Thursday, September 22, 2011
The vote went as Charles predicted: a few voiced doubts, but in the end everyone voted to leave for Laurel Hills. They deployed extra sentries for the night, in case Joseph returned with friends, but only the pickups disturbed them. Tim joined the sentries after a few sleepless hours, and stayed with the shifts through dawn.
After breakfast, Cleve (who had slept little better than Tim) accompanied Tim to the bicycle shop. Each of them carried their damaged bicycle, weapons, and a pack. A twenty-minute walk brought them to their destination, Midtown Velo. The previous owner — or last employee — had left the door unlocked, and Cleve pushed it open as Tim watched the street.
“Clear,” Cleve said. “Nothing’s changed since Friday.”
The cash register had been rifled and left askew on the counter, but otherwise the place seemed unmolested. Tim lit a lantern, cleared a space under the counter to stash the cash register, then assembled a camp stove from his pack.
“What’s that for?” Cleve asked.
“Coffee,” said Tim, lifting a small kettle and a jar of instant coffee out of his pack. “Not exactly Jamaica Blue Mountain — but after last night, I’m gonna need it to get through the day.” He filled the kettle from two water bottles, set it on the stove, then lit it. “I brought us a couple mugs, just in case there’s no styrofoam cups here.”
“Good idea. I’m gonna need some of that too. What are we gonna do while we’re waiting?”
“Take inventory. Find us some new wheels. I think our tires and tubes are okay, I’ll just swap ’em over.”
Tim found the shop both well-stocked and well-equipped; he quickly found suitable replacement wheels for his own bike and Cleve’s. After swapping the tires and straightening brake levers and shifters, he rode them up and down the street and pronounced them fit for service.
They found some folding chairs in the work area, and took two out to the sidewalk with their coffee. They sat, watching the sun try to burn through the clouds as the occasional pickup whispered by, doing their best to enjoy the coffee. “I never did get used to drinking this stuff black,” Cleve said, taking a cautious sip.
“Aha,” Tim said, digging some packets out of a pants pocket. “I knew I was forgetting something. Cream and sugar?”
“Red, you are a lifesaver!” Cleve grinned, tearing open several packets after giving them a bare glance. He sloshed the contents around and took a second sip. “Ahhh. Much better!”
Tim poured a creamer packet into his own cup. “Yeah. Stuff’s almost palatable now, huh?” He yawned, blew on the coffee, and took a big gulp.
They sat for a while, quiet except for slurping and the occasional yawn. “You ready for the tune-up group?” Cleve asked at last, lifting the walkie-talkie.
“Sure, bring ’em on. I can get another cup while they’re coming,” Tim said.
Fifteen of the city folks already had bicycles, with various amounts of riding experience; they arrived in groups of three. Tim went over each bike, adjusting brakes, shifting, and spokes, and replacing the rare worn part. A few of the occasional riders requested and received upgraded components. After breaking for lunch, which Charles brought with the last trio, it was time to tackle the eleven newbies. Many of them had not ridden a bike since their teen years; the oldest two were unsteady enough or lacked enough confidence that Tim gave them adult trikes. This took the rest of the afternoon and Tim finished with his last three customers around 6 p.m. Tim picked out a new cargo trailer from the shop’s stock and loaded it with enough spare parts to refit several bicycles before he and Cleve escorted the final group home, riding slowly and giving them pointers.
After supper, Tim gulped down another mug of coffee and addressed the entire group: “You have a twenty-mile ride ahead of you tomorrow. That sounds like a lot to some of you, but an easy pace would get you there in two hours without stops. We’re going to make it a really easy pace — I’m expecting the last of us to arrive about four hours after we begin, including rest breaks every five miles or so. That means if we leave right after breakfast, we’ll be there in time for lunch.” That drew a few laughs, and broke a latent tension among the newbies.
“For some of you, this ride will be no big deal. You could get there in an hour, maybe a little longer, if you know where you were going.” More laughs. “But I’ll need at least one of you experts to accompany Cleve and me with the newbies. We’ll be pulling trailers with extra water, spare parts, and tools. Before, this wouldn’t have been so important — but now, we’re all we’ve got. No sweeper van to carry extra stuff or pick up breakdowns, no family to call on if there’s trouble.
“So when you pack your things, think of what is absolutely irreplaceable. Suburbia is well-stocked with the junk of everyday life, so you can leave nearly everything here. If you haven’t been using it the last few days, you probably won’t need it. The lighter you travel, the easier it’s gonna be on all of us. Don’t forget to take your potassium tablets in the morning; we don’t want any leg cramps.
“The people who are used to riding will go with Max and Charles. Cleve and I will lead the second group. The two leaders in each group will always be first and last, so we don’t lose anyone. We will stay together, which means everyone in the group will ride no faster than the slowest member. If you’re in the first group and feel you’re slowing the others down, you can drop back and hook up with us. But let Max and Charles know so they won’t come looking for you!
“We’ll take breaks every five miles or so, unless the entire group wants to push on. Don’t pressure someone who wants a break, and if you need a break, don’t be shy about saying so. You will all need to stretch, drink some water, and get off your butts for a few minutes anyway. Some of you will be sore afterwards, it’s not the end of the world.”
“Yeah, that already happened!” someone shouted. The others laughed.
“Right,” Tim continued. “Sore butts will heal. The ride will finish at the clubhouse, where Sondra and our hosts will have a ‘welcome home’ cookout for us, after which you’ll pick your new homes.
“We leave right after breakfast tomorrow. Each rider will have a bag with water, energy bars, and directions to Laurel Hills in case of trouble. Any questions?”
“What if it’s raining tomorrow?” one of the newbies asked.
“We ride anyway,” Tim said. “You won’t sweat as much, or overheat, so it might be better if it does rain. You can always wear a poncho.”
Nobody asked a second question. “Let’s get some sleep,” Tim said. “We’ll need all the rest we can get.”