The first thing she noticed was his forks.
Rays of sun bounced off brushed aluminum as the bike’s wheel eased to a stop near her cheek in the dirt. She squinted up into more sun and only saw the shape of a figure. She’d seen the figure before.
Pinned to the earth, her mind implored no one in particular for nothing to be beyond repair– on her or on the rental.
* * * * * * * * * *
While caring for her ailing mother, Delilah Donner decided to rent a mountain bike.
A potential distraction from a melancholy cadence of bedside doctoring that filled most of her recent days, she hoped. Delilah hadn’t done any serious mountain biking since college, but that was about it for her outdoor options in these parts.
She could go hiking in the same forest, but the idea of hammering out the stress of watching her mother die seemed more fitting. Brutal rock gardens on desolate trails would help her forget, if only for an evening. She had to climb out of this mess somehow.
Since her father died last year and her mother had become ill soon after, Delilah’s life had moved only in the lowest gears. The idea of tearing through the woods on two wheels with no destination was more than appropriate. It was necessary.
A network of trails circled the nearby lake.
More than once since moving back home, she’d sat in the parking lot facing the lake crying. She’d spied several trailheads as she drove away, scolding her own self pity.
There was an unassuming bike shop on the way to the lake. She passed it often when picking up her mom’s meds at the pharmacy.
When she pulled the door open, a bell rang but there was no movement in the darkened shop. No other life but her own. No one emerged to greet her. A weird wave of guilt enveloped her as she moved forward, noticing the security cameras in the corners.
Bike shops, like photography stores and guitar shops had always perplexed her. Through years of casual interest in photography, music and cycling she had gathered enough evidence to believe that workers in these places were usually elitists, expecting clientele to be as knowledgeable as they were. If you weren’t, you could generally expect to be treated like an insect that they hadn’t yet gotten around to exterminating. If you knew everything, would you require a déclassé wrench turner?
Delilah wondered if there were other places like this with which she wasn’t familiar. Gun stores maybe. Certain geeks hawking mobile phones were certainly getting close to exclusionary. Being part of a movement, like cycling, meant you were in an exclusive group, she supposed, but that was certainly at odds with the retail objective. Shouldn’t these service professionals be adept at coming down to every consumer’s level? Why did she always feel alienated?
She wasn’t much of a photographer, or guitar player for that matter. She had cancelled weekly music lessons and hadn’t touched her camera since moving back to care for her mother. She had her heart set on renting a mountain bike and getting back to something she used to love.
Delilah wandered cautiously past the road bikes, past racks of discounted road apparel… neon lycra she could never imagine herself wearing. She went deeper into the under lit store where she spied a collection of mountain bikes in the corner. Each said RENT ME on tags attached to brake cables.
She identified a woman’s model that looked to be the right size when she nearly tripped over a big dog. A shepherd in the shadows of the shop. The dog raised its lazy eyes to meet hers.
“Need some help?”
She heard this but the dog’s mouth didn’t move.
From behind a column of bicycle helmets a figure emerged.
Delilah took a furtive step backward.
“I didn’t see anyone…” she stammered. “I thought the dog…”
“Hey, sorry it’s so dark in here,” he continued without hearing her. “I just got back from lunch.”
He moved toward her, into the light which only amounted to a few stray rays of sun that the clutter-filled windows allowed to shoot in.
Rays. She saw he wore one of those retro work shirts with the name Ray embroidered on it in a vintage script. Familiar with the ironic nature of hipster cyclists, one of whom she had nearly married, Delilah thought it probably wasn’t even his name. Or his shirt.
He squatted down and used both hands to scratch the dog’s neck. Delilah looked down and saw something that instantly took her breath away.
DELILAH. It was embroidered on the dog’s collar. She tried to speak…
“Hey, that’s my…”
“So what can I do for you?” he asked as he looked up at her from her feet. Delilah, the dog, looked up at her too. Then slowly, peacefully, the animal shut both eyes and enjoyed the scratch.
She caught her breath and told the man what she wanted.
* * * * * * * * * *
Delilah wanted to get wheels down on the trail.
The guy– whose face she still studied in her mind– recommended a pretty little hard tail and he fitted her with a helmet. He even let her borrow a rack that fit on her car’s trunk.
When she pulled away from the shop she looked up into the mirror and exhaled laughter. Delilah realized she hadn’t laughed inweeks. She thought about the dog’s collar and shook her head.
Back at the lake where she’d broken down days before, Delilah unhitched the bike with determination. She readied herself for the ride. Years ago this ritual had helped her to clear away classroom stress. As she strapped on the shop’s helmet she was hopeful that a rigorous ride today would be a gateway to something positive.
The pedals were flat and she was rusty. She locked up her car and pedaled toward the trailhead but stopped dead when she saw the marker identifying it as Ray’s Reward.
It was becoming evening and Delilah caught herself navigating the rocky, rooted way with a smile on her face. The flowing trail allowed her to stand and cruise around wide banks and undulating peaks and valleys. She was in love with this feeling.
When she realized that she’d left her phone in her car she embraced the feeling of freedom. Rather than doubling back to get it, she decided to ride the circumference of the lake.
Miles in, the trail was still more accepting than extreme. The nuanced topography allowed Delilah to enjoy the ride. And think.
Picking lines through gardens of rock, Delilah thought of her mother in better times. As she flew along a singletrack that cut through a meadow, she recalled her father’s hands. On an easy climb, she pictured rooms in the charming family home where she’d grown up. But now her father was gone, her mother was going and that happy house had become a dilapidated makeshift hospice. Delilah pedaled harder.
She figured she was about halfway around the lake when an unexpected light rain started to filter through the canopy. She smiled, embracing this change. It wasn’t dusk but it was evident that daylight was fading.
The rain felt good on her face. She was riding with determination and a permanent smile when both tires glissaded off of a slick table rock. In slow motion, Delilah and the bike went from parallel to perpendicular to prone.
Delilah’s breath had left her. Her head rested against the base of a tree that had caved in the top of her helmet. She was flat on her back in the brush, the trail up above, the bike on top of her. Her eyes closed slowly.
When she opened them again it was more dark than light. Up above, Delilah could see the rock that threw her. Her mind clicked through scenarios like a rear cassette flying through gears on descent. She was down in a ravine and the rain had increased. Leaf dirt and tree debris framed her sad predicament.
When she remembered that hers was the only car in the parking lot, she began to quietly cry. She was fairly certain her leg was broken.
Tears are meaningless in the rain, she thought. In the rain, no one can see you cry. Then another part of her mind echoed back, No one can see you in a dark ditch in the middle of nowhere either.
* * * * * * * * * *
The rain intensified as the light diminished. Delilah knew she had to try to climb out of this mess somehow. Her head throbbed and the leg that wasn’t broken had shot through the spokes of thefront wheel. She couldn’t dislodge it.
Through the first part of the night Delilah climbed the better part of her way back to the trail, dragging the entire bike behind her. When she thought of removing the front wheel, there was no light at all. She couldn’t see anything. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and spent more than an hour unhooking the front brake and wheel. Once done, she continued to climb in the direction from where she’d flown.
It took her several hours to get back to Ray’s Reward. She slid back several times when the wet leaves and small saplings she used as holds gave way.
She had no idea what time it was when she got back to the big rock but she was dead tired, cold and hungry. Her legs ached.Her head pounded. The rain had eased up but the pain in both of her legs had not. Delilah laid flat on the rock and closed her eyes again.
* * * * * * * * * *
The light was too bright. She heard her name but she couldn’t open her eyes.
It was a call in the distance. Was it her father calling her?
Her mother! Delilah realized it was morning. She hadn’t told anyone where she was going. Her mother would need her. No way she could drag herself five miles back to her car.
The call was closer and it was real. It wasn’t her father. He was gone. With great difficulty she slowly opened her eyes. Sun shot through a hole in the treetops making reality difficult to accept.
She remembered her legs and saw the wheel, her boot shot through the splayed and bent spokes at an impossible angle. She felt the wet sand of the trail on her cheek.
The first thing she noticed was his forks.
The sun hit them and it hurt her eyes. She squinted and saw the shape of a figure she recognized. She slowly closed her eyes again, somewhat aware of him picking her up.
She felt the sun’s radiance on her face and knew that nothing was beyond repair. She knew she was being carried.
As she fell asleep, she heard bird sounds in the distance, a breeze inspiring trees to move and a voice that said, “Come on Delilah, let’s go girl.”