There was one day where it all came together. It all worked. Training, calculated response, it was all where it needed to be.
And it was funny too.
Two of us were mountain biking, the Scotsman and I. It was a Sunday morning in a city park outside of a large east coast concrete jungle. Now if you're conjuring up visions of slaloming twixt neatly spaced lindens, you'd better hit cranial delete. This was a city park only insofar as it was within the boundaries of the city proper. Beyond that, apart from emerging at its edge onto a four lane boulevard, it was as wild and as hilly and as overgrown as any path one might find in say, West Virginia. Save for it still had all its teeth.
Scotsman rode it every Sunday morning and I joined him from time to time. There were stretches that he excelled at, the harder ones, and there were flats that I hammered him on 'cause Bubba you don't play over 40 league mid-field without learning to go from zero to intercept really fast. Then there were the stretches we both sucked at. One's where we'd unclip and walk the bikes 'cause, well this was the over 40 league. Mortality was not just a good idea, it was the law. The Scotsman had a pat observation of these edge of cliff with shaky soil high off the ground clawing for a foothold paths: "They're rideable." he'd say. To which my pat response was: "Yes. On a planet bereft of gravity perhaps."
There was a long, wet, swampy stretch too. It was flat and crossed a little creek several times. It wound up in the back of an abandoned trailer park so we'd ride it to its end then double back over creek and through some of the soggy patches that threatened to suck down your tire if you weren't careful. That's when we saw her.
She was off the trail in some low foliage. She looked like hell, an old woman of eighty plus years, long yellow-grey hair let completely down, toussled over what looked like a summer dress that had seen more summers than she had. It was a late, late spring day and summer was making an introductory visit. The temperatures were in the high seventies and climbing into the eighties. She was soaked in sweat, smelled just awful and was jabbering away in a language that most of the other riders would describe as foreign and I knew to be Russian.
There were about five riders stopped on the trail, calling to her as she wandered through the brush, chattering constantly. When Scotsman and I showed up, the other riders turned to us and asked if we had a cell phone.
Yes I did. And it was very happily in the glove compartment. Cells are great in emergencies, but sometimes circumstances call for other tools.
Sorry, no cell.
All the riders called out to the old woman. "Hey! Are you ok?" "Come here please!" She would stop chattering for a moment, look at them quizzically and then go right back to the monologue she was having with herself.
I called out to her: "Ma'am, please come here." She stopped, looked at me and said something in Russian.
The only damn phrase I know in Russian is "Ya ni puni mai", I do not understand. It would have been as easy as falling off a log to look at her quizzically and then jump back on the bikes to finish a nice Sunday ride. But when in hell have I ever done the easy thing.
Ya ni puni mai.
"Russki!" she goes and the chatter is elevated in volume and frequency.
Ya ni puni mai. Parlez vous francais?
She looked at me like I was Alice's rabbit. "Nyet. Deutsch."
She spoke German. Strangely enough, so did I. So did the Scotsman. Off we went finding out who she was (no answer) and where she was from.
We got an address. The other riders immediately scrambled to find something to write it down with but if you don't got a cell phone, chances are you didn't bring pencil and paper either.
Did I mention it was wet and swampy? There's a stick, there's some mud. She's just said an address and a phone number. Write it down. You can try and memorize something until the cows come home, but if it doesn't have a personal relevance, chances are it'll be gone soon. On the other hand, if you see something physical; a tree, a path, an address and phone number scratched in the mud, you might just be able to retain a mental picture of the thing because it was relevant to a place you were at.
We got an address. We got a phone number. We got five people to hopefully get a mental picture of it.
Then she wandered off, so we followed. By now she was speaking exclusively German and the Scotsman and I had figured out that she was not in her right mind. And I don't mean that in a bad way, but there was some level of dimentia, Alzheimer's or otherwise, going on. When it was all over, Scotsman asked me why I started off in French. Simple: You've got an eighty-something Russian. Bark off a few phrases in German and see what period in history she might go back to and what kind of fright and flight responses you might get.
When you're dealing with dementia, you also don't want to get physical. Everything's got to be their idea. Hence, the Scotsman and I followed her rather than guided her, were as surprised and happy as she was once she'd found the trail again, and followed her, chatting all the while, until she got to the edge of the park. The aforementioned four lane boulevard that she promptly wandered on to.
Funny thing about people who wander off onto boulevards; traffic sees them as single, avoidable obstacles. Funny when you cast bicycles across the same lanes; traffic sees them as sharp-edged mechanical things that can do damage to the undercarriage of their vehicles. Oh and there's some old woman walking around the road too.
There was a community center on the boulevard and with gentle coaxing, we got her into the air-conditioned interior and got her some water and got her to sit down and got the police on the phone asap. When the cop showed up, we recited the address we had written in the mud. He knew it as a local assisted-care place, got her in the car, cranked the A/C to full and took her home.
Scotsman and I? There was a ride to finish. Suddenly a lot more limber than we had been in the previous 3/4 of an hour, we got our bikes, strapped on helmets and set off to finish the ride.
Scotsman would say silly things later, but just then he said the thing that made it all funny:
"Man, you'll do anything to get a girl's phone number."
Too right. Bunny on.