Yesterday I went for a ride with the intention of just meandering eastward. I had no specific mileage or exact ride time to shoot for, so if I got a little lost, I thought that would be ok. Since I moved to RI, a state notorious for poor or non-existent signage, knowing I have the worst sense of direction ever and not being totally comfortable with the back roads, I have never set off by myself without an exact route mapped out either in my head or more often than not, in my jersey pocket. Until yesterday that is. Maybe I was inspired by “Into the Wild.” I just read the book and saw the movie. The basic premise is a young man, Chris McCandless hitchhikes out west for a couple years, then fulfills his dream of living in Alaska’s back country for a couple of months before meeting his death. McCandless’ tale was one of adventure. He lived his dream, to be free and unencumbered of material posessions. He lived for the moment. Like me, he journeyed sans map. Neither of us told anyone where we were going. I felt fancy-free setting off without a plan, on a bike that cost more than Chris’s 1979 Datsun…. Other than the dying part, I wouldn’t mind living a little more like Chris McCandless… But I digress.
I got going around 1pm, heading east, over the red bridge, by Seekonk High School, out County Street, to Chestnut Street, passing through the farmland of Dighton and Rehoboth, reaching a familiar intersection around 2pm and heading over to BikeWorks in Swansea since I was right there, to see if they would have better luck fixing my cyclometer. The nice young man in the shop puzzled over it, but between the two of us, we brought the speed function back to life! He helped me get it from kilometers to miles and I was in business. [Sidenote: I have only had good experiences at that shop PLUS they have Bontrager carbon bottle cages and gel grip tape in all kinds of fun new colors, like lime green, lapis blue, royal blue, light pink, dark pink, etc. It’s worth checking out, it could change the look of your WHOLE bike. Seriously. Plus they had free samples of mini-sized Larabars. ]
It was about 2:30 when I left Bikeworks. The November air grew chillier and the shadows stretched longer. I was a little pissed that I had chosen to ditch my long-sleeve baselayer in favor of a tank top. I knew though that I was about an hour and a half from home, so I wasn’t too concerned. Until about 3:00 however when I realized I wasn’t sure where I was anymore and the sun was noticeably lower. Shit! I convinced myself it wasn’t time to panic yet. I still had plenty of time… I alternated between pedalling hard, then going at a normal pace, realizing I might well be going fast the wrong way. You could say I was doing intervals. Around 3:45 I came upon a couple walking their dog and asked them if they could point me in the direction of Providence. The husband pondered while the wife looked at me asconce, and exclaimed “On a bike!? Do you have a light?” Negatory. Like my adventuresome friend Chris McCandless I lacked the proper preparations for my exploration. I had no intention of being gone after dark in the first place. Plus I was supposed to pick my parents up at the airport for 6pm. Apparently I was in Rehoboth, MA. I took the kind man’s directions and time trialed it homeward. For a time, anyway. Realizing I was finally on a familiar road, I got cocky and decided to take a shortcut. I went on this path growing less and less sure of my way with every pedalstroke. Every minute felt like an hour. The sun was sinking rapidly. My legs were focused on moving forward while I tried to keep my mind from spinning out of control with all the various ways in which I was totally screwed… I saw a busy road in the distance (something familiar?) and went toward it full-throttle, only to be stymied by a cul-de-sac bordering some woods standing between me and the thoroughfare. A dog chased me around the circle… I escaped him but I was not out of the woods yet. At that point I crossed the mental divide between not being sure where I was and being L-O-S-T lost! I saw a man using a chainsaw in his yard. I knew he wouldn’t hear me even if I shouted so I stood in his driveway, hoping he would look at me so I could get his attention. After a waiting a minute or so, I started to feel creepy, just standing in a stranger’s driveway, wearing spandex and staring at him. But the more I looked at him, the more I feared maybe he was the creepy one, wearing plaid flannel and chopping stuff at dusk. I considered the ending of the movie Fargo and fled, unnoticed into the dusk.
I pedalled like a maniac. Darkness began to set in and my mind cycled between a few thoughts, a) SHIT b) I’m SCREWED c) Don’t freak out d) Will need a ride home who can I call? e) Cross that bridge when you come to it f) HAVE to pick mom and dad up from airport by 6!!!!! g)I’m getting cold.
It was now 4:45pm. The sky was turning shades of indigo and navy blue. The air was crisp. I was totally desperate and I had no clue where I was. I came upon rolling farmland and a barn full of cows. I passed by a house with 4 cars in the driveway. I saw their TV was on, so they were definitely home. This could be a resource. I continued down the road and saw a couple more houses but they held not nearly as much promise as the first one. I made a U-turn and approached it. Admitting defeat, I unclipped. I leaned my bike ever so carefully against a tree and stood, contemplating my options. If only an SUV heading my way would stop and take me back. This was not a great plan, I knew… How did I know the person would actually take me where I wanted to go? What if they killed me? Or worse, what if I got separated from my bike? Hitching a ride was not my best bet. I decided the multiple parked cars at this house meant there was a good chance several people were present, thereby diminishing my chances of getting murdered. I theorized the chance of homicide was less likely with witnesses. My confidence bolstered by my hypothesis, boldly, I knocked on the door. A little girl answered.
“Is your mom or dad home?”
A white-haired man with a soft, kind looking face, seated on a cushy leather couch craned his neck to greet me. A petite woman with lots of hairspray emerged from the kitchen. They listened as I explained my situation. It turned out the man was a cyclist too. He complimented my bike, which nearly made the whole debacle worthwhile. They informed me I was near route 6 in Seekonk, right by the Showcase Cinema. Not so far from home, but even if someone was ready to come get me RIGHT NOW (it was nearly 5pm), by the time they got here and got me back home there was no way for me to pick my parents up on time. How would I explain my lateness? I am the WORST liar. No parent wants to hear their daughter was lost alone on her bike at night, mapless, clueless, relying on the grace of strangers. Sympathetic and impressed, they remarked,
“Wow you biked all the way out here from Providence! What a brave girl!”
“I don’t know…. Stupid girl would be more like it. I really really appreciate you opening the door for me. I was really getting desperate.”
I asked these lovely people if they would give directions to their house from Providence if I could get a friend on the phone to come get me. Of course they would. Before my cell phone was out of my pocket, a woman and her daughter, wearing matching horizontal striped tops and jeans, entered the room. The mom looked at me and said,
“You need a ride to Providence? I’ll take you, I was just going that way, it’s no problem. Where in Providence?”
“Well, Pawtucket actually, near the East Side. You’d really do that for me?”
“Sure! I live in Pawtucket too, that’s where I’m going. I was just leaving now.”
No. Way. NO WAY!!! This was unreal. The white haired man reminded her she would have to take not just me but my bike as well. Maybe there is a god, after all, for this angel of a woman drove an SUV. Don’t get me wrong, I am ideologically opposed to SUV’s, as a general rule. But she already had one. And she had to go to Pawtucket too. I will say this once and one time only THANK HEAVENS FOR THAT SUV. I don’t know what I did to deserve this. There’s a chance its related to the fact that I volunteered to babysit for friends the night before so they could go out child-free. I think that’s called instant karma? Or maybe there’s someone up there looking out for me. It is astonishing, that over the 4 years and thousands of miles I rode my bike in North Carolina, where I had no family, I never once got in a jam on my bike that I couldn’t get out of on my own. Yet in Rhode Island, where I am surrounded by family, in 18 months this is the 3rd time I needed someone to bail me out of a ride gone awry. Is it a coincidence that this particular time, when my parents, my sister, my brother and sister-in-law were out of town, a stranger extended herself to me? I don’t know. She was a godsend. Are you reading this Kelly? THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU.
Not only did my bike and I get home safely, I had time to take a shower, and I was at the airport by 6. I felt like Matthew Broderick in the last scene from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” where he’s racing through the backyards to beat his parents home and makes it just in time. Such a better ending than the one from “Into Thin Air.”