Across Continents

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Night of Confusion

Six cats. Couple of dogs. And the children. I’d misplaced their names as quickly as they’d proffered them. Next morning, feeble attempt at hiding my embarrassment, asking host John to refresh my memory. I think he understood. I’d arrived late. Very late.

There’d be a good deal of confusion the previous night. A little surreal in places. I’d been pushing hard to reach the McDonald Observatory, up at over six thousand feet, struggling with a strong headwind. And then a flat – a puncture – at dusk. My first in North America. Felt a little disappointed. Still fifteen miles or so left.

Fortunate to be besides a dry culvert, it had afforded me a little protection from the, albeit warm, wind. And that’s when the confusion had started. Calling John on my satellite phone to let him know the situation. I’d described where I was but his entirely reasonable assumption that I must be calling from somewhere with cell – mobile – phone coverage muddied the waters. No coverage for miles.

By now dark, John had offered to pick me. I was sure I’d accepted. It’d be safer than riding, and I wasn’t entirely convinced I’d found the cause of the puncture. Another one in the pitch black wouldn’t be the least bit amusing. A little cooler now, I’d sought shelter in one of the large culvert drains that ran under the road. Strange rustlings in the bush, sudden illumination by a passing Border Patrol helicopter, and the odd car on the highway averted boredom.

John had explained he’d just the one car, and so would have to wait until his wife returned before he could come a pick me up. An hour or more later still no sign. I’d phoned again. Pretext of clarifying where I was. Did I want a lift? Some cyclists were offended by such things he’d added. Yes and no, I’d replied. Enthusiastically.

I’d been nervous about stowing my trusty steed in the back of John’s car. Didn’t want to smother oil and dirt on the upholstery. Did he have a sheet I could put down? No. But not to worry, he explained, the children had done far worse. It could all be cleaned off later.

He was an engineer with a geological background and a PhD. A few years older. Working at the Observatory. What the conversation in the car lacked in depth it made up for in breadth. Poles and zeros. Fourier Transforms. Laplace. Quick to admit much of this was stuff I hadn’t touched since my first degree. Might be a bit rusty. Volcanic plateaux. And some rather exotic science. Funny old night.

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