Independence Day

In a single day I'd more or less fallen in love with Huntington, so my departure was very reluctantly executed. I was quickly cheered though by the quiet, empty streets. Everyone, it seemed, was in bed on their day off.

Out on the highway, the road was flat, the shoulder was wide, the traffic sparse, the weather cool, the skies brilliant blue with cottony clouds. I rode like this for 25 miles, a portion of it with company — an older man who was out for a training ride from Huntington. The twenty miles after that lacked the shoulder, but the traffic remained light.

I ate lunch in a diner near Gallipolis. Cod, which was good, but an interloper, which quickly became awkward. A big guy with a head like an anvil, he just sat down at my table and started talking to me. Questions about my bike, though none of my answers seemed to get through to him. He told me he drove a truck, and proceeded to regale me with a story of how the Dollar Store rejected a shipment because the box was damaged. Then he told it again. And again. Whenever I tried to change the subject, he inevitably came back to the Dollar Store debacle.

So I wolfed down the cod and left.

Nothing could match the serenity of the morning, but the afternoon passed quickly and without incident. Until about 6 p.m. when, running down a rough gravel road, my chain leapt off its sprocket. Examining it, I found the derailleur cage was twisted 180 degrees. It fell to pieces when I tried to straighten it.

At this point I was still at least ten miles from Forked Run State Park, probably two of it on gravel, and my bike was only good for rolling downhill. So I began pushing it. If you know my travels, you know this was not the first time I'd ever found myself in this kind of trouble, but that doesn't make it any easier.

The gods were with me this time though. After walking a mile or so, I came across a middle-aged man and a young girl sitting on the porch of what I must honestly call a shack.

"Sorry to bother you," I said, "but I'm in a bind. I broke my rear derailleur and can't pedal my bike. So I'm on foot and I'm trying to get to Forked Run State Park. Could I persuade you to give me a lift?"

"What's a derailleur?" the man asked, and I decided this wasn't going to work.

"It's the part that keeps the chain on the gears," I replied.

To my astonishment, he nodded and said, "Sure, we can do that."

With his help we loaded my bike into his truck. I got into the passenger seat. He took the wheel, and his wife and daughter got in the back seat. The man was tall, bald, wiry, with a heavily creased face. He was retired, he told me — he looked it. I asked his name but couldn't quite understand through his very heavy accent. His wife grinned at me every time I looked into the back. She was missing her front teeth and the rest looked ready for the tooth fairy. She never said a word. The daughter, strangely, was pretty and wouldn't have seemed out of place at my kids' school. Somehow or other we got on the subject of the Cincinnati Reds — she told me she'd been to see them twice and seemed excited at the prospect of going again. The father, on the other hand (if I understood him correctly) had never been far out of the county. A generational thing perhaps.

After a very fast drive down winding roads, my benefactors dropped me off in the park. I was spoiled by then — all previous state parks had had vigorous cellular signals; this had none, except for on one short stretch of the road up to the campgrounds, where I could get one or two bars. It was nearly a quarter of a mile from my camp site, but I was able to communicate my situation and formulate a solution. My dad was coming up through Huntington the next morning and would stop in at the bike shop and pick up a replacement derailleur.

So, feeling good about my situation, I returned to my tent, where, serenaded by distant fireworks, I drank the two remaining ciders I had out of the sixer I'd purchased on my off day. Two cheers for another year of America it was. And then, exhausted as usual, I went directly to sleep.