I’m no hitchhiker, but when I looked up from my now dead phone and heard a friendly stranger offer me a ride, I knew I had to take it. The traffic on Highway 105 wasn’t slowing down and the storm I was cycling into was getting worse. If there was a comfortable shoulder on the road I never would have stopped pedaling, in fact I would have ridden even harder to get to a gas station faster, but the situation I was in was too dangerous to keep going.
He jumped out of his white pick-up truck and into the pouring rain, taking my bicycle from me as I crossed the street. I hopped into the front passenger seat as he was lifting my Trek into the back bed. This, I already knew, was strange for me—not just the acceptance of help, but the allowing of a non-cyclist stranger to handle my bicycle. I didn’t care if he put it in gears down or scraped up the handlebar tape, I just wanted to be safe and dry.
Adrenaline was high and I jabbered away about the decidedly inaccurate weather forecast, the lack of shoulder on a road I’d never been on, and all the SUV’s that were trying to nudge me off the road. Finally when I took a breath he reached out his hand and introduced himself. I think he said his name was Dan. My best guess told me he was about twenty years older than me.
“Where are you riding to?” he asked.
“You’re gonna laugh but I’m going to Boulder. I still have fifty miles ahead of me,” I said, almost disbelieving it myself.
And laugh he did. I can only imagine how preposterous that would sound to someone who was not into long distance cycling.
Dan was driving south and I had been riding north, but no matter what I was relieved to be off the road. I figured he would bring me to the nearest gas station or café so I could dry off and wait out the storm.
“Actually I’m going north too. I passed you and then made a U-turn to come back and see if you needed a ride.” He turned the truck around at the first opportunity and we were soon heading back towards those ominous black clouds. “We’ve got a shop up the road,” he continued. “Do you want to go there and get dry?”
“I will go wherever you are willing to take me. Thank you,” I said.
It was a short drive to the construction shop Dan ran with his brother in Sedalia, CO. Dan drove the truck around the corner and put my bike in the garage. Meanwhile I made friends with the office dogs and ate a protein bar while my phone charged up. I sat on the floor so as not to get their furniture wet and figured out my plan.
My sister was at work and no one else knew what I was up to. I’m not one to make a rescue call unless I’m in a real emergency. I’ve actually only done that once and it was due to acute blood loss from a gash to the knee that required stitches in the ER. Looking at a detailed weather report I knew I had over an hour and a half before the storm passed through the area. With three more hours of cycling ahead of me I started to get worried.
A few minutes later Dan came into the office and said he was heading home and could go my way if I wanted. I agreed figuring he’d get me at least a few more miles up the road so why not?
Back in the truck we talked about how hard it was for his brother to find help at the construction company. “So I commute down once a week to help out,” he said.
I cocked my head and looked over at him confused. “Where do you live?”
“You’re driving to Wyoming?!!”
“Yes,” he replied calmly.
That time he smirked and nodded his head. “Well it’s Friday.”
The one pick-up truck that didn’t try to hit me and actually made a U-turn to come back and help me was being driven by a guy going 250 miles farther north than me. OK then . . .
Dear Universe, I’m listening.
“I can drive you as far you want. We’re early enough to beat rush hour and it’s no big deal to me.”
For the first time since I’d gotten on my bike six hours earlier, I relaxed my shoulders and exhaled.
“You are my hero.”
Rain splattered on the road and windshield as Dan told me tales of his childhood in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, a state with a total population of 500,000. I laughed, comparing that to the crowded northeast and the two million people I once shared twelve miles of Manhattan with. In middle school he found out he was colorblind when his dad insisted he wear red when they went hunting.
“I couldn’t figure out why it mattered since everything looked the same to me,” he said.
“Yah we don’t have a lot of hunting in Connecticut,” I replied.
Dan has a liberal leaning niece and a wife who makes floral arrangements for weddings. He’s also a conservative Republican hunter with a gun in his truck. And yet the rain kept pouring down and I instinctually knew I was safer here than there.
We talked about the precious entitlement of Boulderites and how every time I see one cross the street without looking up I want to drop them off at Columbus Circle on Central Park South and let them walk out into New York City traffic. He joked about the CU Boulder college kids needing counseling when Trump got elected and I respectfully stifled my flinch.
On route 470 Dan explained DOT stickers and how weigh stations work. Over time conversation moved to Governor Hickenlooper. Maybe all the state’s new marijuana money isn’t exactly going into the school system like it’s supposed to and rumor has it he may run for president in 2020, how about that? We talked about FOX news and CNN and how no one teaches or learns critical thinking anymore.
“News used to be news!” I cried. “It wasn’t about anyone’s opinions. It was just Peter Jennings and Dan Rather telling us the facts of what actually happened.”
“Right!” he cried back. “And if something felt like it was off you were smart enough to know you needed more of the story.”
Minus the gun and the workingman stench, I felt like I was in the car with my dad.
The rain slowed back to a drizzle and the sky lightened up but Dan kept driving. He circled back to the liberal leaning niece and how he just could not agree with her on transgender issues. Internally I cringed. This was the invisible line in the sand and we were in deadlocked traffic somewhere south of Golden.
It’s one thing to joke about college kids needing emotional support to deal with the unexpected outcome of the presidential election, but quite another to not support transgendered people. What could he possibly say that wouldn’t be offensive and how on earth could I react in a way that felt true to my convictions but also kept me from being murdered on the side of a highway by a stranger? I made the choice to hear him out, to ‘listen to learn’ as Alison Armstrong would say in her books about understanding men.
“It’s the bathroom thing that I don’t get because there’s always going to be some jerk who takes advantage of that. ‘Oh today I’m going to shower with the girls’,” he mocked. “Child molesters exist; they’re out there and they will do whatever they can to get into proximity with small children. It just feels like you’re putting all the kids at risk for the convenience of a small portion of the population.”
It was a perspective I have never once considered. It’s easy to jump to the conclusion that anyone who’s not outwardly supporting something is therefore vehemently against it but that’s not where Dan was coming from. To him it’s not an issue of keeping kids safe from transgendered people. He knows they’re not the problem. He wants to keep all children safe from actual pedophiles, the creeps he knows will bend the rules to take advantage of the weak.
He wasn’t saying transgendered people are wrong for wanting to use a bathroom appropriate to their personal expression of gender. He was saying child molesters are a real problem and this extension of rights creates a loophole for them to further their crimes.
It was an incredibly masculine point of view and though I didn’t exactly agree (for the simple fact that it leaves transgendered people out of an equation they would very much like to be a part of), I had no immediate or intense argument against it. So we just kept chatting. About cops accidentally shooting to kill in the heat of the moment. About how if you can just slow down you intuitively know who the good people are. About how there’s too much worrying these days . . .
The sun peaked through the clouds and I insisted Dan drop me off at the corner of routes 128 and 93. It was his last chance to swing east and connect with Interstate 25 north before finding himself in downtown Boulder and it would leave me with a delightful ten-mile ride back to my house.
“I learned a lesson today Jenny,” he said as he pulled my bike off the back of his pick-up and shook my hand. Really Dan, you’re the one who learned a lesson today? “Pick someone up the first time you know they need help. There’s no use passing them and having to make a U-turn.”
Oh how far we can come over the course of twelve hours. At the onset this morning I really thought this would be a long straightforward somewhat boring ride. Isn’t it fantastic when the universe serves up so much more than we bargained for?
If I had done the Half IronMan as planned I would have known exactly where I’d begin and exactly where I’d finish. Barring an accident or injury, I can’t think of much that would be new or interesting. Maybe I would shave a few minutes from my overall time, but so what? I’m not a competitive person so I can’t say that interests me. I am adventurous though and that’s what makes MyKindaTri so beautiful. I got to invent an adventure and experience it for the first time with fresh eyes.
In the past I’ve somewhat sarcastically said, “Ask for an adventure and you’ll get an adventure!” Now I can add to that something much more satisfying and profound. Ask for a meaningful experience, and, if your heart is in the right place, you’ll definitely get one.
Thank you Dan.
Sending so much love & light!