Mission Tales, Bicycles
I was excited to ride a bike.
In retrospect I had no appreciation for all this mode of transport entailed, but riding a bike is such a part of the lore of Mormon missionaries that I just had to have the full experience. Bike riding is such a part of being a missionary that I have often had to explain to others that cycling isn’t actually part of the religion. Missionaries ride bikes because they are cheaper than cars. Some lucky missionaries get to drive cars. For 21 of my 24 months, I was not one of the lucky ones.
The first thing I did not consider, was the same thing others who haven’t cycled in suits haven’t considered; my pant leg. It is the role of a missionary’s first companion to more or less show one the ropes. The mark of a compassionate soul or a devious one is whether or not this senior companion tells the junior to tuck his pant leg into his sock before it is torn to shreds by the bike’s chain. My first bike ride was also my first destroyed pair of pants, followed by my first sewing lesson.
In my romance of cycling adventure I also failed to consider humidity. Being a native of a desert clime I had no appreciation for humidity. Humidity had no appreciation for me either, nor the fact that that the dress code called for a tie at all times. I also had not thought about rain. I learned to hate rain. Rain led to my first actual crash.
We were caught some miles from home when the clouds broke open. They poured out buckets rather than drops. These buckets soon turned the gutters into flash floods and I found myself caught up descending a rather steep hill in one of these flash floods unable to stop. I pumped the brakes, gripped tight the brakes, and quickly realized I was simply along for the ride. How fun. At the base of the hill was a surprisingly wide and steep culvert towards which this torrent was channeled. When my tire hit the culvert it stopped and I did a most amazing leap frog over the handle bars, landing a perfect ten on my feet in the knee deep water. My graceful dismount was followed by the reward of carrying a bike with a taco shaped wheel the last mile home.
Flat tires were regular but unremarkable.
In all those months and all those miles I only had one crash where I did not land on my feet. I landed on another missionary.
I was under the impression that Georgia (where I served) was flat. Coming from the Rockies, I turned my nose up at those hills others called mountains; then I tried to cycle up those hills and was humbled. Being humbled is a process and it is amusing to watch others go through it, but not so much to experience it firsthand. There was one hill on our regular route that was especially laborious. Each week four of us missionaries would have to work our way up that hill to get to a training meeting. We were a competitive bunch and had trouble doing anything at a leisurely pace. I soon learned how to take advantage of the competitiveness of others by starting a race on the approach to the hill and then “getting tired” a little less than half way up. I would drift to the back of the pack, tuck right in behind the last rider, and let the group’s draft pull me easily up the rest of the way. It was some time before the others figured out why I always had that burst of energy at the top and would shoot well past everyone with a laugh.
This practice of drafting soon led to pranks. Riding mtn. bikes on roads is best done with the seat set up high forcing the rider into a more road friendly posture. We found it funny to sneak up behind our companions and flip the quick release on the seat post, dropping the rider’s tail unexpectedly. My companion, a rather fiery and contentious fellow, had fallen victim to this trick and became wary. He was wary of the seat trick, but had not yet learned the drafting trick, and soon found himself “winning” the race up the hill. I was at the back of this swift moving tightly packed train when the leader looked back over his shoulder to taunt those of us behind.
While turning back his head he also turned the handlebars hard left. I would not recommend doing this while pedaling at full speed and especially not while others are only inches behind. Bike number one was T-boned by bike number two. Number two was rammed by number three, and I, number four, was sent sailing over the top of them all, landing in perfect push-up position over the top of cyclist number one.Black top is not fun to do pushups upon. That is the day I started wearing gloves.