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The Slow Leak (in culture / writing / stories ) by Steve — 2008-03-25

by Steve Holmes

Sept. 9, 2000
It was a gorgeous Sunday near the end of September and I needed some exercise. Exercise, just for the sake of exercise was probably best done by running on the treadmill at the athletic club. But on a day like that, just exercise wasn't enough. I would take a bike ride on the American River Bike trail.

Checking on my bike, hung up in the garage, I noticed that the tires were a little low on air. This wasn't a worry. Tires naturally lost some air over time. I just pumped them up, filled my water bottle, grabbed my fanny pack, put on my helmet, and I was off.

To get to Discovery Park, where the trail began, it was just over a mile. Luckily, there was a little extension of the trail through my neighborhood and just a quarter mile down the street. I picked up the trail near Jefferson School and found that they had just resurfaced it. It was really nice and smooth.

The good thing about the bike trail was that it being along the river, it was cooler than the rest of town. The riparian aspect of the area by the river and the transpiration of the trees and vegetation just made the air cooler. This was good because I wanted to get some exercise and the exercise would make me hot, able to appreciate the air temperature not being so high.

With feet in the pedal straps (I had never gotten around to getting those new expensive pedals that hooked up to cleats and made straps unnecessary.) I started cranking my legs and spun my feet in circles around the crank. The middle gear on my rear sprocket in combination with the large chainwheel on my crank made a gear ratio that I liked for flat ground like the trail. When there were little up or down hills, I just spun my legs faster or pushed harder instead of changing gears.

An especially appealing aspect of riding on the bike trail, over riding out in the boonies somewhere on regular roads, was that there were other cyclists and there would likely be women cyclists, too. Women cyclists just looked better than most women. Of course the odds were that they were fitter and had better figures than most women, but it was more than that. It wasn't even that they frequently put their hair in pony tails that I have always had a fondness for. It was the idea, imagined by me or not, that they were smarter because they appreciated exercise and bicycles. Smart women were almost always attractive.

Unfortunately, about the only way to see women on the trail was to see them going in the opposite direction. If they were going in the same direction as I, then the only way I could meet them was if I was going much faster than they or they were going much faster than I. In either case, it would create a great mental conflict whether I would abandon my exercise to slow down or increase my exercise so much to keep up. So, I figured that I would go fast and far, covering more distance on the trail and being more likely to see them.

Going out to the fish hatchery was far enough. I had exerted myself and wasn't so tired that I would have to worry about having enough energy to make it back home. There weren't really any places very close to the trail where I could get some food replenishment. The closest one that I knew and had used occasionally was the mini-market at the corner of Watt Avenue and Fair Oaks Boulevard. It was about a half-mile from the bike trail.

Though I hadn't felt a need to do anything about it, I had noticed that my rear tire had slowly gotten softer and softer, from slowly losing air. The possibility of a flat tire didn't worry me because I followed my own advice, carrying a pump, a tire patch kit, and also carrying a spare inner tube so I could just put it in and not worry about patching the tube until I got home. I pulled the pump out, loosened the Presta valve nut, tapped the end of it to break the air seal, and shoved some more air into the tube with the pump before tightening the valve nut back up.

I was off again. The funny thing about riding on the bike trail was that it wound so much that you would likely have both head winds and tail winds on an extended ride on it. Whenever I thought I was going fast, it was likely that I was in a stretch where the wind was to my rear and not because of some great burst of energy on my part.

Yes, I had passed a couple of nice-looking women who were heading in the opposite direction. Now I was heading that way, too, but it was so long ago that I had seen them that there was no chance that I would catch up with them. With a big sip of water, I was ready for the home stretch.

The ride to the bike bridge over the river was good. I definitely had used up a fair portion of my muscles' energy reserves and took advantage of the drinking fountain at the park there. I could have taken a drink from my water bottle, while riding, but the park was a good place for watching others go by on the trail.

Just on a hunch, I checked the hardness of my rear tire again. Yes, it had already gotten a little soft. Since I was resting there anyway, I pumped some more air into it. I even put some extra air in it so the ride home would take even less energy. A nice-looking brunette with a ponytail sticking out under her helmet went by, headed toward the fish hatchery. She smiled and I smiled back, but it was probably the first and last time I would see her in this lifetime.

With the little down hill from the drinking fountain and with the extra hard tire, I started out very fast. Maybe there was a tailwind, too. Around the bend to the right, the uphill grade didn't seem like much. The trail took a turn to the left and after a short distance I was crossing a road into the parkway.

It wasn't a good idea to shoot my wad, burning up energy reserves that far from home. It was about a dozen miles back to Discovery Park and then there was the mile plus to home. I was riding at a comfortable but fast pace when I saw a brunette pony tail wagging behind the helmet of a cyclist ahead. The closer I got, the nicer she got. The question was whether she looked as nice from the front.

She was riding fairly much slower than I, so I caught up with her pretty fast. As I passed, I glanced over to look at her. Yes, she looked as nice from the front. She gave me a smile. Caught off guard, I was past her before I could react and smile back.

As I came to the Watt Avenue bridge, I thought whether I needed to take the jaunt to the small store for some more carbohydrates in the form of an Icee or something. I decided that I would probably do okay without it, so I kept on the trail. Just ahead was one of my favorite parts, where there was a nice grove of oak trees that made the trail seem more woodsy.

A little further was a rest stop on the left side that had another drinking fountain. I liked to stop there and make it my turnaround point when I didn't have much time to go further. I hit a bump in the road and noticed that my wheel rim bottomed out on it. Wow, the air was leaking out of the tube faster. I would have to stop some time pretty soon to put air in it, so it might as well be at the drinking fountain.

Leaning my bike against one of the two concrete benches, I pulled my pump off my bike and began pumping up the tire. Since the tire needed a lot of pressure in it to roll with little road resistance, it took a fair amount of arm energy to fill it up. My right arm was still a little tired from the last time. It didn't take long and I was soon mounting back up.

Just then, I noticed that the woman with the ponytail was passing by. She smiled again. This time I smiled back. With a full tire, I needed to pedal fast and get as much distance as possible before the air pressure would be low again.

Sure I had that spare tube. I could use it, but to do so, I would have to take my wheel off, take the tire off the wheel, pull the tube out of the tire, and reverse the process with the spare tube. I just didn't want to do all that. Up to that point, putting in a little air was easier than the process of changing tubes.

As I passed the woman, I wasn't sure whether to look over at her and smile or not. I kind of felt funny that it "just happened" to be getting back on my bike as she was riding by. Of course, as I passed I could tell her what had happened, but that would be rather strange explaining it to a total stranger. As I passed, I glanced over and smiled. In seconds, I was past her and moving fast toward home.

Oh, no. With Sac State College just up ahead, I was feeling the tire was low on air again. So not to bottom out, I stood up on the pedals and leaned forward as I pedaled. Maybe if I put more weight on the front wheel and there was less weight on the rear wheel, the air left wouldn't leave so fast and I could go further before needing to refill the tire with air.

That method got me to the Guy West Bridge that went over the river to the college, but if I continued much further, I would be endangering my tube of getting more holes from bottoming out. I pulled over at a bench, leaned my bike up against it, and pumped in more air.

Just as I was mounting up again, the woman was coming around the bend. There was no way she could miss seeing me. I could imagine how I looked. I probably looked like someone who was interested in her, but too shy to slow down and try talking to her. In her mind, I believed, I was trying to impress her with my speed by passing her and then waiting to see her again. Oh well, I didn't have time to ponder it. Second by second, I knew the air was already leaking from my tube, whether I was riding the bike or not. I sped off down the trail again.

Past the little 9-hole golf course, I had to take the longer route because the shorter route was blocked due to work being done on the levees. Normally that was just a nice change of course and of no consequence, but this time it meant an extra minute on the trail and one fewer minute's worth of distance that I would cover toward home before needing to pump more air in the tube.

Just ahead was the turnoff to Cal Expo. There was some sort of informational sign there. I stopped, propped my bike against the sign, and repeated the pumping challenge. This time, just as I was about to put my pump back on my bike, the woman was coming around another bend. Since she probably had come to recognize me by sight by now, I felt that we had something to share. I waved to her, but made sure to do it with the hand that held my pump. Doing that would hopefully reassure her that I had been stopping because of bike problems and it wasn't because I was stalking her or something. When I passed her this time, I hadn't gotten up speed yet and felt the need to say, "Hi." She said, "Hi" back.

Off I was again. I thought back at my earlier stops and it seemed that I was needing to stop more and more frequently. Whatever had caused the leak in the first place might be causing it to get larger. Larger holes lost air faster. I probably had about six miles left to Discovery Park and it was a little over a mile between needs for stopping. My arms were getting more and more tired with each stop. What was supposed to be some leg exercise had become one-arm exercise. At the next stop, I would be wise to pull out my spare tube and replace the damaged one with it. Thinking about what was ahead on the route, in a mile, I would be pretty much nowhere in particular.

Was it best to race faster to get farther or to just relax because it wouldn't matter after the next stop. That stop would be my last one, presuming I really did have a spare tube. I usually had one. I even carried more than one since I had three different bikes and each one used a different type of tube. I was pretty sure that I kept my routine of patching damaged tubes upon reaching home, but sometimes things came up. I couldn't remember the last flat on that particular bike, so I couldn't remember whether I got around to patching the tube afterward. I still had my patch kit, but patching tubes at home with the aid of a bucket of water to find the holes was definitely the preferable way of doing it.

Oh well, the air made its way out and I needed to stop. At least I made it past the dip in the trail that passed beneath the railroad tracks. Being alongside a pond-like piece of the water drainage channel, I knew that there was a black metal fence next to the trail by a water inlet just up ahead. I coasted the last part of it because putting pressure on the pedals tended to make the wheel rim bottom out.

At the rail, I hooked my handlebar over the rail to keep it up. With a flick of the lever, I loosened the rear wheel. I had to bang the wheel to get it to mover forward, out of the dropouts. Pulling the deraileur wheels back, I made room for the gear cluster to pass by it. Another bang was needed to finish that and I pulled the wheel away from the chain.

Inside my fanny pack, I had a smaller pouch that held my tire-changing equipment. I pulled out the set of three black plastic "tire irons". There was still some air in the tube, so I released the valve and squeezed the tire to force more air out so taking the tire off the rim would be easier.

With one tire iron, I pried part of the tire off the rim. I hooked the opposite of the tire iron around a spoke so that part of the tire would stay where it was. Then with another iron, I began scooping under the tire to lift more an more of the tire bead to the outside of the rim. With one side of the tire off the rim, I was able to pull the tube out.

In went the spare tube. Yes, I found that I had the right type. I still wasn't sure that any holes in it had been patched, though. I could have pumped the tube up before putting it on the rim and seeing if it leaked, but I was tired and didn't want to bother.

Lo and behold. The woman with the ponytail was coming up the grade toward me. She was looking at me and had a smile. I looked back at her and smiled, too.

"Looks like you're in a little trouble," she said and stopped. Wow, I couldn't believe it. She pulled out her water bottle and took a drink. "Need any water?" she asked.

"No, thanks. I have some. I just have to fix my tire," I told her.

She took off her helmet. I didn't want to stare, but I did look at her for an extra few moments.

"It looks like you know what you're doing," she said. "That's good. I got a patch kit from the bike store, but I haven't used it yet. I'm not too sure I could help you, if you needed it." "Thanks. That's okay. I don't need a patch kit. I have a spare tube to put in. I'll just patch the bad tube when I get home." "Wow, that's planning ahead. I never thought of that. I guess it makes it easier." "Yeah. I recommend it to others. It's usually faster than trying to patch the tube while in the middle of nowhere." "Middle of nowhere? Yeah, I guess so. I guess that's why I like it. It's good to get away. It's not that far from home, but it's like being in another world." She paused and then said, "Don't let me stop you." "No. No, I'm glad to meet you. It's kind of hard to meet people on the trail." She laughed. "Yeah, when you guys race by so fast, you probably see a lot of people, but you can't talk to them." He thought about telling her otherwise, but thought it wouldn't be too friendly to do so. "Do you ride her often?" he asked as used the tire irons to force the tire bead back to the inside of the rim.

"I don't know. It depends what you call often. I get the impression that some people ride here every day. That's why they go so fast." I put the wheel back on the bike, clamping it down tight in the dropouts. "Yeah, I know what you mean. There are some really fast guys out here. I'd be lucky to be able to keep up with them for a mile." "So, you're not one of those? I hope you don't mind me saying so, but I didn't think you were. Most of them don't take the time to smile or say 'Hi' to me. I liked it that you did take the time." I wasn't sure what to say but figured it was nice to simply take it as a compliment and say, "Thanks." I began pumping the tire up. As the tire got more and more full, it was harder and harder to pump. My arm was pretty tired by itself and with my whole body having been exerted as much as it was on the ride, I grimaced as I forced the last few pumps of air.

"Well, I guess you're ready to go again," she put the water bottle back on the bike frame and started to put her helmet back on her head.

"Yeah, not to far to go." I didn't want to abandon this dreamlike situation so soon. After a pause and with mys brain not functioning so clearly with low blood-sugar, I managed to come up with something. "I'm going to Discovery Park. How far are you going?" "Discovery Park? Yeah, I'm going there, too. You'll probably be there in half the time that it will take me now that you won't have to stop and pump up your tires any more." "Well, actually, I'm rather beat. If I didn't have to stop, I probably could keep riding fast. But since I stopped, my body slowed down. Now I think my body is more interested in just figuring it's all over. Unfortunately, we have a few miles to go." "Does that mean that you might even consider riding as slow as I am?" "I don't know. I'm so tired that I might have trouble keeping up with you." "Well, in that case, I'll slow down for you. That will be a first." "Wow. Sounds good to me." I paused to gather my thoughts. "By the way, my name's Ken." "Hi, Ken. My name's Heather. Pleased to meet you." She put out her hand.

I shook her hand. "Pleased to meet you, too." Checking to see that there wasn't some fast cyclist about to pass by and run us over, we got back on the trail. Side by side, we rode to Discovery Park, chatting about this and that.

"I have to go this way," she pointed to the right. "Maybe we'll meet again, Ken." "I go that way, too. You aren't rid of me yet." We turned right, through the parking lot, turned right on the park's main road and passed the ranger station. There was a hill up to the Garden Highway. She shifted to a lower gear. I shifted down, too, instead of muscling it up as I would have done if she wasn't there. She didn't seem like the type who would have been impressed if I had done so anyway.

"I'm going straight," she said as they waited for the traffic light.

"So am I." I wondered if she might be thinking he was making it up, just to ride with her and hated that feeling. "I live about a mile down the bike trail," I told her.

"I drove my car and parked it just ahead. I parked here so I wouldn't have to pay the park fee. Maybe I should have driven in there and paid." "I don't pay, either. I just ride from home," I told her to show that I didn't think she was cheap for doing what she did.

The light turned green. We crossed the street and headed down the hill.

"I'm just around the corner on the right," she told me. "You wouldn't be good at putting bikes on bike racks, would you? I figure you'd probably be better at it than I am since you can fix bikes so well. Do you mind?" "No. I'd be glad to." We turned right, me squeezing my brake handles so to stay slower and ride behind her. I thought of the first time I saw her from the rear and liked what he saw. We stopped by a red Subaru station wagon with a bike rack on the rear of it.

Red Subaru wagon? I couldn't believe it. For years I've noticed that there seemed to be a disproportionately large number of nice looking brunettes with ponytails driving red Subaru wagons. Usually they had kids. I wondered if she had kids. In that regard, I wondered if she was even single. I had forgotten to ask about that. We had just talked of their interests and had enjoyed that discussion.

We dismounted our bikes. I lay my bike down on the grassy mound next to the sidewalk. She put her bike's kick-stand down. I grabbed her bike, put the kick stand back up, and put the bike on the rack. I then secured it with straps. "That's it," I told her.

"Thank you, Ken. It was a pleasure to meet you," she put her hand out again.

I reached to shake it and told her, "I feel kind of funny asking since I don't even know if you're single, but do you think we might go for another bike ride or something sometime?" "Yes, I am single and yes, I would love to. I can give you my number." "Great," I said.

She got some paper and jotted her phone number down on it. She handed it to me, said "bye", and got into her car. Starting the car's motor, she smiled at me, waved, and drove off.

"Great!" I said to myself. I can't believe that I met her because I had a leak in my tire.

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