By Ken Lass
Until you meet yours.
Back in the good old days, when Highway Eleven was actually paved, I was an avid bicycle rider. Biking was more fun than jogging. Jogging is a constant grind. On a bike, at least, there are times you can lean back and coast downhill. When the weather warms up, the best time to go for a ride is early in the morning, around sunrise, before the commuter traffic hits the streets.
My favorite route was to head from Trussville, up Highway Eleven northbound toward Argo. About four miles up the road, the landscape breaks into an open field, with a wooded range of hills sprawling behind it. It would take my breath away watching the sun come up over the ridge, its beams reflecting off the morning dew in the field, making the horizon appear as though it is actually glowing. All the while, the cool morning breeze floats across your face as you pedal up the road. It was like riding into the middle of a beautiful oil painting.
I would turn left onto Advent Circle, cross over Interstate 59, and pass by a horse farm, which leads to a long remote stretch of road, heavily wooded on both sides. So peaceful. Then a right turn onto Liles Lane, which features an extremely steep hill that can propel you to speeds approaching forty miles per hour. That’s not much when you’re in a car, but I can assure you, it is terrifying on a bicycle. I was on the brakes all the way down. Liles Lane reconnects with Highway Eleven, completing the loop back home. It’s a journey of about fifteen miles.
One early Saturday morning, I headed out to do my usual ride. Rain was in the forecast, and skies were already starting to cloud up. So I took off around 5 a.m. to try to beat the storm. As luck would have it when I hit the wooded stretch on Advent Circle, the remotest part of the route, I felt the bike vibrating on the road and the pedaling becoming more labored. Any veteran biker knows that feeling. It’s a flat tire. Normally, I carry a spare inner tube in my seat pack, but I had recently used my last one. At this point, I was about six miles from home, with storm clouds intensifying overhead. I heaved out a big sigh, resigned to the fact I would have to walk my bike all the way home, and if I got caught in the downpour, so be it.
I had walked about a quarter-mile when I saw….could it be? At 5:30 in the morning? On this country road? Sure enough. It was a young man riding a bike coming toward me. He was wearing the unmistakable uniform of a veteran cyclist. Tight-fitting body jersey with the brand name Trek in big letters. Trek was the brand endorsed by Lance Armstrong before his fall from grace. My bike was a Trek.
He immediately recognized and understood my situation. He stopped, pulled out a spare tube, and grabbed my bike to install it within my flat rear tire. I told him he didn’t have to bother, that I could do it myself, that I was just grateful for the spare. It takes me about half an hour, but I can do it. He laughed and told me he was an expert on flats, and he had the new tube in place in about five minutes. I thanked him profusely, and he rode off saying, “Have a blessed day.” I pedaled home. I beat the rain by about ten minutes.
I continued to bike that same route for years. I never saw him again, nor had I ever seen him prior to that morning. Was he my guardian angel? Some would say it was just a very fortunate coincidence.
Too much of one, if you ask me.
Ken Lass is a former Birmingham TV news and sports anchor and Trussville resident since 1989.