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Brian used to frequent a local bike shop called Bike Works when he rode more. He knew that Andre was a good, no-nonsense, mechanic so we got to have a nice lie in as they didn’t open until 10am. The two of us drove over there with my bike and Andre looked at it and said there was nothing he could do. He didn’t have any short spokes in stock so couldn’t have rebuilt my wheel for me. He seemed to think that I needed a completely new wheel. I thanked him and left unsure about what would happen next.

When we got back to Kate’s I got in touch with Thorn Cycles and after some confusion got in touch in Robin, the head of Thorn, whom I had emailed the night before and was aghast to hear about the 4th broken spoke. He emphasised how this was a unique situation and how they were just as frustrated as I was. It was a big contrast to the way C felt about her experience with the bike shop she used and I was so glad that I had gone with Thorn. I had sent him some pictures and answered his questions and the only thing that made any sense to him was that the spokes they had used to build my wheel were faulty.

I mentioned that a local cyclist called Terrell had recommended a master wheel builder named Bill Mould from Spokes Etc just south of DC. I wanted to take my wheel to him and get him to rebuild it. Robin liked the idea and so I gave him the contact details of Spokes Etc so he could call them up to explain what I would need. I was so pleased as it seemed like the uncertainty that I’d been feeling might be coming to an end.

Ater getting off the phone I started working out how I could get the 30 miles up the road to Alexandria. I was researching buses and trains when Brian offered us a lift in his truck. He figured that we left soonish he could drive us up there with all our things and get back to Fredericksburg in time to get changed and go to work. It was a gorgeous day out and instead of spending it with his girlfriend as he had wanted he was going to drive us. His willingness to spend more of his free time driving we who had been strangers 24 hours earlier was just spectacular. We thanked him profusely and packed away our things and threw them in to the back of his truck so we could continue with our journey. As C often says, we wouldn’t be as far as we are without the amazing kindness that we have been shown.

The drive up to Alexandria was fun. After stopping to fill up his tank, which we insisted on paying for, we headed up I95. Brian’s truck has old school air conditioning which with the windows wound down and the front part angled out lead to some impressive airflow. There was minimal traffic on the way up so we made good time and got dropped off hopefully giving Brian plenty of time to get to work.

I wheeled my bike in to Spokes Etc and saw Bill sat down just finishing off work on a wheel. He told me that we had good timing and to lean my bike against the wall because he would work on it as soon as he finished. While he was doing so I looked around the shop and C brought her bike in as well to put it somewhere safe. A few minutes later and he was free. He put my wheel in his truing stand and I explained my situation. Looking around I felt confident that this was the man to bring it to, he had DVDs to buy and ran classes on wheel fixing. In my eagerness to learn and understand the situation I kept asking him questions which he politely answered until explaining that he couldn’t really talk at the same time because it required a lot of concentration. Oops, I should have realised.

Bill spent the next hour fixing my bike and I spoke to people working at the bike shop. There was a big map up on the wall which showed local bike trails and proved really helpful in planning how we would get in to DC and to Anna’s place. It was also the first time I’d really looked at a map of DC to get an idea of the layout of it. Seeing such iconic things as the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, even on a map, was slightly surreal.

The wheel was put back on my bike, packed up and rolled outside. We posed for a picture with Bill for the Spokes Etc Facebook page and rode off, hopeful that the frustration was behind us.

We soon found the trails that I had been told to ride along and were wowed by the amount of commuter traffic. Richmond had been the only other place we’d seen a lot of cyclists and this easily outdid it. There was a constant hum of wheels and people passing us as we rode along at 12-13mph. A few miles down the trails and we got to the banks of the Potomac River which marked the border of Virginia and DC. We could see the Washington Monument and the Capitol sticking up and found a park bench where we decided to lay, enjoying the sun while watching planes fly over from the nearby Ronald Reagan airport. I fell asleep in the sun and woke up 30-40 minutes later energised and ready to go.

Riding over the Potomac I was alert and looking for a Welcome to DC sign but we didn’t pass one. OK the District of Columbia isn’t a state, but there should surely be a sign. Once over the bridge the roads got a little confusing. There were lots of one ways and for the first time I got kinda lost. It was a combination of the one way roads, the overwhelmingness of being in DC and not having much of a plan. OK, we were heading for Anna’s place but the monuments and memorials had an almost magnetic pull which was dragging us off course.

We decided that we would go past the Washington Monument which meant we ended up seeing the White House and then the road with all the Smithsonian museums on. It was a beautiful ride and there were so many people walking and riding around. It was the first place that we had seen so much foot traffic since the centre of Savannah.

Turning up at Anna’s place was simple and we were warmly welcomed. We had met Anna while staying with her parents, the Foxes, in Charleston on Memorial Day. We had mentioned that we were going to be up in DC and so she invited us to stay with her, an offer we gratefully accepted. It was good to see her although her fiance, having only been back in the country for her graduation, had had to head back to Iraq.

Anna told us about DC and it’s quirks, For example, DC is laid out on a grid which makes for simple navigation. It is split in to quadrants with the Capitol being in the middle. Streets that run east-west are alphabetically from A-Z while those that run from north to south are named from 1st Street upwards. The signs all then either say, NE, NW, SE or SW in the corner to say which of quadrant they are in. The arterial streets are diagonal and are named after states which are usually bigger and allow for faster movement from one part to another.

Anna was on early shift that week which meant that she had to wake up very early and so hit the sack. C stayed up catching up on episodes of Grey’s Anatomy that she had missed being in the US and I slept, happy to have a functioning bike and be in DC.

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