The Kindness of Strangers, or “the story about Skip and Faye”

I’ve dreamed of riding the Pacific Coast of the US since sometime in junior high school. On a business trip to California in February of 2007 I borrowed a wonderfully light-weight, woefully under-geared, road racing bicycle from a co-worker in Pleasanton and, one weekend, rode from Half Moon Bay (near San Francisco) south about 35 miles along Pacific Coast Highway 1 (PCH-1) towards Santa Cruz.

The views were spectacular: rolling hill with alternating fields and cliff walls on one side; a sharp drop-off on the other, and and ocean as far as the eye could see to the West. I zoomed down the hills at break-neck speeds I’m sure I would have been afraid of had I known just how fast they were in an attempt to make the climb up the equally-steep other side more manageable. As the day wore on the reddening sun continued to sink, and about 4:30pm I decided I had to head back north. I managed to brake to a stop at the bottom of one such gulch, avoiding the line of cars parked at the beach and crossed the road, abruptly realizing (a) I had no more (and possibly even less) shoulder on this side of the road, (b) there were flimsy-looking nets attempting to contain debris from all-too-fresh looking rock-slides, and (c, rookie mistake) I now had to climb up that ridiculous hill I had just descended. I sweated my way back to the top, then stopped for a breather only to realize the sea-breeze was now in my face: the tail-wind I’d unknowingly enjoyed all day was now a head wind and the return trip would take much longer than the three hours I’d already spent on the road. Starting to cool off before I’d really regained my breath, I zipped up my windbreaker vest, duck-walked up out of the drainage ditch back onto the road and plummeted down the other side, Northward. Half-way up the next rise I was sweating profusely and had to unzip the vest again. Pause at the top, gasping for air. Only a few rollers later I my growling stomach informed me lunch was an all-too-distant memory, and I broke into the last of my rations: a Raisin-Oatmeal-Walnut Clif Bar. Choking it down with as few sips of water as possible, I pressed on.

An hour later, as the sun slipped below the horizon, the situation was starting to look grim. I was riding on a highway with shoulders at most a hands-breadth wide, and all the rolling hills made for extremely limited visibility. Shivering, I stopped and fished the zip-off sleeves out of my vest-tail-pocket and reattached them. Fingers stiff from cold fumbled with my wedge-shaped seat bag, groped for the lights I’d questioned the wisdom of bringing along weeks ago when I packed my over-stuffed suitcase before the flight. Success. I had a 1-Watt white LED headlight and a 1-Watt amber xenon strobe light I’d home-brewed onto a conduit-clamp seat-post mount along with a 12-Volt battery pack I’d scavenged out of a remote-control toy. Thankful the airline had let them pass security, I was doubly delighted to discover they still lit up. Onward.

Half-way up the next hill I finally had to accept an even grimmer-truth: my legs were shot. I twisted my ankle, painfully, attempting to un-clip my right shoe before I fell over and tumbled off the road and into the drainage gulch, managing to only lose a little skin from my calf in the process, and started trudging up the hill. Realizing the trip was now going to take at least three times longer, I switched off the lights–it was dark enough I could see headlights from any approaching cars in time to turn them back on, and I wasn’t sure how long the little AA and AAA batteries would last in the 59F (15C) (and dropping) temperatures. At the top of the next hill I gingerly settled onto the narrow racing saddle, switched on the lights, and mostly coasted down the other side and as far up the next hill as possible before dismounting and walking to the summit. According to my watch I repeated this for nigh an hour. Trudging around an up-hill right-hand curve, I saw a car approaching from behind and switched on my improvised taillight, hoping that the ever-slowing flashes would keep up long enough for the driver to see me before hitting me. They must have, because I heard them slow to a crawl. Pulling alongside me, the passenger rolled down the window, and hurled at me, much to my surprise, no, not a half-empty-soda, but an inquiry as to my destination, condition, safety and general well-being. Driver and passenger briefly conferred, and then passenger said they’d pull off the road at the first safe spot at the top of the hill. They drove off. I stumbled forward. An eon passed before I again saw the shadowy silhouette of their Volvo 240 wagon. By the feeble dome light they looked like my Uncle Jim and Aunt Chris (right down to the rusty old Volvo wagon). They might have been angels for all I know, but said they were Skip and Faye, and they were happy to drive me the remaining 10 miles to Half Moon Bay where my rental car was parked. And they wouldn’t take anything but thanks and gratitude for their trouble.

This became the first of many instances where I’ve been shown the kindness of strangers. Always when I’ve been most in need, and had nothing to pay back. Instead, I’ve always been encouraged to pay it forward.

As Gandhi said, be the change you wish to see in the world.

Be Sociable, Share!
If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!
This entry was posted in Tour, Why. Bookmark the permalink.