Thanks to Andy Vrakas, a member from Elm Grove, for sharing this interesting story of taking roadside finds to new limits. I have also picked up my share of tools and even a Timex watch that was “still ticking”, but read on and you will see why he wins the contest!
You know the saying well: “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” But don’t believe it, not for a minute. For the observant cyclist, the open road offers up a wealth of free stuff. All you have to do is pay attention. And I’m not talking about intangibles like beauty or the satisfaction of athletic achievement. I’m talking about STUFF.
If you ride the roads a lot, say 1,000 miles a year or more, you’re sitting pretty to find great stuff lost or left by the motoring public. Tools are common. Over the years I’ve picked up numerous screwdrivers, hardware parts and like-new work gloves (albeit usually just half a pair). When I find stuff like this, I invariably picture the harried workman who drove away with his tailgate down or his toolbox on the roof. If he’s anything like me, I think he’d be glad his tools are in use and not rusting in the ditch where he lost them. One of my favorite socket wrenches is little palm-sized ratchet I rescued from the tall grass. It glinted its location as I rolled up to a stop sign in a little town 20 miles from home and rode back with me in my saddlebag.
I know that some of my riding buddies are amused/horrified by my behavior, but I can justify it on several levels. First, I’m really, really cheap. Having said that, trash is trash. I consider it a public service to clean up our roadways, whether that means picking up a perfectly good 9-volt battery, or slightly bent bolt with half a dozen stainless steel washers on it. Furthermore, I think of it as Karmic payback for all the stuff I’ve lost over the years. So many water bottles, sweatshirts, sunglasses, five-dollar bills…I hope they found new homes with owners who appreciate them. (Exception: If you are smugly enjoying that brand new Patagonia wind jacket I lost somewhere east of Hwy. 20, may you rot in hell.)
The Karma thing seems plausible. A couple years back I was getting ready to buy a new computer, and trying to justify the extra expense of a Mac. One obstacle was the fact that I didn’t own any Mac software at the time, so that was going to push the price even higher. Right around that time I was riding to work when I spotted a CD case lying on the shoulder of the road. It’s contents: a brand new copy of Microsoft Office for Mac. Kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? I checked the newspaper’s lost and found section and even posted a notice at a high school that was nearby. Did anyone claim it? Suffice it to say I’m writing this on a Mac.
Which brings us to the aforementioned Free Lunch. I’m lucky to have the pleasure of riding in Northern Wisconsin a couple of times each year, including on a wonderful paved trail that runs between the little towns of Sayner and Boulder Junction. Our clan was in that area enjoying a double tandem excursion when there appeared, not far from the Subway store, under the watchful eyes of the statue of Chief St. Germain, having clearly and recently rolled off the roof of a departing car, still cold and fully wrapped: the Free Lunch. To the delight of my children we promptly consumed the footlong turkey and cheese on honey whole wheat (but passed on the Funyons). It was so good we went in and bought another—sort of a “get one free, buy one” deal.
Finding stuff while riding is really just an added dimension to what most people enjoy about riding in general. Cycling is fast enough to invigorate and stimulate, and you can actually cover some significant ground. But it’s the ability to simultaneously absorb one’s surroundings, to deeply observe the passing world, which distinguishes it so clearly from riding in a car. On a bike you become, for a moment or two, part of the world you pass through.
I hope you get out and ride often this coming season. Have fun, be safe, and be sure to keep your eyes on the road—you never know what may be lying in it.