Over the past month and a half, I’ve had four flat tires on my daily bike ride. The reason eludes me. I haven’t noticed broken glass or other sharp objects on the road. I’ve changed the bike shop where I buy my tubes and tires, thinking the first shop might have been carrying a cheap brand of tube. I’ve asked my friend Buzz, a former bike shop owner, to give me a tire repair lesson even though I thought I knew how to change a tire without pinching or nicking the new tube. Nothing seems to make a difference. I am lucky I have two different bikes in my garage, because one of them is often in need of repair.
The flats have not been blowouts. All have been pinpricks followed by a gradual loss of air. In each case, usually five or six miles from home, I just hear the disappointing flop-flop-flop of a tire gone bad. I then have no choice but to turn my bike around and walk home. Because the flat tires have occurred at different points on my usual route, I have walked through parts of town I’ve never had a reason to walk before. For example, in late April I passed through the warehouse district down by the river and discovered that La Crosse has a pet funeral home and crematorium. I was tempted to walk in and ask what creatures other than cats and dogs sometimes get put into urns.
Last week I got a flat on the near northside, and my walk home took me through the La Crosse River Marsh. This was interesting, because the walk retraced the same route I’d biked only minutes earlier. I knew I would observe more once I got off my bike, but I was surprised with how much more. I saw a pair of blue-winged teal. Teal are common in the marsh, but these were my first sightings of the year. I saw six different families of Canada geese with young goslings; while on my bike, I’d noticed only one. There were carp spawning in the shallows. Their commotion was obvious, and I should have caught sight of them the first time through.
Failing to observe nature from my bicycle is more than a matter of speed. Obviously biking 10-12 miles per hour is not the same as walking, but a bigger factor is whether my eyes and my mind are allowed to wander. On my bike, my attention is focused. I watch for potholes, pedestrians, vehicles, dogs, and other bicyclists. On foot, I don’t have to watch for much of anything – at least until a duck or a goose or a carp draws my attention. The need to pay attention may also explain why I do not enjoy walks with my dog as much as I might. I am constantly looking out for Jack, when my preference would be to give my mind a rest.