Chapter 18 - Another Woman on Wheels

On June 11, Jeff and Wyeth rode to Wichita to meet Wyeth’s dad and sister. We planned to meet the following weekend in Hutchinson, because I'd made arrangements to stay with a homeschooling host family. The day they went to Wichita, I decided to have an educational afternoon at the Mennonite Museum in North Newton.

While I was examining some old carriage wheels, a man came over and asked, “Are you riding the TransAm Trail? I saw a bike outside, and noticed your bike shorts…"

Dale Ediger, a tallish thinnish man with brown hair, told me that he and his girlfriend, Alice Rose, were also riding cross-country. "She'll be so happy to see you," he said. "She's been wondering about you since Virginia. Hey Alice! C'mon over—this is Sarabeth!"

Alice came running over immediately. "My goodness, I am *so* glad to see you!" she said. "And I’m so glad that you’re doing okay and everything!" She gave me a quick hug. "Ever since I read your logbook entry about obnoxious men, I’ve been worrying about you—your parents must be going crazy!” Here, Alice paused for breath. She was tall, sweet, with short reddish hair. “Did you meet the ACA guys?”

“Yup,” I said, “we camped with them the other night.”

“They sure were eager to meet you,” Alice said, her eyes twinkling. “Especially that younger one from Germany. They’ve been a few days behind you for a while now, and in every logbook they’ve written such funny things. So anyway! How long are you in Newton, and where are you going next, and where's Nate?”

I told her I wasn't riding with Nate anymore, and explained how Jeff and Wyeth were in Wichita, and that I'd be riding to Lyons tomorrow. Dale and Alice were planning to stay in the neighboring town of Sterling the next night, and we decided to meet at the corner of Main Street and Tenth Avenue in the morning, to ride together.

"To tell you the truth," Alice said, as we emerged from town the next morning on the endless road, "I didn't have fun for the first month of our trip." They had a lot of rain, she said, and harassment from men had been a problem. One day a group of guys yelled at Dale, something to the effect of, “Why aren't you riding your woman instead of your bike?!”

"After that, I wanted to turn around," said Alice. "It'd been raining non-stop, and those guys were just the last straw. But it wasn't only the harassment—it's the insecurity, too. Growing up, my mom always told me how clumsy and uncoordinated I was, and how girls weren't good at things like carpentry or sports… But the thing is, I thought I was over that!" Alice was almost embarrassed. "I thought I was a woman of the nineties, and all that crap. But I'm not—I didn't learn nearly as much as Dale when we took our bike mechanics classes. Sometimes I was so sure that I'd mess up that I wouldn't do anything at all. I think that’s partly why the first month of this trip was so awful—I was expecting not to be able to do it."

“Yeah," I said. "I know what you mean—it’s funny, 'cause even though my parents encourage me and my sister to do everything we want, I still feel insecure sometimes. When I was apprenticing in the bike shop before I left, I was self-conscious every time I messed up anything. And the guys who worked there would act like, 'She'll probably mess up and she probably won't understand but I'll try to show her anyway.' Except I think some of Mike's obnoxiousness was 'cause he had a crush on me, which made him feel weird since I was younger. They weren’t used to treating a sixteen-year-old like an adult."

"I hate it when guys are condescending like that," said Alice. "That's just like what I grew up with."

Even though it was early, the heat was bearing down and making the road look steamy. We both drank some water. "You know what's good about this trip, though?" asked Alice. "I have learned a lot—way more than in any class. About my body, and how to make it work, and stuff like that. I even packed a hub with grease by myself."
"Traveling makes you learn things…”

We rolled along, the open landscape barely changing except for an occasional grain elevator on the horizon or a house with a few trees by the side of the road. Around the twenty-mile mark, we saw a dot in the distance that turned out to be a lone cyclist towing a trailer behind his bike.

When he reached us, the tanned, muscular man introduced himself as Jeff.

“I’m ridin' from Seattle to Bar Harbor,” he told us, “raisin' money for the MS Society. I was just diagnosed with MS, and I wanna do this before it's too late…" His wife was going to come with him, he told us, but she had to work—and he decided to go now, in case next summer was too late. “But she’ll meet me in Bar Harbor, an' we're havin' a family reunion. I’m gonna ride in an' be a celebrity.” He chuckled.

Next moment, there was an ominous ping! from Jeff's rear wheel.

“Damn,” he said, “that’s the third one! That wheel’s been poppin' spokes for a week. Damn, damn, damn!” He unhooked his trailer and began hunting through the duffel bag. “I don’t even know how to thread ‘em myself. The last times this other cyclist guy did it for me." Eventually he located the spokes, and removed his rear wheel for repairs. We stood watching, unsure how to help.

“You know,” Alice finally spoke up timidly, “I don’t think you need to replace the spoke if you’re only going a few miles—and there's a bike shop in Newton. I heard about this thing where you true the wheel around the missing spoke. Someone in our mechanics class talked about it.”

“Really?” asked Jeff, looking up from his bike. "An' you don't need to replace spokes? That sounds dandy. How does it work?”

Alice leaned over the bike and examined the wheel. “I think you tighten the spokes on either side of the gap.”

"Okay—I'll try it." Jeff found his spoke wrench, and set to work. "It can't be worse than replacing the spoke." He kept turning and turning the wrench, and I could tell Alice was nervous.

I was watching the minimal improvement to Jeff's wheel when I suddenly remembered. “I think you need to adjust *two* spokes on either side of the gap, not one.”

“Hey, that’s right!” said Alice. “That’s what that guy said. So it balances the tension…”

“Okay. But I never can remember which way to turn the stupid wrench,” said Jeff, fumbling with his bicycle wheel.

This time I spoke up with confidence. "Righty tighty, lefty loosy..."

Within five minutes, Jeff was off in search of Newton and the bike store. "Thanks!" he yelled over his shoulder. "That sure beat replacin' the spokes."

When I looked over at her, Alice had a look of quiet satisfaction of her face.

At Plum Street, Alice and Dale and I said goodbye. "You're welcome to visit us in Portland after your ride," said Alice.

"Have a good trip!" said Dale.

"Goodbye! It was great to meet you," I said. And then Alice and Dale were two disappearing dots in my rear-view mirror.