I’ve just snaked down the hairpin curves of the Custis Trail and am rounding the bend where the path runs along the dumpsters behind the CVS/Italian Store/Starbucks/Big Wheel Bikes strip mall. A skinny woman enters the trail just ahead of me, and I feel the usual pang of envy, seeing her tiny butt that would fit inside a baseball mitt, her bony elbows pointing back at me. I could pass her, but I don’t, recognizing that she’s starting to ride at about my pace. A matched set of panniers are fitted to her bike rack, one bulging out, and the other flat. We arrive at the red light in Rosslyn and I see her helpless looking tiny short braids, skinnier than her pencil limbs, poking out from between the plastic webbing at the base of her helmet, the hair soft brown, like a fawn.
When she turns around I see how young she is, soft rosy peach blush on her smooth light cheeks, and an open innocence in her round blue eyes. “Can you tell me how to get to the 14th Street Bridge?” she asks. Any grumpiness I may have felt about her skinniness melts away. I’m happy to provide directions, glad to repay the favor that other bikers have bestowed on me as I attempted to navigate new routes. I tell her to cross straight ahead and follow the Mount Vernon Trail to the bridge. She sets off ahead of me, and I realize I didn’t tell her to go left where the boardwalk splits, knowing the signage is confusing. I catch up to her at the fork, just as she’s about to take the wrong turn, and she gratefully thanks me when I direct her to the left.
It’s a perfect morning commute, the soft green of the willows sweeping the darker green of the grass, a cloud cover keeping the temperature down. As we approach Memorial Bridge she looks back and asks, “Is this it?” No, I tell her, it’ll be the next one. She thanks me again. Such a sweet face, I think – maybe she just moved here from someplace like Minnesota. As I’m about to cut up to cross Memorial Bridge, she turns back once more. “That’s a beautiful bike,” she says, and now it’s my turn to thank her. Yes, I think to myself, my beautiful bike, my lightweight black Trek with thin turquoise accents adorning the frame; the bike I finally convinced myself I deserved, after over a year of commuting on my daughter’s old mountain hybrid, heavy as a tractor. I feel satisfaction at these few shared moments, biker-to-biker, beautiful bikes, her skinny legs and my thicker ones, each wheeling across a bridge to start our day.