“Where is Mr. Frank?”
Mr. Frank was hiding in the back seat of a truck, in the south of Guyana, when he heard the words. He tried to duck down a little, because he knew what was coming.
“Oh,” I heard a woman in our group say, “He’s over there.” She pointed my way. A few moments later, a face appeared in my open window.
“Hello, Mr. Frank! Do you have something you can bath me?”
It was Sebastian, the guide from the village who had just hiked up and back down a mountain with our group. We were in a part of the world where tourism had only recently arrived, where not long ago there was barely even a cash economy, and where people’s English, although it is the official language, was not always so good.
“Bath you?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said.
I puzzled over the word for a second, but I already knew what he meant. I nodded wearily and dug in my pockets for some money – not a lot, but then again, maybe too much. I had no idea. We’d been told that at the end of the trip, we would give a group tip that would be divided among all the guides who had helped us. But the rules for these things were murky.
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One morning when I was young, I went out to our garage to get on my bike and ride around our neighborhood. It was a red and white Huffy Pro Thunder, and I loved it more than anything I owned. I remember feeling so fast on it, like I could go anywhere, jump anything, and get to any part of town.
But the bike was gone. Slowly, I realized that it had been stolen, and that I might never see it again. A few weeks later, it turned up in a parking lot, its wheels beaten into shapes like bananas. We put new ones on, and I rode it again.
There is a particular kind of pain that comes with a bike theft. Maybe it has something to do with the way body and machine work together, the way the bike is almost an extension of you. For many of us, a bike is more than a possession, and when someone steals one it’s more than a theft. There’s an intimacy to the violation, as if a part of us has been stolen and made into part of the thief.
That’s why, when I heard the story of Brad Rogers, I knew his bike meant even more than that. Rogers had ALS and was confined to a wheelchair when someone stole it out of his shed. You can read the story of how he got it back in the September issue of Bicycling.
Sara Wheeler loves cold places. More than a decade ago, she published her classic travel book, Terra Incognita, about the vast, empty continent of Antarctica, which changed the way many people saw the place. But for years, she says, she avoided writing about the Arctic because it seemed too compromised. Now, however, she’s taken on the subject, and in Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011), she wrestles with a place more populous, more complex, and more troubled than its southern counterpart.
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