Still life, with a puzzle

Here’s my bicycle, pictured a few hours ago, at close to the end of a ride into the outskirts of the city. Guess how my ride ended?

Let me tell, then—

I did a loop towards the city, round the university, taking the third most optimal home-university route — as a mathematician, I need to know these things — and then headed towards a jogging path (the fourth most optimal route back). It was nice driving: 7 pm, full dark, no stars, half the leaves on the ground and the rest in the trees, the world painted in black and gold, the aftermath of a rainy day with no promise of renewed waterfall; some joggers, some cyclists, but few people overall, and no sound but the crunch of tyres.

So I zoom along the jogging path — a dirt track in the woods, occasionally running over roads, going parallel between the lake and that direction’s exit road out of the city — that’s not a hint for my city, because every Finnish city is on a lakeshore, or on the seashore if you count the Gulf of Finland etc. as seas — and I get to the point where I should turn right and head home.

Eh, I say to myself, this is not only fun, but also exercise. I’m not altogether sure of the topology if I go ahead; and so I do. The path weaves on, through the woods, with houses occasionally intruding closer. It becomes an asphalt path, crosses over two footbridges and under two roads, splits and merges (and I try to keep to the route that’s the obvious way to go no matter which way you’re going — and then it becomes a winding drag up a steep, unkemptly forested hill I’ve never known existed, and which apart from the path looks like it belongs in a Robert Holdstock novel — and wheezing, I stop the bicycle, take a few breaths, and take out my camera.

Because originally this outing was because I found my old Canon and decided to see if it still worked. So I snap a few pictures of the wilderness all around me, the tangled trees, the wet leaves, the darkness yawning and stretching behind every tree — and stop, naturally, for the minute it takes for a jogger to jog past, because otherwise things would have been just creepy — and then I turn back, thinking that it’s a few kilometers back, but the good thing with strange terrain is it looks all new when you go back, too.

Well, that’s the good and the bad thing about it… but I don’t get lost.

No, I get a few hundred meters back-wards and then turning the pedals seems to take a lot more power, and the back tyre says floppity-floppity, and after a few minutes of cursing and hitting it with the pump, it is obvious the back tyre has a hole in it.

And an hour later I kick up the stand under an overpass, take the picture above, and walk the bicycle the last half a kilometer to my porch. (So the answer to the riddle is: I got a puncture! Look at the back tyre! Look how the bottom part is flat under its weight! Just look at it.)

(For clarification: I don’t carry a tyre (tire?) repair kit with me, or even own one. I live in a city. It’s always — always — less fuss to walk the thing to my regular bike shop. This might be different if I was good with practical things, or a lot more stingy: but time and money are interchangeable, and I prefer to throw away money to keep from wasting time and fingers in gross mechanical tasks.)

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