One night, when I was a relative newbie to cycling, I had an experience that changed me forever, as so many of my cycling experiences have:

Unmindful of the approaching dusk, I left home wearing my cycling glasses, which had very dark lenses. At that point, I hadn’t gotten multi-focal lenses for my cycling glasses, which meant if I needed to see anything of any detail up close, I’d be out of luck. Naturally, about three or four towns away from the one in which I lived at the time, I got a flat tire. By that time, it was dark.

I had a spare tube. I had a CO2 cartridge with which to inflate it. But with my dark, single-vision lenses, I couldn’t see what I was doing. I quickly expended my CO2 and found myself miles from home, unable to ride, with no one to call for a lift.

As I sat alongside the road pondering my fate, a van pulled up. The passenger-side window slid down, and I heard a voice ask: “Do you need help?”

I stood and approached the van. Leaning in the window, I saw a young woman at the wheel. Her two young sons, each strapped into his car seat, played video games in the back. I said, “Yes,” and explained my circumstances.

She said, “My name is Suzanne. Throw your bike in the back, and I’ll give you a ride home.”

I told her my name and said, “It’s not exactly nearby. And how do you know you can trust me? You’re alone with two young boys.”

She said, “We don’t live far from where you do. And I can tell I can trust you.”

I asked, “Can you call your husband? I’ll feel better if he knows where you are and what you’re going.”

She said, “Yes,” dialed the phone, and explained the situation to her husband. Then she drove me home.

When we got to where I lived, I asked her to wait while I took my bike inside and got a business card to give her. Returning to her van, I said, “Please take this. If there’s ever anything I can do for you or your family, I hope you won’t hesitate to ask.”

Suzanne smiled and said only, “Pay it forward.” Then she drove off into the night, leaving me to be sure she was one of my guardian angels and feeling for all the world like the hitchhiker in “Big Joe and Phantom 309“.

As I recall that incident now — seeing it with the crystal clarity of hindsight and wearing my transparent, trifocal lenses — I recognize that we at LVVS are doing for others what Suzanne did for me: We’re helping them find their way home from the dark.

From the thick, disquieting murk of a language they don’t understand, we’re helping them into the light of literacy. From the deep shadows of incomprehension and wariness, we’re helping them into the bright, confident promise of a new land and its language. We’re doing it because we know every one of them would do it for us. And you can tell from their exuberant generosity, they will pay it forward.

Wow. That’s quite the humbling lesson to learn from one bike ride.

Image by Myriams-Fotos, courtesy of