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  • I told her, "They look okay."

    We were talking about the shiny green and red bicycles that spilled out of shop after shop along the old French-colonial palisade in the old French-colonial outpost of Kankan. We needed wheels to get us to someplace even more impossibly remote, and I, bicyclist by reputation, was supposed to choose.

    "Okay," I admitted, "they're crap. Cheap Chinese crap. But when we're done in three days, it'll be a lot easier to sell shiny crap than a used American bike that looks like it was just fished out of a river. And any new bike will last at least three days."

    So, short on money, we bought from China. She seemed okay with this.

    She stopped being okay with it on the way out of town, when she had our inaugural flat tire. I stopped being okay with it later, squatting in the woods alongside a 70-kilometer dirt road, sweating profusely as ill-intentioned amoebas held happy hour in my digestive system. By then, three out of four of our pedals had disintegrated, leaving only bare metal pins for our thrusting feet. Several tubes had gone flat, one tire was nearly ruined, my back rack was deformed, both our handlebar stems were repeatedly coming loose, we had way too many kilometers left ahead of us. (As for the kilometers behind us, I couldn't see them; my mirrors had fallen off.)

    After sunset, my bike wheezed its last sorry breath. We dragged the remains of our misguided purchases with us as we walked side by side in the darkness, still quite far from anywhere.

    "I'm sorry I brought you into this," she said affectionately.

    "It's okay," I replied, and it was.
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