Tracks


Do not form opinions blindly; … Those of whom we thought unkindly Oft become our warmest friends (Hymns, no. 235).

Allison crouched behind a bush and waited. Her bike lay behind her, just out of sight over the crest of the hill. Although she had been there for more than an hour, she waited patiently. She was sure they would come today, and she would be ready for them.

She had been ready all summer, ever since her family moved to the small town of Bethel shortly after school ended.

“Go out and ride your bike around the neighborhood,” her mother had urged her. “You’re sure to meet someone that way. There must be kids your age around here.”

So Allison had ridden her bike up and down the streets of Bethel. She saw older kids and younger kids but no one her own age. No one except a girl two streets over, and she was in a wheelchair.

“Well, get to know her,” Mother had encouraged her. “I’m sure she’s very nice, and there are a lot of things you could do together. Maybe she needs a friend too.”

“She can’t ride a bike,” Allison had pouted. Her bike had been just about the most important thing in life to her ever since she decided to train for the Tour de France international bike race.

“Well then, you’ll just have to wait until school starts in the fall,” Mother told her. “There will be kids your age in your class at school.”

So Allison continued to ride her bike around the neighborhood, feeling lonesome and sorry for herself.

Then she found the dirt track. She came upon it one day when she was riding along the country road on the edge of town. High weeds lined the sides of the road, and she almost rode right by the opening to the path.

Feeling the excitement of an explorer, she followed the path off the road. Insects flew from both sides of the weeds as she pedaled slowly along it. Several small mice and a rabbit scurried for cover as she passed.

She was about to turn around and go back, when she came upon a clearing surrounded by low, bush-covered hills. In the center of the clearing was an oval dirt track. Although it appeared to be abandoned, the track was still flat and smooth and ready for racing.

My very own race track! Allison thought as she started to ride around it. Then she noticed wheel tracks ahead of her in the soft dirt—two tracks, each about the same width as the impressions left by her own tires.

As she followed the tracks, she noticed that they were always the same distance apart. Here were two riders so in tune with one another that when one curved slightly to the left, the other followed in a perfect arc!

They must be best friends, Allison concluded, feeling the pangs of her recent isolation. They know each other well enough to ride together perfectly. I wish I had a friend like that.

Well why not? she wondered. Even if the mysterious riders weren’t her age, or even if they were boys, they still liked to ride bikes, and that was all that mattered.

So she waited. Two days in a row she sat just out of sight behind the bushes on the hill, anxious for the riders to come. She had it all planned. Once the two riders appeared, she’d walk her bike down the hill and meet them as if by accident. Then, if all went well, she’d have two new friends and they’d ride off together side by side.

Now, her third day of waiting, she heard a rustling in the weeds. They were coming at last! Allison caught her breath as she saw the girl in the wheelchair from two streets over wheel herself onto the track.

What’s she doing here? Allison thought angrily. What if the two bike riders who are supposed to become my best friends don’t come because she’s here?

She watched as the girl in the wheelchair picked up speed. By the time she was halfway around the track, her wheelchair was nearly flying as her muscled arms pumped furiously. Allison was impressed. Walking her bike, she hurried down to talk to the girl.

“Hi! My name’s Sandy,” the girl in the wheelchair offered as Allison approached. “That’s a nice bike you have.”

“Hi! I’m Allison.” Seeing a stopwatch fastened to Sandy’s chair, she blurted out, “How fast were you going?”

“Two seconds faster than last week,” Sandy answered proudly. “Don’t laugh, but I’m training for the Olympics. I’m sure wheelchair racing will be an official sport by the time I’m older.”

“Really? Good for you! Don’t you laugh, but I’m training for the Tour de France.”

“Well, let’s train together, OK?” Sandy motioned for Allison to come on as she took off down the track.

Allison grinned and hurried to catch up. When they’d almost completed a lap, she hit a rough spot and reached out to steady herself on Sandy’s wheelchair. Looking back, she noticed three perfectly parallel tracks in the dirt.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Shauna Mooney Kawasaki