For the past month, there has been lots of broken glass along my usual bike route. It’s late summer with more outside drinking and more jerks tossing empties out of car windows. As hard as I try to avoid anything that might puncture a tire, I got a flat tire three days ago. It was my first flat of the year, so I didn’t think much of it. I made the repair and did find a shard of glass in the tread. I decided on the spot to travel alternate routes until I saw the street sweepers making their rounds.  

My primary route is a 16-mile loop through the southside of town. Approximately a third of it is paved trail through the marsh and along Pammel Creek. The rest is roadway through relatively quiet residential neighborhoods. For variety, I sometimes ride either one of the two gravel bike paths heading out of town. One runs north toward Trempealeau along the Mississippi River. The other extends east toward West Salem along the La Crosse River. Whereas my usual route is a big oval that brings me around to where I start, the bike trails are linear. I ride in one direction for 8-10 miles, then turn around and cover the same ground twice. 

Yesterday I did ten miles along the La Crosse River Trail. I had just reversed direction to head for home when I heard and felt the phumph, phumph, phumph of a flat rear tire. It was my second flat in a week. I could not have been farther from home had someone spilled a box of thumb tacks right where I wanted to turn around. With no phone and no repair kit, I had no choice but to walk. 

I didn’t need to be anywhere and a ten-mile walk is probably as good for my health as a ten-mile bike ride, so I made the most of the slower pace. Specifically, I checked out the view more carefully than I do when I’m on my bike. Even though the trail is called the La Crosse River Trail, riders and walkers rarely see the river itself. Instead the scenery is mostly forest, marsh, and corn fields,  I don’t bike hard and fast, but the difference between walking and biking is at least eight miles an hour (three miles an hour on foot compared to eleven or twelve on a bike).

The only thing bothering me was that Manyu gets nervous when I don’t return home at the expected hour. A month ago I had stopped to talk to a friend on one of my rides, got home an hour late, and Manyu was on the verge of calling area hospitals. After unnecessarily scaring her that day, I agreed to carry my cell phone on my rides. I don’t like carrying a phone in my pocket any more than I like carrying my wallet, so that courtesy to my wife lasted about a week. Phones and wallets are not heavy, but both annoy me when I am pedaling. If not for the name and address written on the laminated trail pass I keep taped to my handlebars, I’d be listed as a John Doe if I was ever knocked unconscious in a bike accident. 

The walk home on the La Crosse River Trail was going to take at least three hours beyond the hour I’d already been out. I tried jogging, but was quickly reminded that my jogging days are over. I tried a reasonable imitation of speed walking, but didn’t like it. My only option was to stop a biker or hiker on the trail and ask to borrow his or her cell phone. Fortuitously I actually knew the next people I encountered on the trail.  The woman of a couple riding by was a philosophy professor at my former university, and I often see her and her husband when I walk Jack through our neighborhood. I borrowed her phone and only then realized I hadn’t memorized Manyu’s cellphone number. We’d recently canceled our land line, so it was the only way to reach her. I could have called my own cellphone, which was setting on the dining room table, but I doubted Manyu would pick up. At best, she would check the number, not recognize it, and let it go to message. 

I could think of only three friends’ phone numbers. Two of the three wouldn’t know Manyu’s cellphone number, so I couldn’t use either of them to relay a message. I had one shot. I called my friends Shu and Stefan, and fortunately Shu picked up after only three rings. My plan was to ask her to call Manyu and tell her I’d be late, but Shu suggested I ask Manyu to come get me with our car. It was a good idea. The bike trail had mile markers, so I knew I was three miles from the nearest access point. I told Shu to tell Manyu to pick me up at a parking lot just off Highway B in one hour. 

Manyu and I timed our rendezvous perfectly, and everything went as smoothly as it could have – except now I’ll probably be back to carrying a cellphone on my bike rides. 

Steven Simpson