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Dirt Dispatch: More than flats, more than friends

  • By Spencer Powlison
  • Published May. 6, 2014
  • Updated Jul. 30, 2014 at 6:23 PM EDT
The author and his wife on the trail. Photo: Luke Trautwein | http://www.luuuke.com

Flat tires have a way of bringing people together. Don’t you always ask a fellow rider if they need a hand when they’re in the ditch, bike and wheel asunder?

In fact, my marriage began with a flat — on our first date.

Did a ray of light shine down when I first met Kate at the door of my rental house, kitted up to head out riding? Not exactly. It was a dark, cloudy day. Honestly, the ride seemed like a risky proposition.

But she’d driven up from Denver, so it seemed like we should try.

We embarked on a simple mountain bike loop on Marshall Mesa, just south of Boulder, Colorado. It wasn’t much more commitment than an innocuous coffee date.

The nice thing about riding is that it makes talking feel less important, paradoxically making it easier to talk. To this day, our conversations in the saddle are much more organic than those over happy-hour drinks.

Jitters aside, things were promising. The weather held, so we kept moving and turned onto the trail. Before long, she realized her front tire wasn’t holding air. We tried to repair it, but the spare tube already had a hole in it. Classic.

Though we weren’t that far from town, the prospect of slogging home with a flat set a grim mood — as if the waiter had spilled my drink on her.

On this dreary fall day, with only a couple cars at the trailhead and even fewer riders on the trail, the odds of rescue seemed slim. Then we saw someone descending toward us.

Like any respectable rider, he inquired. Yes, we could use a tube. Are you sure you don’t mind? Of course not.

Our singletrack Eros disappeared as quickly as he came. It’s likely that I asked for his name, and maybe even where he worked, in an attempt to repay the debt. Sadly, my mind’s shifting sands have long since covered any recollection.

Afterwards, we found an Asian restaurant. I struggled through a bowl of noodles. I’m better with tire levers than chopsticks.

I’m not convinced flat tires are all bad. They interrupt routine, require our attention, are usually overcome in one way or another, and occasionally lead to unexpected surprises.

Sounds to me like many major life experiences, ranging from a new job to a child.

That first date flat was one of many hurdles that served to bring us together. It’s probably trite to suggest it was an omen, but it certainly gave us a good story to tell.

Over the years, I’ve handed out my share of tubes to needy riders. I’m looking forward to the day when I find another couple on the trail — or road — who will really appreciate it.

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Spencer Powlison

Spencer Powlison

When it comes to bike racing, Spencer is a jack-of-all-trades. He loves pinning on a number, whether it’s in a local criterium, a mountain bike enduro, a cyclocross national championship, or a gran fondo. Name any cycling discipline, and more likely than not, Spencer has ridden or raced it. He has been lucky enough to work in the bike industry for the majority of his adult life, from his time turning wrenches in a Vermont bike shop to his five-year tenure at the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA).

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