The greatest peril of this bike ride, I knew, would be the possibility — indeed, the probability, given their preponderance — of picking up a goat’s head in the campground upon departure. This had happened at the top of Butler Wash a couple autumns ago, fast start to a planned five-hour ride shot out of the water by a rear tire going wishy-washy in the first half-mile. Bloody hell.

We’d already had our flat tire for the weekend, this one involving a tire on the truck the evening before, on our way across the mesa. We had ducked into the car wash, the rig coated with a mag-chloride-mud jacket from the road at home, and upon the final rinse couldn’t help but notice the tire going rapidly floppy. A quick inspection revealed a gaping hole violating our new mud-and-snow tire, a comic book-worthy hiss issuing into the gathering dusk. The cold, when we heard that, felt colder.

Not finding a suitable spot for a tire change, we sprayed some Fix-a-Flat goop in there and raced across the mesa, white foam sputtering out of the hole, to the next town over, which we knew would be warmer and had a gas station with lights and a large, dry, concrete lot, wonderfully level. The camper was unhitched to access the spare. The most challenging part of changing any tire is getting the spare out from underneath the bed of the truck, but in keeping with the luxuriousness of our chosen tire-changing spot, the spare dropped down with a minimum of wrangling and was slapped onto the hub.

All the while the girls sang and danced under the lights by the gas pumps, lending a festive air to what otherwise would have perhaps been un-festive proceedings. A passing friend, on her way to the same gathering as us, recognized them and stopped for a lovely visit. No less than four strangers stopped to offer assistance, which we found reassuring.

Having ridden underneath the truck for many years with no attention, lonely old fellow, the spare was about as flabby as the flat, but at least it wasn’t hissing like a rattlesnake. We backtracked gingerly to the joint with the functioning air hose, topped off and were soon on our way, none the worse for wear and tear, feeling very capable. The night ended with whiskey, song and laughter around a rollicking fire, and a warm slumber in the sleeping bags.

In the morning, our camping neighbor Birdy was assembling his gravel grinder and we decided spontaneously to team up on an exploration of the large mesa across the river. While I rode in circles avoiding goat’s heads, he futzed with his bike, applying a patch to an inner tube. This should have been significant, but in the blind rapture of a warm, blue-sky Saturday morning, portend of anything other than unbridled freedom was ignored and we set out, pedaling leisurely, engaging in lively banter, not really agreeing on much, but enjoying the repartee.

Our route carried us along the river, up a couple switchbacks and along the rim of a rocky canyon, climbing steadily. Birdy, a history buff, was holding forth on Winston Churchill — “Winnie” — and his central role in the Allied resistance during the early years of WWII, when he expressed amazement, first at the news that Churchill had indulged in two hot baths per day, regardless of the state of affairs, often dire, outside the bomb shelter, and also at his tire, which had gone flat.

While he installed a spare tube, I, ever the buzzkill, rubbed salt in the wound, bringing up Winnie’s role in the disaster of Gallipoli at the outset of WWI, when questionable judgement sent thousands of young men from Australia and New Zealand to their unnecessary deaths. Not that a single death is necessary. We continued. Presently the spare tube went flat also.

This could only mean the continued presence of an offending protrusion. Try as we might, though, taking turns running our fingers around the inside of the tire, no prickly points could be detected. Drawing on recent experience, the outside of the tire was inspected — pure genius — and what was at first taken to be a small pebble caught in the tread turned out to be the base of a dastardly thorn. With this discovery we fairly danced an Irish jig.

We extracted the offending point, got rid of the spare tube — it was the wrong size, anyway — and patched the already patched tube. The last time there were so many patches on patches was on the knees of my Kmart blue jeans in elementary school. I, ever the blowhard, was extolling the advantages of sticky-backed glueless patches over the old-school tubes of glue Birdy was using when he belatedly and wisely told me, in so many words, to shut up.

Everybody deserves a shot at redemption, he insisted, as we continued up the hill. Look at Winnie, he said, if he hadn’t been given a second chance, there’s a good chance the Brits would be speaking a different language and eating a lot more schnitzel. He was right, of course, and I shut up. Things usually work out a lot better this way, anyway.

At the top of our climb, Birdy made his farewells and turned back. The afternoon was spent poking around the mesa, getting the lay of the land, buttes and fins and domes floating by in a dream, beholding basins at once immense and intimate, reveling in warm sunshine, air utterly still, a perfect day. Returning to camp shortly before dark, another boisterous campfire was enjoyed, another deep sleep, and in the morning, leaning against a boulder, there stood the bike, trusty steed, with two empty water bottles in the cages, windbreaker tied around the handlebars, splatters of mud on the frame, souvenirs of a wild and beautiful place. And on the front, a flat tire.

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