Twenty miles into a bike ride on the Champlain Islands last Saturday, my left knee developed a slight tingle.
At that point, I should probably have reconsidered the next 34 miles of the ride. Hopped off by the side of the road, walked for a while, sent my friends on without me and asked them to swing back and pick me up when they were done.
But as I’ve discovered over the years, I have a persistent inability to admit weakness and a competitive streak that keeps me going long after I should have stopped to recuperate.
Instead, I bought a brownie at a lemonade stand (major kudos to the young chefs), stretched for a minute or two, then clipped back into my pedals and headed out again.
By mile 35, we were back in North Hero and pain was shooting through my knee each time I pushed down on the pedal.
Again, this should have been the point where I called myself out and figured out another way to get back to the cars. My knee was hurting and I knew that the repetitive pedaling motion wasn’t making it any better.
The knee pain just didn’t make any sense, though. The 54-mile ride was longer than most that I’ve done, but the gentle hills and long, flat stretches of road on the islands were a far cry from the tortuous climbs that accompany most bike rides in the Champlain Valley. Besides that, I injure something at least once a year — if not my knee, then my ankle or the arch of my foot or my Achilles tendon or my hip — but it’s always from running. Never biking.
So because the knee pain just didn’t seem logical, I refused to admit to myself how bad it was getting.
Just a mile or two later, though, I ground to a halt at the top of a hill, seeking relief from the stabbing pain. With 20 miles still to go, I had begun to accept the very real possibility that I’d pushed my knee to the point where I’d have to lay off biking and running and dancing and many of my other favorite summer activities for a while.
As two friends and I stood by the roadside, debating the next step, a rusty sedan pulled over a few feet down the road, then backed up until it was parallel. The white-haired man inside leaned across the seat.
“Nobody stops to help anybody else these days,” he said.
This man (I never learned his name) bungeed my bicycle into his overstuffed trunk and threw papers and tools into the back to make room for me in the passenger seat. As I climbed into the car and fastened my seatbelt, I noticed a half-empty wine bottle leaned up against my seat.
It occurred to me that I was defenseless. This ride was predicated on the fact that I could no longer bike with my injured knee, so I clearly couldn’t run away should anything happen. I had no idea who this man was, or where he was going, only that he’d promised to drive me down Route 2.
“Text us when you get there,” called my friends from the roadside.
As the man pulled back onto the road, he pulled up his pants leg and started massaging a spot below his knee, swerving slightly on the road.
“My chiropractor friend, he says this is the spot that takes away pain,” he said. “Massage it gently, every so often, and it will help.”
I said bad knees ran in my family, that my mother suffers from arthritis of the knee as well.
“Tell your mother to take a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar a day,” he said. “It draws out the calcium deposits and helps with the pain.”
“Oh,” I said. “I will.”
“It’s the cheapest medicines that the doctors never tell you about,” said the man, reaching down to pick up the wine bottle.
“Like this,” he said. “Water. The cheapest medicine you’ll find.”
“Oh,” I said. I felt myself relax. “Water’s great.”
I asked the man if he was a chiropractor. No, he said, he was a contractor. That explained the wrench sitting by my foot, and the metal and wood scraps in the trunk.
He lived on South Hero, he said, and had built houses for many people, including doctors and judges.
The man drove me over to the mainland, to Sandbar State Park, and un-bungeed my bike, then made sure I was walking fine before he climbed back into his car. I had no cash, but he didn’t seem to expect any.
“Thank you,” I said.
He nodded and smiled, then drove off.
I grew up with a healthy dose of mistrust, in a place where everyone locks their doors, and as someone with a highly active and paranoid imagination, I would never pick up someone I didn’t know along the road (axe murder is always a possibility).
Even if paranoia wasn’t an issue, though, I’m not sure that I would have stopped and helped someone in a comparable situation. I’d be in too much of a rush, and I’d promise myself that I’d help out next time an opportunity arose, but I probably wouldn’t.
But there are people who wouldn’t think twice before stopping, and luckily for me I found one that day by the road in the Champlain islands. It wasn’t on his way home, but that didn’t bother him. He didn’t want anything in return. He was just a nice person, willing to stop and give a ride to a distressed biker.
It wasn’t just an act of kindness I received, but also a reminder that people are awesome. I think we all need our own little reminders of that every once in a while, just to keep it fresh in our minds.
Now I’m pretty sure I owe something to someone else in return, so I’m keeping an eye out for that.
Oh, and I’m definitely staying off of my bike for the next week or so.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is recuperating at firstname.lastname@example.org.