Monday, April 02, 2007

Karmic Relief...

"What is time? It is a snake which eats its own tail, like this..."
—from Kurt Vonnegut's Breakfast of Champions, referring to the serpent Ouroboros.

On my ride into work this morning, I came upon another rider fussing with her wheel on the side of the trail. Being the noble gentleman that I am, I stopped to ask whether she needed help. She did. Seems she had flatted twice already this fine spring morning on her way to work; once earlier with the rear wheel, which she fixed using her only spare tube, and again just before I found her.

The front wheel was the victim this time, its innards pierced by some invisible trail missle or friendly fire from an unfaithful rim. As McFate* would have it, I had two tubes in my pack, so I offered her one. She accepted it, but only after asking to buy it from me, a polite enough gesture I suppose, but one that destroys the karma of the gift. Of course I refused, thinking some random good luck in the near future was far more valuable than a few bucks in my pocket now.

I waited while she began installing the new tube after pulling out the old one and dropping it in the grass beside her, where it lay motionless like a dead snake, tail in mouth. She had only a CO2 inflater, no pump, and I wanted to be sure she would be on her way after the fix—those micro inflators can be capricious sometimes, and a new tube is no good if you can't breathe life into it. She seemed willing to chat a bit while she worked, and the day being as nice as it was, I was in no great hurry to get to the office anyway. The way I see it, time spent idly is never time wasted, and he who finds work for idle hands is indeed a devil, to paraphrase an old adage.

She was petite and young and attractive, clad in winter racing lycra that must have been a bit warm for the mild temperatures slowly heating up beneath a brilliant sun already high in its climb. Her hands were tiny and her fingers thin—a combination that seemed to offer little hope of success against a reluctant tire bead—and the nails were short and rounded, suggesting in their shape a sort of deliberate utilitarianism, like they were used to things like this. Her bike, upended with fork legs stabbing skyward like some rigor-mortised roadkill, was a light-blue Cannondale with those delicate looking, sparsely-spoked race wheels whose lacing pattern resembles nothing so much as an Iron Cross.

For the next few minutes, we talked about riding and flats and commuting and racing (yeah, I was lost on the last topic), about the privilege of being able to enjoy a ride on a morning like this one, and when it seemed she couldn't get the last bit of bead over the rim despite her best efforts, I offered to help, and she let me. The tire was slick from the dew on the grass, making the process tricky, but I strummed the stubborn bead into place, taking care not to pinch the new tube. In the meantime, I learned that she commuted from Vienna to Georgetown and back, some 26 miles in all, besting my daily jaunt by six miles, that she raced road for a women's team, that she hasn't strayed into mountain biking yet (but wants to), and that her name is Leslie. And then I handed the wheel back to her.

She thanked me and slid the wheel into the dropouts. I mounted up, said goodbye, and took off, with the idea of giving her some space to ride alone.

This evening, on my ride home, I got my payback in the form of a broken nipple on the drive side of the rear wheel, the clicking of the loose spoke finding its way through the gaps between tunes on my Shuffle to signal a warning. Sadguru works in mysterious ways. Or perhaps I've already squandered my good fortune in advance and am simply paying in arrears (even Karmic credit can bite you in the ass). That, or maybe 10,300 miles on a rear wheel that often shoulders the burden of full panniers and has trundled the length of the C&O Canal Trail is a lot to ask of one of my first builds.

Credit, first image (B&W invert): unknown
Credit, second image (B&W invert): Jen Woronow

*Humbert Humbert's term personifying the series of uncanny coincidences that Nabokov throws his way in the literary masterpiece Lolita.

1 comment:

gwadzilla said...

ground work...

that is what I call ground work

get in there my son...