Friends: Over the years I've been forced to fix a flat tire in some most unlikely and memorable places--in the middle of a game preserve in Uganda with lions on the loose, along the Tour de France route with the peloton fast approaching, on the steep descent from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, in Cuba at dusk with a storm about to unleash a torrent and Dwight and I in search of a place to camp--but I may have just experienced a flat tire repair that will become the most prominent of such memories as I was crossing the Arlington Memorial Bridge linking Washington, D.C. with Alexandria, Virginia.
It was a most noteworthy location with the Lincoln Memorial perched majestically behind me and the Arlington Cemetery just ahead. The bridge had a wide walkway with benches every few hundred feet for pedestrians, allowing me a decent spot to fix my flat. Though it had been cold and drizzly, the sun was peeking through. I could shed my rain coat and display my bright blue long sleeve Garmin cycling jersey. Several minutes into the operation a trio of helicopters flew by low coming from the direction of the White House headed for the Ronald Reagan Airport just down river from me. I leapt to my feet to see if I could spot the Commander in Chief. Not one helicopter was distinguishable from another, so I gave a salute to each. I thought I detected a response from someone in the middle helicopter and moments later a slight dip for a closer look at me, a possible acknowledgment that the President recognized me as the Chicago cyclist who just a year ago had visited his grandmother's home in the small Kenyan village his father had grown up in along Lake Victoria and he had visited twice before becoming President. If he'd been following my blog he might have recognized me too from my cycling jersey.
It was the second time I had seen Obama, the first on election night in Grant Park in Chicago. I was just a blur in the crowd of thousands there, much further from the stage than I was now as he flew over me. But that was a momentous occasion as well. No flat tire is welcome, though I have had a few that have delayed me and led to an encounter that I was happy to have happened, such as this.
Likewise I didn't object to having gone astray a couple times two days before on my ride from Washington, D.C. to Annapolis, Maryland after taking Amtrak from Chicago to visit my long-time friends Lyndon and Stephanie. My delays getting lost leaving DC and then entering into Annapolis led to an encounter I was delighted to have had, intersecting with a pair of touring cyclists who had been on the road since November. They hadn't seen another touring cyclist in over two months, since they were on the California coast. I had no expectations whatsoever of seeing any touring cyclists on this trip back to Chicago in early spring. I saw none on a similar trip last fall from Charleston, S.C. back to Chicago, nor three years ago when I made a circuit from Chicago to Oberlin, Ohio to Winston-Salem and back. All three of us were both thrilled and dumbfounded to cross paths.
They were a young couple just getting started on a life of adventure who had met while going to school in Tacomo, Washington. The guy was from upstate New York and his girl friend from Alaska. They had spent a couple of summers working in Denali National Park and had spent six months in France, she teaching English and he joining her for some biking around the country afterwards. They had set out on these travels in Seattle, biking down the Pacific coast to the tip of Baja and then ferrying over to the mainland to bike through the Copper Canyon. The guy had just landed a job with Velo Orange, http://velo-orange.com/ , a small, mostly mail order company specializing in odd, hard to find touring equipment, in Annapolis. While we talked in a late afternoon misty drizzle at the intersection in the road where we met just outside of Annapolis, several people stopped to ask if we needed help or a place to stay for the night. They, like me, had friends in the area. We were able to bike along for several miles before going our separate ways as dark settled in.
I had to continue nearly ten miles north of Annapolis to Arnold where Lyndon and Stephanie had moved the first of the year when Stephanie landed a job with Maryland's State Capitol giving tours of its historic domed building and curating its collection. As always, it was fabulous getting together with them and their young son Sullivan, soon to turn two. Usually I can count on seeing them just once a year at Telluride's Labor Day film festival, but I've been extra lucky to have visited them in Charleston six months ago and now here in Annapolis.
My visit allowed me the great pleasure of reacquainting myself with Washington, D.C. I had forgotten what a remarkably beautiful city it is, comparable to Paris and London and Rome with its many monuments and splendid buildings and parks. I didn't have time to give it more than a meander on my arrival and then departure. I will most certainly have to return soon. But for now it is on to Winston Salem, North Carolina for this weekend's River Run Film Festival, where I'll meet up with Lyndon once again as well as Tomas, the cycling friend I met in Mexico thirty years ago. And I'll check out a few Carnegie libraries along the way.