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The Kindness of Strangers

8/11/12 Rest day in Cleveland

I experienced an adventure today that represents a culmination of all this bike trip has been about for me. That is, learning to be present in the moment and aware and grateful for the opportunities that brings. Here is the back story: after the grueling ride bouncing into Cleveland over construction and rutted roads, I noticed that my rear tire had worn down in some spots to the next orange layer, which is a warning that you need to pay attention. As some may remember from earlier journal entries, I went through a 2 week period earlier in the summer where I was getting a lot of flats until my friends figured out that they were being caused by a rim issue, and told me how to fix it. Since then, I have had essentially no problems with flats. However, you never forget the apprehension and dread that you experience worrying about getting a flat until you find a solution, i.e. find the source of the recurring flats.  My dread of the imminent possibility of more flats was preventing me from full enjoyment of my time off. So, before leaving Cleveland, I wanted to find a bike shop and either replace the rear tire and keep the current tire as a spare, or find a cheap foldable spare to carry along. I located a bike shop approximately 5 miles from the hotel and set out in a steady rain. By the time I arrived, I was somewhat akin to a cold drowned rat. I took my bike in to the shop and arranged to have a new tire put on and adjustments made to the brakes and derailleurs for the final 600 miles or so. The mechanic told me to come back in about an hour.

Since I had not had breakfast, I thought I would go over to a grocery store in the shopping center and try to find something to eat. Also, needed to get some snacks for the ride tomorrow. As I was wandering around the store, bike helmet and handlebar bag in hand, a woman came up and started asking me questions about the ride as so many others have. She was a biker and has taken some shorter trips. She told me that I was living her dream.   We must have talked for 10 minutes or more. I told her about what an amazing adventure and gift this trip has been, and at some point explained that the purpose of the ride for me was to learn to be in the present, etc. Told her that I had experienced such kindness from various people along the way and she responded, “People are essentially kind, don’t you think?” I agreed. She was so enthusiastic, and told me of her plans to travel to New Zealand. I told her I had biked in New Zealand and loved it. I told her about the journal and gave her a card with the TBT contact in case she was interested in reading about the trip.  As we parted, she told me she would keep me in her prayers.

I finished shopping, and when I returned to the bike shop, the woman I had just met was at the cash register. I said hello again and went to the back of the shop to get my bike. The mechanic pointed to my bike and told me it was good to go. I asked for the work order or whatever I needed to take to the front to pay. He then said, “It has been taken care of.” I told him that I had not paid for it yet, and he said, “There’s no charge.” When I got to the front of the store, the store employee told me that the woman I had just met in the grocery store had paid for everything – the new tire and adjustments. For you non-bikers, that is not an insignificant amount. I was stunned at this unexpected kindness and moved to tears. I asked for the woman’s name and the store employee told me she did not know. Clearly this woman knew I could afford to pay for the tire and work, but this was her way of conferring a blessing on me and sanctioning this trip. And she clearly understands how such unexpected and unmerited acts of kindness work. It instills a sense of gratitude and a desire to extend kindness to others who haven’t necessarily earned it in unexpected ways. You want to pay it forward. As I have said several times in the journal, these kind people make me want to be kind. She gets it. I only hope that she was as blessed in the giving as I was in receiving the gift. I would be delighted to hear from her if she reads the journal. I would encourage her again to follow her dream. I am saying one of those individual specific prayers of blessing I have written  about for this kind stranger.

Today was Randy’s birthday. He seemed happy after talking with his sons and several friends. We walked down the street to a “real” restaurant and celebrated with a terrific dinner. Marveled over my experience with the kind stranger. Talked a lot about what the bike trip has meant to us and others in our lives, and how these last couple of weeks will go by quickly. Reminisced about some of the adventures we have experienced and lessons learned. People we have met along the way. Our mixed feelings about returning home. But mostly we kept coming back to how grateful we are to have been given the gift of living our dreams.

Tomorrow we hit the road again and head towards Pennsylvania. Randy has found what looks like several really good bike trails, most notably a trail from Pittsburgh to DC. We are still trying to decide where to go so I can dip my front tire in some Atlantic related body of water to end the trip.

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