sound of one spoke breaking is quite distinctive. My response was very un-Zen like, even more so when I found the broken spoke on my back wheel. I’d need a bike shop.
A small cement plant was across the road. The receptionist offered me her phone, good luck, and the yellow pages. A Mel’s Bike shop was listed in Decatur. I called and got Mel. “Wait there,” he said. “I’ll be right out to pick you up.” And he was. Twenty minutes later, a smiling, older man showed up to collect me. He was another one of those people who reminded me of just how good folks can be. His shop, it turned out, was behind his home. He quickly fixed my spoke and started looking for other things to work on. My derailleur cable was too short; he replaced it. I was on my way to a complete tune up. When he was finally finished, I asked what I owed him.
“Nothing,” he said. And stuck to it.
“At least, Mel,” I argued, “you have to let me take you to lunch.” Two hours later we were still talking over dessert. I was chatting about snowstorms, rattlesnakes, mountains, deserts, dinosaurs and Texas. Mel was talking about his life, and how he had always dreamed of doing what I was doing. Finally, the time came when I had to bicycle on. He was still watching as I disappeared around the block. I waved one final time.
Memories came flooding back as I entered Denton. In the spring of 1978, I had recruited for Peace Corps at the University of North Texas along with my first wife and an African-American woman who had also served as a Volunteer. We had gone out for breakfast one morning and you could have heard a pin drop when we entered the restaurant. The Civil Right’s act was young and the South was still adjusting. Black and white people did not eat together. We had just sat down when this young head popped up from the adjoining booth, wide-eyed, and announced to the whole room, “Momma, there’s a Nigger sitting with those people.” From the mouth of an innocent child, the insane prejudice of generations was repeated. As I write these words today, I am saddened by the fact that this prejudice continues to repeat itself in a seemingly endless and violent cycle. Such senseless waste. When will we ever learn…
But such thoughts were rare on my bike trip. And I soon had another thought to occupy my mind. A ping announced that another spoke had given up the ghost, gone to the great spoke factory in the sky. This isn’t unusual; when one spoke breaks, others may follow. Mine were simply reacting to all of the weight I was carrying. They’d had enough. I was faced with the fact that I needed a new wheel, preferably one with more spokes made out of a heavier gauged steel. I did what I could to true my wheel and limped for another 15 miles into McKinney.
Calling around the next morning, I quickly realized I couldn’t find what I needed in McKinney, nor, apparently, in Dallas. Finally, a mechanic at a bike shop near Southern Methodist University told me she could build what I needed but it would take a day. And, I might add, cost $100. Early the next morning I climbed on the Dog, the Greyhound bus, and zipped into Dallas on I-75. A bit of futzing and I found my way out to SMU on a municipal bus. My wheel wasn’t ready but there was a bookstore next to SMU, so what did I care. Two hours later found me on my way back to McKinney with my shiny new wheel and a book, The Quickening Universe by Eugene Mallove.
I’d like to report that the new wheel solved my problem, that my next 8000 miles were worry free. Sigh. I was half way between McKinney and Greenville the next day, having ridden all of 15 miles, when the wheel pretzeled on me. Instead of Ping, it was more like SPRONG! I couldn’t even turn the wheel. I’m not sure whether it was my innovative language or the truing but I finally persuaded the wheel to make wobbly turns and crawled my way into Greenville. I found a motel next to I-30 with the thought that I would soon be returning to Dallas. Which is what happened.
I was greeted by silence when I called the bike shop the next morning. Make that consternation. After apologizing, the mechanic told me if I would bring the wheel back in the next day, she would have another one ready that she would guarantee would get me through the trip. Fortunately, the Dog also had a route along I-30. So the next morning, there I was, me, my pretzel wheel and The Quickening Universe, just in case my new wheel wasn’t ready.
It was. The mechanic greeted me at the door and handed me my second new wheel in three days. 26 years later, it still resides on the back of my bike.
I was up at 5:30 the next morning, eager to hit the road. My wheel problems had cost me four days. I turned the TV on for company while I packed my panniers. “Expect severe weather in the Dallas area and eastward the next few days,” a stern-faced weatherman was warning. Thunderstorms, heavy rain, hail and tornadoes were forecast. Flash floods were expected. People were advised to stay home unless they had to travel. As if I needed more bad news, the room was suddenly lit up by a flash of intense light followed instantly by a loud boom that bounced around the motel. The intense storm had already started. Curt wasn’t going anywhere.
But nature is going to do what nature is going to do. I had a book to read and the motel had a private club. Private clubs were how Texans got around the drinking laws. Staying at the motel gave me an instant membership, which I took advantage of the next three evenings while the storm continued to rage. And rage it did. One time I looked outside and saw hailstones the size of golf balls falling. I imagined being on my bike. The third day, the storm headed out, prepared to do its nastiness somewhere else.
I stopped by the club for a final beer that evening and was cornered by a window-washer who wanted to talk. When he learned I had lived in Alaska, he got really excited. “I am going to move there,” he told me. And then he told me why. He had been having an affaire and the woman’s husband had found out. “He’s hunting for me,” he confided. “I am carrying a 357 Magnum for protection.” Oh great, I thought to myself. The way my luck has been running this week, the husband is going to show up.
I’d carried a 357 once in Alaska. A doctor friend had insisted on it for my health. I was going backpacking in grizzly bear country. I had put the pistol in one section of my backpack and the bullets in another, convinced that there was a lot more danger of me shooting myself than being attacked by a grizzly.
“Hey,” my best new window-washer friend asked with light bulbs going off, “would you like to see my gun?”
“Um, no thanks,” had been my response. It was definitely time I was hitting the road.
NEXT BLOG: Out of Texas and into Louisiana with an offer of hooch and…